|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||19 reviews in total|
The one enduring image from this film that has haunted me across the
years is the weird hunchback assistant to the villain. Its an image
that was splashed across horror magazines of my childhood. There was
something about the twisted fellow with an eye that drooped to his
cheek that made you want to see the movie. I never saw the film as a
kid and it wasn't until tonight, well into my adulthood, that I managed
to see the film. I can't say I was disappointed.
The plot concerns Dr John Pierre who is wrongly thrown in jail. He is redirected to the asylum/prison run by Dr Callistratus so that John Pierre can help Callistratus with his experiments concerning blood. As those outside the prison attempt to free him through legal means Pierre is forced to deal with the strange goings on in the prison, including fending off the sadistic Carl, the hunchbacked assistant of Callistratus.
Gothic, and grandly over the top in the way that most of the Hammer films weren't this is a cheesy but fun attempt at copying the Hammer Studios formula. It looks and feels very much like Hammer in it styling and plotting (Then again Jimmy Sangster of Hammer wrote the script) .Shot in color, the print I saw was well worn and a bit faded. I wonder how this would have looked at the time of its original release. It must have looked great. I loved the sets which were done in such a way as to give the illusion of space, unfortunately it turned every location into spaces the size of football stadiums (though in several sequences things were much too cramped).
The whole thing reminded me of the sort of thing you used to run across at 2am on late night TV with too many commercials. Actually as much as I liked the film I do think it is a bit plodding and probably could have used either trimming or a commercial break or two.
Strangely this film is very difficult to see. I'm at a loss as to why this film has fallen through the cracks over the last 40 odd years. Its not a bad movie, though it is a tad creaky and of a style they haven't done since Hammer stopped making movies. Perhaps its simply a matter of falling between the cracks in finding a distributor (it was not done by a "major producer"), or more likely the fact that there is no vampire with wings and fangs as promised in the title. What ever the real reason its a shame because this film is worth a look.
If you like Hammer style horror or good but rarely seen films, search this one out and give it a try. Its certainly worth a bag of popcorn on a Saturday night watch movies.
Blood of the Vampire is one of those films that suggests it is more than it is. There is no vampire in the film, and there were only two references to vampires at all in the entire film. The film is a story of a doctor who tries revolutionary surgery on a dying patient only to end up as a visitor(prisoner) at a remote castle-prison run by a wicked scientist-warden and some of the most depraved prison guards around. The warden is played by none other than heavy Sir Donald Wolfit in full regalia as a thick slice of ham. Wolfit is a pleasure to watch as he barks out orders and sadistic lines to his lazy-eyed hunchback assistant and other minions about the prison. It seems he needs a scientist to help him with a blood disease he has. Victor Ball does a credible job as the good-natured prisoner. Lovely Barbara Shelley plays his love-interest. Miss Shelley looks simply wonderful. I was fortunate to meet Miss Shelley recently, and she told me that the film The Dresser was based on the life of Sir Donald Wolfit. It isn't hard to believe after watching this film. The man has an enormous presence about him. He really blows into existence what little life this film has. The film has a Hammer look to it, although not nearly as well-made. The budget for this film was apparently limited. The gothic look is, however, pretty genuine. I particularly liked the castle used. The pace of the film would be viewed by many as plodding. I rather enjoyed it...campness and all. A good old-fashioned horror tale!
What should make this film a classic is the opening vampire staking scene. The greatest staking scene in movie history, with Kiss Of the Vampire second. I have this film on a 1978 VHS release with excellent color, and I also saw it in the theatre at the time. It's strong effective stuff. As some say, it can also be draggy in the middle. The laboratory scenes of working on blood samples may be dreary. But it has vicious dogs released on escaping prisoners, sneaking and climbing up into the maiden's room, a deformed hunchback, a good climactic scene, and great colorful sets. Good Gothic. The same producers also made The Hellfire Club, Jack the Ripper, and The Flesh and the Fiends (about Burke and Hare). I'd like to know which video releases have faded color and which have good.
Here's a well-done Hammer-styled "cash-in" of Horror of Dracula,
interestingly enough done by a US production company and released by
Universal (Universal-International in those days), which of course was
the company that did all those great classic horror films that Hammer
eventually updated with great success.
It is too bad that this film has been so neglected that it cannot be seen except on worn-out and ridiculously expensive factory VHS tapes that are rare, or on DVD duplicates made off of faded 16mm film prints. I saw this 30 years ago on TV from a good 35mm print and remember that the colors were great, but the recent 16mm dupe I saw was really faded. Still, increase the TV color saturation, and it's way better than nothing at all. (UPDATE: I thought I'd better update this now that a factory DVD has been recently released. No longer do you have to pay way too much to see this.)
The few occasional lapses in logic notwithstanding, this is bound to please any fan of the early Hammer horror films, and Donald Wolfit does a great turn as the doctor who has become a sort of living vampire. Though there are no real supernatural elements, this film tops many others without having to rely upon the fantastic to carry it. A fabulous beginning title sequence is followed by a great scene where the vampire-doctor is revived, with his misshapen servant beside him, and then a large bat flies out from the ceiling rafters. You would swear it was an actual bat, and then wonder how did they get it to do it just right?
As an example of the attention to detail you'll see here: during a conversation between two prisoners, a rat scurries behind one unnoticed and for no other reason than to show that the place is a squalid jail cell. Nobody sees it, yells or stomps on it, or anything you'd expect to happen in another film. It's just there and passes by. Now that's real set design!
A lunatic doctor in 1874 Transylvania, thought to be a vampire and killed with a wooden stake through his heart, is given a new ticker and resurrected from the dead; after changing his identity, he is put in charge of a remote prison for the criminally insane, but finds he needs medical help after his antagonistic blood cells are at odds with each other. Enter Vincent Ball (who amusingly resembles Edward Norton!) as a young doctor railroaded into prison via tampered evidence, and Barbara Shelley as Ball's sweetheart who believes her fiancé is innocent. Amazing, unusual screenplay from the talented Jimmy Sangster and solid performances bolster this horror-movie-which-really-isn't. A prologue complete with vampire-hunters and bright red blood prepares us for the standard bloodsucker set-up, yet Sangster is more interested in the wronged victim than the so-called vampire, and the action inside the heavily-guarded jail is surprisingly suspenseful. Some of the violence is a bit timid or rushed through, such as when a sadistic guard lands on his own bayonet blade (either director Henry Cass or his editor skitter passed the gruesome incidents), and there are a few plot-holes which the writer leaves gaping. Otherwise, an efficient and enjoyable British-made thriller filmed in muted, gloomy Eastmancolor; not the 'shocker' advertised, but actually so much more. *** from ****
Decent Hammer imitation with a script by that studio's chief scribe,
Jimmy Sangster. Producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker competed
with Hammer in the horror stakes during the late 1950s/early 1960s
(with Berman usually doubling also as cinematographer) via such efforts
besides the one under review which was actually their first as THE
TROLLENBERG TERROR aka THE CRAWLING EYE (1958), JACK THE RIPPER (1959),
THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960) and THE HELLFIRE CLUB (1961). Director
Cass is best-known (if at all) for the Alec Guinness comedy LAST
HOLIDAY (1950), itself recently retooled for the dubious talents of
The film (which I had been looking forward to for ages after viewing stills from it in critiques of the genre penned by film historian Alan Frank) is a lurid melodrama in vivid color and with, pardon the pun, full-blooded performances but the contrived end result somehow misses the mark. For starters, the script seems uncertain whether it wants to be a Dracula (given its title and 'bloodthirsty' villain) or a Frankenstein (in view of the villain's guinea-pig experimentations with moribund or dead subjects) clone; the fact that it is almost entirely set in a mental institution-cum-prison (that includes future "Carry On" member Bernard Bresslaw as a rowdy jailbird) brings forth comparisons with the superior final Hammer Frankenstein entry FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)!
Distinguished thespian Donald Wolfit is surprisingly but effectively cast in the lead, while Victor Maddern has a memorable look as his knife-wielding henchman (although, again, bearing hideous features that are never explained); future Hammer startlet Barbara Shelley and Vincent Ball (playing a character saddled with the amusing name of John Pierre!), then, are reasonably appealing as the romantic leads. The rousing score is equally notable as is a nasty climax featuring a pack of wild dogs prefiguring the one in Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959)! Incidentally, there is a very noticeable jump-cut during one of the lab scenes (suggesting that the film had censorship issues back in the day); incidentally, the Dark Sky DVD which cleverly pairs it with the aforementioned THE HELLFIRE CLUB amusingly allowed one to watch the show just as if it were playing in an old-fashioned Drive-In (complete with a host of schlocky trailers, ads and announcements)
I couldn't agree more with the positive comments on this much-overlooked Hammer-styled gem. The 2006 Dark Sky DVD double-feature (with "The Hellfire Club") is a *must-have* for any fan of the early Hammer films. A delightful drive-in double-feature program design, including concessions ads, trailers and even an intermission, really adds to the enjoyment of the these two classic films. The transfer on both is quite respectable, certainly much superior to anything previously available, and is in anamorphic widescreen. Kudos to Dark Sky for their outstanding work on this and many other rare genre classics!
We each have the experiences that brought us to the way we dream, and
the forms we use in wrangling the world. My cinematic maturity is
pretty traceable because the films and the watching were so self-ware.
Going back before well-formed notions of self, this was one film experience that changed me. Or rather I should say that the first two minutes changed me. It was my first movie alone, and my first non-cartoon movie. Sent on a mission to get bread, this ten year old sneaked into a matinée with the 15 cents left over. Sitting virtually alone I knew that what I was doing would be costly, and that I would be crossing a boundary with my life never fully retrieved.
This movie starts with some text that tells us about the curse of the vampire being the greatest evil ever visited on the earth and that we are entering Transylvania during what I assumed was its riskiest, spookiest time. The only way to kill a vampire, we are told, is by a stake through the heart. We are in an unkempt graveyard, Leni Riefenstahl's mountains in the background. If a church bell tolls it doesn't matter because I heard it. Tones are muted, the distance is far. We know it is the deepest part of night.
Townsfolk carry a wrapped corpse on a stretcher, careful about their delicate business in managing the evil undead. They tip the corpse into the shallow grave, the only real space, and the covering comes off the body's face. We see not the artificial snarling teeth that we expect, but a regular bank president sort of guy.
The camera now looks up from the grave at two hired executioners. One has a stake five feet long, the other a wooden mallet with a head as big as his, something I suppose actually existed. But it is huge and the wide lens makes it very much larger as we hear the crunch of the stake through flesh and see and hear the pounding just as if it were our heart. The camera then shows the stake, the palette effectively shifting from black and white to color.
A quick title and then we see a hunchback skulking behind a rock. His right eye (the wrong color) drooping two inches too low. Even a ten year old cinematic virgin could see at once that the action we have witnessed we have seen through his eye and that of the corpse. I was out of that air conditioned theater like my life depended on it. The bread did not survive.
Now, after more than 50 years I can sit through the entire film. The first sequence is still masterful I think. But the rest of the thing must have been created by another team. Boring. It has dogs, which together with the opening must have been all Sangster had in mind when he started.
Funny how you build a life.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film used to be on television fairly often, but has not been shown in years. It has made its way to home video ,and is not hard to find. One thing that really stands out is the screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. I don't know which movie he wrote first, but in 1958, the British film company Hammer released The Revenge of Frankenstein, and the Berman-Baker team this one. Both screenplays involve a large number of similar incidents and characters, so that one movie almost seems a mirror reflection of the other. BOTV is far nastier than the Hammer film, which is essentially a witty black comedy. Both films apparently caused some controversy in late Fifties England, owing to what a movie critic deemed a deliberate depiction of concentration camp imagery. It's entirely possible that to a filmgoing public only a dozen or so years removed from the end of World War Two, the scenes in both Sangster screenplays involving mad doctors experimenting on helpless prisoners for their own bizarre schemes, were a little too reminiscent of the Nazi medical experiments at various death camps. Whether Sangster intended to evoke this image is debatable, but it's true that the mad scientist played by Donald Wolfit in BOTV could certainly be seen as a Nineteenth century Mengele. The prison sets are believable and the story is fairly convincing, with good performances by the leads. Barbara Shelley plays another of her early damsels in distress. Vincent Ball as the hero and his cell mate William Devlin are both good, with some fine supporting performances from actors playing guards and prison officials. A first time viewer is likely to feel cheated, though. SPOILERS AHEAD: The revelation that there is no supernatural vampire in this movie is a letdown. The villain is an otherwise routine mad doctor, experimenting on prisoners to find a kind of synthetic blood that will keep him alive, after his resurrection through scientific means. In fact, this part of the story strongly resembles the Warner Brothers 1939 movie The Return of Doctor X, with Humphrey Bogart as a quasi-vampire. Wolfit is convincing as the evil surgeon, Dr. Callistratus ( surely, the resemblance of the name to 'castration' isn't coincidental). He brings a certain grim realism to the fantastic storyline, and the movie remains pretty strong stuff even today, though some of the nastier events are implied ,rather than shown. Not a bad movie, a bit of a curiosity worth seeing at least once.It definitely succeeds as a horror movie, in the gruesome storyline and the barbaric prison setting.
Well, fans of Gothic style 50s horror will love this classic movie. For
me, I was expecting a little more 'vampire' in the story, like a
gorgeous vampiress dressed in a gown with fangs galore to bite the neck
of those she seduces - but sadly no.
The movie starts with the Count being staked through the heart and buried, before his servant 'Karl' (who plays a good Igor like character) takes his masters body to a mental asylum to revive him.
After a Doctor is wrongly accused in court of killing a patient through blood transfusing, he is sent to the asylum for his life-long punishment, only to become a servant to the Count, who wants to use his expertise in surgical practise on other inmates, mainly their blood.
This movie has the imagery of Hammer Horror, given by it's writer Jimmy Sangster, but sadly lacks the punch of a good dramatic Vampire story.
As classic Gothic horrors go, it's worth a look.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Plot synopsis||Ratings|
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|