Thursday, February 21, 2008

Young Hannah, Queen of the Vampires – review


Directors: Ray Danton & Julio Salvador

Release Date 1973

Contains spoilers

This was a joint American and Spanish vehicle, which I have on DVD under the title “Crypt of the Living Dead”. The reason for reviewing it under the alternate title is, quite simply, because my review index doesn’t have a film beginning with Y! The film itself contains a fascinating, original, back story. I point this out because the main story itself fails to be that fascinating. It is also a rip off of a vampire short story, Loring’s “The Tomb of Sarah”, without crediting the original story. I shall be making reference to the original short as the lore in the film is sometimes a little odd but fits in with the story – hereafter referred to as ‘Sarah’.

Mariano Garcia Ray as Professor BoltonThe film begins on a remote island and after some establishing shots we are in a crypt and a man, Peter (Mark Damon), chants ritualistically to Hannah (Teresa Gimpera). Now this is a shame for, although we don’t know the character’s name yet, the film establishes the bad guy immediately and thus takes any suspense away in the later film – especially as the bad guy is secret from the main hero. We also see a strange figure, credited as the Wild Man (Ihsan Gedik). A man, professor Bolton (Mariano Garcia Ray), enters the church above the crypt holding a lantern and a gun. As he walks through the church blood drips on him from a hung (sacrificed?) sheep and then Wild Man leaps at him, pushing him and causing him to fall.

Ihsan Gedik as the Wild ManBolton ends up in the crypt before an ornate tomb. He is strangled from behind by Peter and then pushed under the tomb, with only his head showing. Peter and the Wild Man chop at the tomb’s supporting legs, causing the heavy marble edifice to fall on Bolton and crush him.

Mark Damon as PeterA man, Chris (Andrew Prine), arrives on the island. He is Bolton’s son and, whilst his father was an archaeologist, he is an engineer. The locals studiously ignore him but Peter meets him and takes him up to the old church so that he can see where his father died. Peter shows him the tomb and Chris decides that they need to get his father’s body out (the exposed head is now missing) and bury him. At this juncture Chris reads the plaque on the tomb and, other than a change of name and date, the words are almost exactly lifted from ‘Sarah’.

Chris stands by the statue of HannahHe notices a statue on the tomb, whilst the human figure is different to how it is described in ‘Sarah’ the presence of a wolf is identical to that described in prose. When Chris mentions it he is told it is a werewolf and makes the leap that Hannah must have been thought to have been a vampire. This seems odd but is lifted from ‘Sarah’, “She was a witch or were-woman, the only companion of her solitude being a familiar in the shape of a huge Asiatic wolf.” We should remember that, back in the day, werewolves and vampires were interchangeable and the distinction between the two monsters is quite modern. Indeed some original lore stated that a person would become a vampire upon their death if they had been a werewolf, or indeed a witch.

Patty Shepard as MaryThrough Peter, and his sister Mary (Patty Shepard), we get Hannah’s back story. Whilst this is different to ‘Sarah’ the real shame is that it would have made a better film than the one we are watching. Hannah was, 700 years before, the bride of the King of France. He had taken 20,000 men to the crusades (also bringing Hannah for a ceremony in the Holy Land) but Hannah’s ship was lost and shipwrecked on the island. By the time the king arrived all aboard her ship, including her, were vampires. He had his crusaders hunt the vampires down until only Hannah was left but he could not face killing her, so rather than stake her he had her interred in the tomb – a torture rather than a mercy one feels.

mist formWhilst weirdness goes on, for example the Wild Man puts professor Bolton’s head in Chris’ lodgings at one point, Chris erects a scaffold and pulley system to move the tomb. Unfortunately, due to the weight, it must be moved in two parts, starting with the lid – thus releasing the vampire. The attacks begin almost at once – with Hannah’s spirit leaving the tomb in mist form and then becoming a wolf (there is a strangeness here that she is corporeally a wolf but still in her tomb).

wolf formIn wolf form she only attacks other animals but she will soon regain her strength and be able to leave the tomb herself and attack humans. Later, and at full strength, she attacks someone as a wolf but then turns into human form to try for the killing bite. ‘Sarah’ is inconclusive when it comes to this lore and whilst animals are the first victims it is due to weakness on the vampire’s part. One feels that in the film it was there for story pacing, in other words they needed her not attacking humans at first (as in the original) but didn’t rely on her weakness post internment as the reason. Chris comes to believe that something supernatural is occurring and determined, along with some of the locals, to put an end to her – whilst starting an entanglement with Mary. Unfortunately the Wild Man and Peter are working to keep Hannah free.

The dialogue is awful but we must mention Abdul Hamid (Frank Braña), a blind sailor, who plays mournful accordion and knows only one tune and who is the main source of lore. In a moment of complete ham, spread on so thick you wouldn’t believe it, he lets us know what vampires want. “No telling when she’ll find all the sealed off vampires and they’ll go cavorting around naked, holding black mass, sucking up little babies blood… Nothing evil they won’t try to do.”

The cross 'burns through like acid'Otherwise, when it comes to lore, we have the ability to turn into a wolf or mist. A stake through the heart will kill and fire will injure. They are inactive during the day and do not like sunlight (there is no direct evidence that it kills them). The cross “burns through like acid” and dogbane and garlic wards them off or keeps them sealed in (in ‘Sarah’ it is dog rose rather than dogbane – probably a geographic change). A bite turns a victim.

Hannah in her tombShe does seem to have a hypnotic effect but is also a fairly slow moving vampire, all things being fair. After her first (dog’s blood) meal it is suggested that she would have changed in the tomb, as though the effect of blood would have made a noticeable difference to her physical state. There wasn’t much of a change in her appearance, as far as I could see, but this is lifted from ‘Sarah’ were the corpse, when first viewed, is preserved, but wrinkled and shrunken, becoming more whole and young with each meal – that effect was not attempted in this movie.

sharpening a stakeThere is a lot of ham, but little (actually nothing) in the way great acting and whilst the film generates an atmosphere it is stodgy in its pacing. It is mildly interesting to watch, as a genre fan, but nothing special really. Actually the best part of the film is the coda moment, which is so dark one wishes that the rest of the film had matched it. Probably the biggest sin was that we know who the bad guy is and so there is no sense of suspense generated. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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