Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Taste of Blood – review


Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Release Date: 1967

Contains spoilers

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the godfather of gore horror and this movie was his attempt at a vampire flick. If you are familiar with other films by Lewis or, just by dint of the opening sentence, you believe that this would make the film a visual gore-fest you’d be very disappointed when you watched it. This was an attempt at a serious piece of horror that weighs in at just short of two hours long. Does it succeed?

Bill Rogers as StoneThe film has a strange look, possibly contemporary to its date of release although to some degree I felt that the feel was even earlier. It begins with a delivery man bringing a package for business man John Stone (Bill Rogers). This is taken, along with some papers, to his home by his secretary Hester (Eleanor Vaill).

At the stone residence we meet John and his wife Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson). They come across as a loving couple and he seems pleasant and humorous. After much banter he goes to open the package, both Helene and Hester seem dubious, evil brandyand discovers inside a box. Opening the box reveals two bottles of brandy and a letter informs him that he is the last descendent of Baron Vada Khron. The brandy makes the first part of his inheritance and the London law firm who sent it will write in six months with further details of his inheritance including the title deeds for Carfax. Neither woman wants to drink, so Stone alone drinks a toast with the brandy.

In the next scene it is night and three weeks have passed. Stone drinks more of the brandy and then Helene comes down to see him. He cannot sleep, he informs her, he has been too awake at night. Dawn is coming and he feels sleepy. He shrugs Helene away and retires. She finds the brandy glass and the dregs look like blood. She tries to wake him but he seems almost dead in his sleep.

Elizabeth Wilkinson as HeleneHelene goes to see her old suitor and Stone’s best friend Dr Hank Tyson (William Kerwin). She tells him that she feels her husband has changed; he is cold to her and distant. Tyson promises to check it out. However, when she gets home she walks into an anniversary party and Stone seems, somewhat, back to his old self. Talking to Tyson, who gives her a crucifix as a gift, she says that Stone had never previously remembered their anniversaries. She shows Stone the cross and he turns away from it. Later it is clear he is jealous of Tyson and believes she is having an affair.

Stone goes to London and we see newspaper headlines, Philip Harker and Dr Wayne Seward have been murdered. Stone visits a certain Lord Gold and we notice Stone is wearing a large garish ring with a letter D on it. He speaks to Lord Gold for a moment (the family name has been shortened from Goldming) and then hypnotises him with the ring. He asks the Lord who he is and then tells him he is not Stone, he is Dracula. Otto Schlessinger as HelsingWe see him in vampire mode and he seems decayed with bluish skin. He is the avenger of the crime committed against Dracula and stakes the Lord. Then Stone heads back for the States, now forced to sleep in a coffin during the day, determined to turn Helene and hunting for the final three descendants of the Slayers. However, Howard Helsing (Otto Schlessinger) is as wily as Van Helsing and recruits Tyson to help him stop Stone.

vampire StoneThe continuation of the Dracula story was not a bad idea, but the film had errors when it came to the novel’s story that seemed glaring. The obvious one is Lord Gold, whose familial title would not have been shortened from Goldming but from Goldalming. The next problem is two of the names on his kill list are improbable. We see the list and see that there is a descendent of Holmewood mentioned – but Holmewood was Goldalming and the inclusion of a Holmewood decendent made little sense. Stone’s next target is Sherrie Morris (Dolores Carlos), descendant of Quincy, but Quincy died at the end of Dracula and, as far as we are aware as he was unmarried and rejected by Lucy, died without issue. Nevertheless, we know that Dracula based stories are rarely novel accurate.

bullets won't workThe film feels like it owes a lot to Hammer Horror. The idea itself, a man possessed by the spirit of Dracula, isn’t too bad and the method of delivery, blood mixed in with brandy, is not as hokey as it at first sounds. Indeed, whilst the premise was somewhat different, two years later Hammer themselves would resurrect Dracula through the drinking of his blood and the Count would get his revenge (on those who chickened out of the ceremony rather than the descendants of his slayers) in Taste the Blood of Dracula. One can’t help but wonder whether Hammer appropriated the basic concept from this.

stone flashes the ringThe vampire lore is sparse. Blood drinking (including the murder of a dancer), hypnosis, enhanced strength are all mentioned. The only method of killing a vampire is a stake through the heart and Stone looses his reflection. I must mention the ring, however, as Leila mentioned when I told her I had this film – “what self respecting vampire would go for such an accessory?” Bullets do not work and we hear that to turn someone the vampire will feed three times (to weaken them) and then feed them their own blood – of course drinking Dracula’s blood distilled into brandy also works.

The acting is not good and some of the worst is in the minor roles. Lewis himself plays a sailor, Limey the sailor, and the mockney accent is so bad I don’t know if it was meant to be funny or just offensive. There is a man walking his dog (Karl Stoeber) who I think was meant to be comic relief but was an annoying P T Barnum like character appearing at a point where comic relief was not appropriate. Rogers as Stone is probably the best of the bunch and there is something sub-Christopher Lee about his presence and voice.

attack on a dancerThe main problem with the film, however, is that it is unbelievably slow. Not a great deal happens and at least half an hour could have been shaved off with no story detriment. It is worrying that so little happens and yet two of the murders have to be revealed by newspaper cutting. That said to have watched the same method of murder four times would have been a little too much also, though I did like the concept of the slayers’ descendants being killed by stake (or should I say broken billiards cue and wooden letter opener) through the heart.

biting HeleneI must mention the DVD – a “Something Weird” DVD by Odeon Entertainment – which is a double bill with “She Freak” (1967). The picture quality of “A Taste of Blood” starts off fine for the first half of the film and then the quality, out of nowhere, drops. The colours become washed out, there are faint green lines over the print and the sound quality drops. I don’t think this was a playback issue but a transfer issue, but it seems very odd.

Not a great film, it is too slow to score highly and has poor acting. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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