Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Blood Demon – review


Director: Harald Reinl

Release date: 1967

Contains spoilers

When I was first told about this film I was informed that it was almost a cross between Hammer, Castle of Blood and Black Sunday. It also stars Christopher Lee. With a pedigree like that suggested how could I resist? If the description had mentioned the Pit and the Pendulum it would have been complete to be honest. I can see the influence of all the films and the studio mentioned. A visual treat that moves at a pace this was nearly a gothic masterpiece – nearly.

Regula is sentencedThe film starts with a jailer, an executioner and the judge Roger von Marienberg (Lex Barker) walking a corridor until they get to the cell of Count Regula (Christopher Lee). The judge pronounces sentence. Regula has been found guilty of the torture and murder of twelve virgins. The normal sentence would be decapitation but he is to be quartered. In a complete Black Sunday moment a spike inlayed mask is placed on his face as his curse, threatening the judge and his descendents, hangs in the air.

quartering the CountWatching the execution is the last victim (Karin Dor), who escaped the Count somehow and whose testimony led to Regula’s fall. We get to see the preparation for the execution and, whilst the camera pulls forward 35 years before we see the full excess of quartering, the scene is powerful and chilling.

The story of Regula is being told by a peg legged traveller who spots local lawyer Roger Mont Elise (Lex Barker, again). That night he finds the lawyer and gives him a letter inviting him to be the guest of Regula at his castle. Roger is an orphan and the letter promises to tell him of his parents and lineage. Later the traveller brings another letter to Lilian (Karin Dor) saying that her inheritance awaits her at the castle.

The two make their way separately. In a village near the castle Roger discovers reticence in discussing the castle and he cannot get directions. A priest, Father Fabian (Vladimir Medar), says he knows the way and offers to travel with Roger – he has to christen a child near there anyway.

Lilian and RogerAt first the journey is idyllic but things take a turn when black riders stream past the coach. Later they see the riders attacking Lilian’s coach. Lilian and her maid Babette (Christiane Rücker) are rescued and, on hearing that they travel to the same place, Roger allows them to travel with him.

a trip through a nightmareThe journey then becomes darker and we enter a gothic landscape that is visually stunning. At one point the forest becomes littered (in the trees) with body parts. Later the trees are filled with hanging corpses, whilst the coach bucks over bodies laid across the road. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the works of Bava – no bad thing at all.

twelve dead virginsOnce in the castle – well let us just say that it becomes a gothic wet dream. All the trappings are there, from reproductions of Hieronymus Bosch on the walls to spiders, insects and snakes. Glass coffins and torture implements. This never feels over played either, we are subsumed in atmosphere. The Twelve virgins are laid out in one room, looking as fresh as the day they were murdered (and this does have a reasoning, which can’t be revealed due to the spoiler that would produce).

Christopher Lee as RegulaSo, gothic, but I haven’t mentioned the vampire. Well Regula is our vampire (along with his dead servant Anathol (Carl Lange)) – to be honest, this was a hair’s breadth from being a ‘Vamp or Not?’ The reason that Regula killed the girls was that he needed the fear induced blood of thirteen virgins to create an elixir of life. He has risen from the grave to get the thirteenth blood (from Lilian) and to kill the son of his enemy (Roger).

cowering from a crossHe is raised through a blood ritual, though it is Anathol’s green blood that is used. He is a ghastly pallor and, when Fabian shoots Anathol, we see the bullet hole heal immediately. The power of the cross causes him to cower and breaks the spells needed to create the elixir of life. We won't ask why Regula only has a limited amount of time in which to complete the elixir whereas Anathol has been spooking around as the undead for some time, the obvious plot hole only comes to mind after you watched the film, when viewing it the fast pace distracts you from such thoughts.

Acting wise we have a mixed bag. Lee is superb as always, though we should mention Lange as Anathol. There are times when he steals the scene from Lee and that is no mean feat. Medar is excellent of Fabian and he is reminiscent of Sandor in Dracula, Prince of Darkness.

Karin Dor as LilianDor makes a rather buxom and appealing heroine, with a hint of the Barbara Steele but, unfortunately, not having anything close to Steele’s screen presence. Barker, on the other hand, seems to sleepwalk through the production and can be wearisome. He is certainly not what I would look for in the hero of a film such as this.

heroes explore the dungeonsI’ve waxed lyrical and this is a marvellous gothic production. It is also somewhat derivative of many classics of the genre and whilst it holds its own this distracts from the overall production. There is also just something a little off key with this. Part of it goes to the soundtrack, which for me was utterly inappropriate and did its best to wreck the atmosphere rather than enhance it. This could have been one of the great gothic movies, a classic we all look to. Unfortunately it falls that little bit short.

That said, well worth seeking out. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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