Monday, April 30, 2007

Vamp or Not? The She Beast


The reason for looking at this 1966 movie that was directed by Michael Reeves comes mainly from the fact that I have seen it on a vampire filmography. The film also has the alternative title “Revenge of the Blood Beast”, which is vaguely vampiric. It concerns a witch and, of course, witch and vampire mythologies are closely linked.

The story is fairly simple. We start by seeing Count Van Helsing (John Karlsen) in modern day, at the time of filming, Transylvania. Okay, you’ve read right, he might now be a John Karlsen as Count Van HelsingCount but we have Van Helsing in the film and we are in Transylvania – a good start at least. This Van Helsing, however, seems to be a drunken old duffer, whose castle has been repossessed by the Communist Government. He reads from a journal (his Great, Great Grandfather’s) and we hear the story of the witch Baldera.

hold yer cross aloftIt seems that the witch was killing children and so the villagers, along with the local priest, went to do her in. This was despite the fact that, the then, Count Van Helsing warned them that he had to exorcise her first or they’d be stuck with her forever. When they try to capture her, the priest holds up a cross, which I suppose would be sensible if you are hunting any form of evil creature, but is most tied to the vampire myth.

bloomin' big stakeThe manner of killing her included tying her to a chair, staking her with a long metal stake (good sign again) and dunking her in the lake several times. Well, there is nothing like a good witch dunking I suppose. Unfortunately she did manage to utter a curse, promising that she would be back to hunt down their descendants.

the She BeastThe witch herself was a hideous deformed crone with teeth that do look a little fanglike. She doesn’t say too much and normally runs around screaming and cackling. Such is life.

Back in the modern day and honeymooning English couple Peter (Ian Ogilvy in his first role) and Veronica (Barbara Steele) are lost and end up in the village near the lake – a place where pendants made of garlic are given out to all and sundry. They meet Van Helsing and Veronica thinks she knows his name, “Do you know the Dracula’s?” she asks and he confirms that his ancestors wiped them out and that there are no more vampires in Transylvania (which is a big sign to this being Not Vamp).

A run in with the voyeuristic innkeeper Groper (Mel Welles) sees the couple quickly leaving the village (but not until Peter had given Groper a severe beating) but they crash their car (because Groper fiddled with it or because of the witch’s influence is not clearly indicated) into the lake. Peter emerges from the water relatively unscathed, however the body pulled out of the car is not Veronica but the old hag Baldera.

Van Helsing brings the witch back to lifeVan Helsing realises that they have swapped places and he must perform the right of exorcism to get Veronica back. In order that he might do this he reawakens the witch, but she gets away…

This is not a good film, it has a level of infantile anti-communist humour running through it that is embarrassing, awful acting and a Keystone Kops rip off scene, if you can believe that. Barbara Steele as VeronicaThe acting is uniformly poor and not even the presence of the normally fantastic Barbara Steele can save the day (that said she did shoot all her scenes in a single 12 hour period).

Is it vampiric though? Frankly, no. Baldera is a witch who kills (in respect of the one modern kill we actually see) with a hammer and sickle. She might look fanged but she is all too mortal. When the cops have her body Van Helsing is scared that they will perform an autopsy which will kill her and negate the opportunity to rescue Veronica. She is immune to the cold, because she is used to it, but a hypo full of drugs can knock her out.

movie posterThere are, of course, elements that have been lifted from the vampire genre, the presence of Van Helsing, the use of garlic etc but they are not strong enough to warrant this being classed as vampiric.

One to strike off the vampire filmographies but, if you want to see just how bad it is, it is available for free download from The Archive , indeed it was the DivX version from there that I watched for this review.

The imdb page is here.

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