Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Vamp or Not? Man Eater of Hydra


This 1967 low budget flick, directed by Mel Welles, features one of the most unusual alleged vampires in movies. Certainly it has prompted me to play a different game with the ‘Vamp or Not?’ format, which I shall explain at the end of the article.

In a coach park, a tour guide touts for business to take his first set of tourists to an island occupied by Baron Von Weser (Cameron Mitchell) – a botanist and erstwhile recluse.

Matilde Muñoz Sampedro as MrytleThose who decide to go are a horror B movie dream. There is Jim Robinson (Rolf Von Nauckhoff) who is unhappily married to his lush, slattern of a younger wife Cora (Kai Fischer). There is botanical geek Prof Jules Demerest (Hermann Nehlsen) – okay, botanical geeks aren’t standard fare but a scientist who can work out what is going on is. There is overbearing tourist Mrytle Callihan (Matilde Muñoz Sampedro) – obsessed with taking photographs of everything. There is dashing young hero David Moss (George Martin) and attractive girl, as love interest for the hero, Beth Christianson (Elisa Montés).

dead man in the roadA boat takes them and the guide’s car over to the island and they drive to the Baron’s mansion. In the car Cora comes on to the guide, fairly unsubtly, and the group asks about other inhabitants of the island. They all left, admits the guide, as there were rumours of vampires. As they approach the mansion a man stumbles into the road and is hit by the car. When checked he is quite dead and looks rather horrific with strange marks on his face. The Baron comes along and explains that he was the cook but had been suffering from a terrible tropical disease.

David and BethThat night, over dinner, the guests are shocked to see the dead man. However it is the man’s mute twin brother Baldi (Mike Brendel). The dinner is unusual as the Baron is a vegetarian, but has bred a strange variety of edible plants, including a cucumber that tastes like beef. As they are shown around, after a drunken Cora makes a fool of herself, they are shown some of the cross-breed plants, including one that eats mice and another that has quills which can paralyse a man (bet you that’ll come into the film). Moss spots a statue of Shiva the destroyer (bet you that’ll come into it as well).

Whilst this is going on we see the guide in his car. A look of fear crosses his face and something – we can’t see what – happens. All we see is blood spill from the side of his mouth as he dies.

That night, having argued over closing the window (it remains open) Cora sneaks off for a bit of extra-marital activity. She looks as though she’ll try and find the guide but ends up going to the Baron. She kisses him but he rebuffs her. The kiss, but not the rebuff, is spotted by Jim who skulks off into the night.

finding Cora's bodyCora goes back to bed but something comes into the room, through the window. We hear sucking and see horror on her face. In the morning the tourists are being taken out by the Baron. Jim has been fishing. He goes to wake Cora up and finds her corpse, at the same time the guide is found. They discover that the telephone lines have been cut and the Baron’s small boat scuttled. They are trapped.

vampiric apendageThe answer, as revealed at the end of the film, is that the Baron has created a blood sucking plant. They have long whip-like branches that can grab prey and have a sucker like device to siphon the liquid they need to survive. Okay, blood sucking plant… but is it vamp?

Demerest is accused of being a vampireThis is certainly on vampire filmographies and the word vampire is used liberally within the film – Callihan accuses Demerest of being a vampire because he happened to look in on her, to check she was all right, unannounced. The plants need blood and are as happy sucking on a rabbit as they are a human, anything their groping branch can get a hold of.

the Baron is as mad as a box of frogsThey look a little like a willow tree and, obviously, they do not hide from the sun. Indeed, given green leaves, they would need it for photosynthesis. However, their blood sucking activities seem confined to night – but that is likely a horror film conceit. It is doubtful that they are sentient, though the Baron talks to them like they are – but he is mad.

The Goddess statue has nothing to do with the plants – however it is a plot device used in other ways. As for normal vampire deterrent devices, well holy symbols aren’t mentioned and we can imagine they would have no effect. A stake through the heart is also unlikely to mean very much, given that a tree has no heart. Fire would be a possibility, but the movie as filmed offers no clue that way – however the original script called for the tree to be burnt.

sucking blood - plant styleIn this case a good hefty axe is the weapon of choice. Cut into the tree and it pours with blood, obviously that which it has drunk, I doubt it actually needed it in a normal animal kingdom sense. Of course being killed by one of these doesn’t bring you back as a vampire, they do not spore in their victims, as it were.

So, what is described as a vampire tree… but do we class it as a vampire film? I thought it would be fun to let you decide. I’m placing a poll at the head of the right hand panel, which will run until 17th July 2008. Edit: Results as follows

20% voting weren’t sure and voted ‘don’t know’
37% said yes
41% said no.

That makes the official Taliesin Meets the Vampires position on the film as ‘Not Vamp’.

The imdb page is here.


Bill Courtney said...

Wow, here is a movie I had seen so many times on late night TV as a kid but had totally forgotten about until I saw this post. Of course it scared the hell of me as a boy. I used to catch it once in a while on Project Terror out of San Antonio (Robert Rodriquez makes a gag about this late night horror show in his Planet Terror). Thanks for the memory.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Bill, glad I could spark a memory