A Movie A Day: Quint tastes the BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958) ’He begins where Dracula left off!’
Published at: Aug. 15, 2008, 5:33 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we jump from disappointing pirate/cult flick THE HELLFIRE CLUB to the first of the DVD double feature BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE thanks to common writer Jimmy Sangster. It’s a good thing I didn’t blow off the first film because the second film on Dark Sky’s DVD double feature was a stinker.
I’m not saying BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE is a great film, but it’s a very interesting movie, a smart twist on the vampire and one that doesn’t feel like it was shot with $14 and a bucket of peanuts like THE HELLFIRE CLUB.
Basically you have a vampire movie without any fucking vampires in it, or at least the kind you’re used to. The movie opens with a stake being hammed into a corpse’s chest. And I mean hammered… This like pitching a circus tent-sized hammer and stake.
The Igor of this story, called Carl and played by Victor Maddern, is about as typically Igorish as you can get. Hunchback, check. Tattered clothes, check. Sloth-eye drooping down, check. He summons a drunk doctor who made arrangements with this corpse, apparently, and has a beating heart hooked up to some machine in a bubbling jar of something or other. He replaces the heart and is promptly killed by Igor/Carl and from that point on the corpse is rejuvenated, but has to keep a regular influx of fresh blood because his blood types don’t match and his cells are constantly fighting each other.
This bastard becomes the mad scientest running a looney bin in the 14th century and somehow intricately plans to get another doctor, Dr. John Pierre (Vincent Ball), convicted of murder after a risky experimental blood transfusion (unheard of in these times) results in the death of his patient.
Of course this doctor gets sidetracked to this insane asylum so he can help the evil Dr. Callistratus figure out different blood types and perfect the transfusion process, which will save his life.
Interestingly enough, Jimmy Sangster wrote the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee COUNT DRACULA two years previous to this film and you can tell he’s going out of his way to tell a radically different story. It’s not as convoluted as I probably made it sound above, but it is a lot of fun and handled with great care by director Henry Cass.
It does, of course, ape the Hammer style, but in a good way. The Insanitarium is nice and gothic, the color photography is rich, the blood is thick red paint… classic stuff. And like I’ve already stated, it’s quite an interesting twist on the vampire legend.
Donald Wolfit is doing his best Bela Lugosi as Callistratus, crazy eyebrows and everything, but he’s still charmingly evil. He’s right at home in a dungeon, with a hunchback at his beck and call. Vincent Ball is likable as the good doctor and Maddern is just awesome as the Igor. Also keep an eye out for Barbara Shelley as Ball’s wife who has more to do than be chained up while screaming (although there is that, too).
Final Thoughts: A very entertaining flick that is more than just a Hammer rip-off. It’s definitely a B-movie, but it takes a very serious and interest approach to what exactly makes a vampire a vampire. I wouldn’t call the movie heady, but it’s definitely got a little more on its mind than most throwaway pictures of the era.