Thursday, November 08, 2007

The vampire – review

DVD

Director: Paul Landres

Release Date: 1957

Contains spoilers

Not to be mistaken with the Mexican El Vampiro released the same year, this is pretty much drive-in movie stuff where a, unexpectedly, good performance belies the fact that this is a fairly sloppy attempt to merge the vampire genre with the Jekyll and Hyde story.

We begin with clean cut kid Tommy (Brad Morrow) delivering a rabbit at the house of Dr Campbell (Wood Romoff) from Bob’s Pet Zoo. The doctor doesn’t seem to be home until Tommy hears a groan and finds him slumped over his desk. He sends Tommy to bring general practitioner Dr Paul Beecher (John Beal). Beecher arrives and Campbell passes him some pills, saying that they have to know what he has done. He then dies.

We nip on over to the police station where Sheriff Buck Donnelly (Kenneth Tobey) is given the report on Campbell’s death. He mentions that a Dr Beaumont (Dabbs Greer) will be coming up from the university and that Campbell was doing research into primitive instincts.

Carol and BeecherPaul returns home, meeting daughter Betsy (Lydia Reed) and nurse Carol Butler (Coleen Gray). He then sees a patient, Marion (Ann Staunton), who suffers from heart murmurs. He cuts the appointment short, until the next day, as he is getting a migraine. Betsy goes to see him and gets his pills – and we know that she picks up Campbell’s by mistake.

wounds on the neckThe next day Beecher is called out as Marion is ill. He is looking over her, and we notice needle pricks in her neck, when she awakens. She panics on seeing him and has a heart attack. Realising, after finding his pen in her room, that he might have taken the wrong pills he goes see Betsy and she admits that she doesn’t know which she gave him.

At this point we are on fairly standard Jekyll and Hyde ground. The marks are odd but she died of a heart attack. The test animals at Campbell’s have all died, however, of something they call capillary disintegration and we discover that the pills are addictive and must be taken every twenty four hours. There are bats in the lab – still alive – and we later discover that they are vampire bats and were used to create the pills.

transformedOf course Beecher continues to use the pills and as things progress, and the bodies mount up, we discover that he actually does transform into a beast man image – with really bad makeup. It begs the question, how did Marion recognise him. Also all his victims die of a viral capillary degeneration but she died of a heart attack – that doesn’t add up as she should have died earlier of the virus.

man beast on the prowlSo how is this vampiric? Well as well as the pills coming from vampire bats we also discover that he does indeed bite his victims and sup some of their blood – passing the virus on through his saliva. How he bites them, I can’t say. There is no indication of fangs and we should surely think that a bite from this man beast would have been brutal, rather than the neat pin pricks.

smashing a mirrorOther aspects are fairly subtle but straight out of the genre. Rather than having no reflection he looks in the mirror, later on in the movie, and disgusted with what he sees smashes it. He is also an addict, but for the pills which bring on a blood lust rather than simply blood.

rapid decompositionAnother aspect is rapid degeneration of the corpse – but not his, you understand. Marion was buried as a heart attack and the police have her dug up to check for the virus. The question arises as to why all disinterment scenes have to take place at night! When they open the coffin the body has massive signs of rapid decomposition, turning the lore on the head.

Generally we can applaud the film makers from using a beast like vampire rather than the suave stereotype – even if the move owed more to Jekyll and Hyde than to any original concept. One has to wonder, however, how the changes started to occur without the drugs being taken - to the point that the finale is during the day just a few moments after the town awakes. The ending is subtly but wonderfully dark.

Coleen Gray as CarolThe film has plot holes, crap science aplenty (why regress someone, in order to reverse it, in order to evolve the human consciousness?) and some very stereotyped characters but the saving grace is Beal as Beecher. He acts his little socks off as the tortured soul, going through the pain of addiction, the fear of capture, the guilt of actions he cannot remember, the trepidation of confession and a whole raft of other emotions. He is a joy to behold and makes this thoroughly worth seeing. I should also mention that Gray makes a fine heroine as the nurse, and looks rather fine too.

Overall this would be one of the slew of drive-in movies produced, and the story was just functional and certainly not brilliant. However Beal takes the film up a notch or two and I’m going to go for 4 out of 10 and say it is worth the attention of fans of 50s B Horror and genre fans alike.

The imdb page is here.

2 comments:

EricBlore said...

I agree with your assessment of this film's strengths and weaknesses, but you did leave out one its other distinctive elements, being the performances of dabbs greer and james griffith (as henry winston). Bizarre characters and rather funny in a macabre way (griffith that is). Greer, a perpetually employed character actor, gives an over-the-top, oddly gabby performance that was certainly out of character (for this character actor), although he was always quite good at dead-pan humor.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Eric, thanks for the comment and insight - appreciated.

just to note, the blog has comment approval on (due to the perpetual plague that is spammers), hence not publishing straight away.

I deleted the repeated comments.