Monday, May 21, 2007

Blood Suckers- review


Director: Robert Hartford-Davies

Release date: 1970

Contains spoilers

You’ve got to love alternate titles, I guess. It adds an air of mystery to the world of films. I was contacted by regular reader Edna Sweetlove and asked if I would do a review of the film Incense of the Damned. I’d not heard of the film and so did an imdb check and discovered that I had owned it for several years on DVD under the title Blood Suckers. In the same respects I am unsure that the print of the film I have looked at for this is a standard or definitive print. IMDB state the running time for this at some 87 minutes, my version is 10 minutes shorter. Yet I suspect I know where the extra time has gone.

There is a deleted scene on my DVD that shows a rather psychedelic and ritualistic orgy of sex and drugs, which leads to a murder. It runs for some time and, had it been part of my film, would have added a definite, surreal sexploitation element to the movie. As it is, this has been relegated to lurking behind the extras menu and does not form part of the review score-wise.

The film was based upon the book Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven and splits itself between the academia of Oxford and the wilds of Greece. Favoured son of his college Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower) is in Greece and has fallen in with a bad crowd. Being the son of the Foreign Secretary, and fearing an international incident, Tony Seymore (Alexander Davion) has been asked by the foreign office to bring him back. Before going to Greece he visits Oxford to ascertain Fountain’s state of mind.

Here we encounter one of the main themes lurking in the film, the stranglehold that academia has upon personal freedom. Dr Walter Goodrich (Peter Cushing) has pushed for Fountain to be his successor and Fountain is unofficially engaged to Goodrich’s daughter Penelope Patrick Macnee as Longbow(Madeleine Hinde). Goodrich is incensed that Seymore has been brought in; the Government should have gone to him. At the end of the film we see that Goodrich not only believes but is actually above the law, within the walls of the college at least. Anyway, Seymore ends up travelling to Greece with Penelope and Fountain’s favourite student Bob Kirby (Johnny Sekka). In Greece they meet attaché Derek Longbow (Patrick Macnee) and a wire is sent to Fountain telling him to stay were he is.

During this an old woman finds a naked girl, murdered and covered in blood (the same girl killed in the alternate scene).

Fountain and ChriseisBob and Penelope obviously do not get on and Longbow has told Seymore that Fountain is involved with a Greek girl named Chriseis (Imogen Hassall). When they arrive at the town, where Fountain was, he has vanished. All they find is a cryptic message and a pendant, a charm of protection that Bob had given him. We also discover that Fountain is impotent. The film does do strange things with the dialogue, such as Bob declaring that he is not homosexual and thus his reasons for wanting to find Fountain are based on friendship – to be honest I’d have never thought the motivation was anything else until the line was delivered.

old womanPenelope goes for a walk and the old lady bangs a stick when she sees her, suddenly she is being followed by four men. Luckily Bob notices and is able to rescue Penelope from their murderous intent but again motivation seems odd. The police tell them the old lady did this because her daughter was murdered and the inference is that Fountain is involved. How did the old lady know that Penelope was connected with Fountain and why get revenge on her? The film doesn’t say.

Anyway, Fountain has been taken to Hydra. He is ill and it is an ‘old disease’. By the time the search party reach the monastery he was taken to he has been moved. The monks have a cure for the disease and yet Chriseis did not want him cured, just kept alive. Penelope's visionPenelope has a vision of Fountain crushed by rocks and we have strayed into the supernatural. Leaving Penelope behind the three men follow Richard and rescue him, along with a couple who were about to be killed. Once again the scripting becomes confused with Longbow going back for help as Richard is too ill to move and then, the next day, still being there.

prayer to ZeusWhen found Fountain is in a trance but comes out of it during the night and indicates that Chriseis had something like a hypnotic hold on him. Fountain offers a prayer to Zeus to gain protection for Longbow on his renewed journey to get help and gets the sign of an eagle (which no one else sees) but protection is only given for five and one must die. Things do get fairly confused in this section and, whilst the sense can be piecedbiting together as you watch it a blow by blow won’t help. Suffice it to say that Longbow gets Penelope back to England and then arranges a helicopter to airlift Fountain. On his way back Chriseis manages to cause a rockfall which knocks him off a cliff with rather fake looking rocks. Chriseis gets to Richard and bites him and, after a struggle with Bob, falls down some stairs and dies. Seymore prevents Bob from staking her and they get back to England… but the nightmare is not over.

Holstrom and SeymoreThe big problem with the film is that it doesn’t know what it is. Is this a disease, some old blood disease which causes vampirism? Is it supernatural, we get an indication of ritual (explicit in the deleted scene) and also an indication of eye mojo? Is it, as explained by Dr Holstrom (Edward Woodward) later in the film, a psychologically based sexual perversion that allows impotent men eye mojo?to orgasm through the drawing of blood? Is it simply the nervous breakdown of a manipulated and controlled man, who simply wants his freedom? The likeliest explanation, as displayed by the film, is it is a combination of the last two ideas but Bob and Seymore end the film firmly believing in the supernatural. With a little more effort the filmmakers could also have shown that it is academia (and the doctors who wear scarlet) who are the true vampires – the hint is there but the effort was not.

It seems that the film ran out of money and the footage was somewhat cobbled together and it shows. The director removed his name from the film and, in later editions of the film the pseudonym director’s name Michael Burrowes was used. It is never a good sign when the director turns his back on the project.

The film is also marred by idiot guide voice-overs, something I am rarely a fan of. vampire or just deranged?With the ensemble British cast you could have expected more but they were provided with so little they could do in order that they might rescue the film. It is unfortunate, with tighter scripting and a chance to build the scenes correctly this could have been an interesting and unusual look at vampirism. I don’t even think they’d have had to have chosen which path they were going down, breakdown, supernatural or disease, the various threads could have been platted together with more care and skill.

As it is, we are left with a bit of an unholy mess. 2.5 out of 10 for the glimpse of what could have been.

The imdb page is here.


Edna Sweetlove said...

Edna thanks you for the generous review, Taliesin_ttlg.

The editing I was referring to is actually in the first scene at Oxford where there's a cut at the end of just about every sentence. Hilarious. You just know you're in for something special when you see that.

PS Have you read DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET, by the way?

Edna Sweetlove said...

PPS This film falls into Edna's Too-Bad-To-Sleep-To category.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


no problemo.

I haven't read Doctors Wear Scarlet, though rewatching the movie has caused me to add it to my Amazon wish list for, perhaps, a future purchase - somewhere down the line