Friday, April 23, 2010

Vamp or Not? Disciple of Death

This was a 1972 British flick that was directed by Tom Parkinson. It was written by Parkinson and Mike Raven, disc jockey and actor who was so keen on making it as a horror actor that he starred in and financed this movie.

If the name Mike Raven seems familiar it is because he was in ‘Crucible of Terror’, ‘I, Monster’ and, from a vampire genre point of view, he was in Lust for a Vampire.

I was contacted by my friend Leila who told me that she had seen Disciple of Death on an old vampire filmography but had dismissed the notion that it might be vamp. However, having checked it out recently she thought I should too.

Marguerite Hardiman as Julia
The film begins with a funeral procession as a coffin is taken for burial in un-consecrated grounds, containing a suicide. Cut forward in time and Julia (Marguerite Hardiman) is trying to sneak out of her home. Her mother catches her and asks where she is going as her father, the squire (George Belbin), would be unhappy if she was meeting that ‘farmhand’ Ralph (Stephen Bradley).

Stephen Bradley as Ralph
She is, indeed, going to meet Ralph. He is not a ‘farmhand’ but owns a small area of land, that he farms with his twin sister Ruth (Virginia Wetherell, Dracula). He is looking to buy more land so that he is good enough to marry Julia and recons that he should be there in five years. She can’t wait that long and they agree to betroth to each other by mingling blood. He cuts their fingers and a drop (of hers) falls on the stone slab (covering the suicide grave) that they are sat on. When he says now you are mine, a spectral voice (that only she hears) claims her and the blood vanishes into the stone.

the gypsy is murdered
On her way home she sees a gypsy (Daisika) who reads her fortune but then panics, fearing what she reads. That night a strange figure appears in her room, causing her to scream but, by the time her parents get there, she is alone and they assume a nightmare. The next day, after church, she meets Ralph at the disused manor and they meet a stranger (Mike Raven, whose character is never named) who has claimed the manor as his inheritance. When the gypsy meets the stranger she recognises him for what he is and so he strangles her. He later goes to Julia’s home and her father seems quite taken with the stranger, though the parson (Ronald Lacey) seems suspicious.

the parson and the stranger
That night the servants Mathew (Joe Dunlop) and Betty (Louise Jameson) sneak off for rumpy. He is murdered and she is taken away. At Mathew’s funeral the pastor speaks of evil and is going to warn his congregation of the stranger but his words are choked by magic. As menacing as the stranger may be he seems quite taken with Julia and, feeding into our ‘Vamp or Not?’ he does say to her that he hoped that he “shall live, or at least exist, with the hope of seeing you again.”

the stranger with his slaves
As taken as he may be, the next to be kidnapped is Ruth. She is bound and gagged and prepared for sacrifice by Betty and several other pale faced girls. We notice the stranger is pale and has white hair (as opposed to his normal black hair). Ruth is told that he must sacrifice virgins for Satan until he meets one who is willing to be sacrificed. He will then be able to rest, with that particular virgin, in Hell. We have a blood sacrifice, eternal life (from the gypsy's words it appears that he has haunted the region before) and the idea that final death can come through a willing sacrifice – this echoes films such as Nosferatu and Vampire in Venice.

blood drinking
He actually gives Ruth opportunity to be the willing sacrifice. When she refuses he makes her his undead slave by taking her heart and placing it in a box. He gets her blood in a goblet and drinks of it. The undead slaves are obedient to him but Ruth proves herself capable of disobedience when she goes to her brother (through the power of love) and lures him back to the manor house – in time to see Julia getting cosy with the stranger.

Trinity schminity
Ralph and the Parson go to Melchisidech (Nicholas Amer) the cabbalist for help. His character is painful. Supposedly the font of wisdom but also a comedy character we get awful lines such as, “Trinity Shminity, this is none of your Christian schmattas. This is your kosher yiddische magic!” He gives them magic sand, holy water and a symbol with which to fight the stranger and they must steal and burn a necklace containing the drop of Julia’s blood, which was absorbed into his grave, in order that he might be sent back to Hell. When the parson goes back in Melchisidech’s home to ask a further question he sees that the cabbalist is really a long dead skeleton.

summoned, 1 satanic dwarf
However, the stranger has summoned up a creature of earth (which gives the elemental powers of water, air and fire) to fight the good guys. He gets powers akin to the stranger but during the day – indicating that the stranger only has power at night. The creature takes the form of a fanged dwarf, who does – at one point – bite a neck like a vampire.

We don’t have to go in to the will they succeed question as it adds nothing to the ‘Vamp or Not?’ discussion. We have a creature “dead and not dead” we are told, brought back by blood, forced to sacrifice virgins and consume their blood. There is some indication of aging, though we are not sure if blood consumption reverses it. He is given peace through the sacrifice of a virgin/virtuous woman – which fits in with some vampire films. There is enough to call this vamp, I think.

black dress, big boobs and dark hair - must be a horror hostess
Raven is clearly the central character and he really wants to be Christopher Lee. The problem is that whilst he has a presence, Lee would have had a commanding presence. The tone of the film is off kilter and the comedy inappropriate (and not very funny). The DVD print is blooming awful – at least on the Graveyard Theatre edition. It is introduced by Morella – an Elvira rip off, who shows that the main requisite to be a horror hostess is a black dress, big boobs and dark hair.

The imdb page is here.

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