Blood of the Vampire
Blood of the Vampire is a 1958 British colour horror film, produced by Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman for Tempean Films, directed by Henry Cass, from a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, that stars Donald Wolfit, Barbara Shelley, and Vincent Ball.
|Blood of the Vampire|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry Cass|
|Produced by||Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman|
|Written by||Jimmy Sangster|
|Distributed by||Universal International|
Many horror fans thought the feature was a Hammer Films production when it came out, due to its similar look and Sangster's writer's credit. The film's U.S. release was in October 1958 as a double feature with Universal's Monster on the Campus.
The film's storyline, set in Transylvania, is about a scientist who uses the inmates of a prison for the criminally insane as sources for his gruesome blood-typing and -transfusion experiments that are keeping him alive.
A man's body wrapped in a shroud is shoved into a Transylvania grave in 1874. An executioner (Milton Reid) drives a stake through its heart. Immediately afterward, Carl (Victor Maddern), who is severely physically disabled, emerges from hiding and kills the gravedigger (Otto Diamant). Carl summons a drunken doctor (Cameron Hall) to perform a heart transplant on the body, then murders the doctor.
Six years later, Dr. John Pierre (Vincent Ball) is convicted of "malpractice leading to manslaughter" after an emergency blood transfusion, which has never been done successfully, fails, killing his patient. As John's fiancée Madeleine (Barbara Shelley) watches, John is sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony. But instead he's sent to a Prison for the Criminal Insane, run by Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit). When John meets Callistratus, he learns that he is to help with Calistratus's blood-typing research, so that transfusions can be safely done, especially for those with an unnamed "rare and serious blood condition".
At his trial, John maintained that the patient's death was unavoidable and asked the judge (John Le Mesurier) to write to Prof. Meinster (Henry Vidon) in Geneva to vouch for him. The judge says that he already had, but Meinster replied that he doesn't know John.
At the request of Madeleine and her uncle (John Stuart), Meinster travels to Transylvania, where they meet with Auron (Bryan Coleman), a member of the Prison Commission. Meinster insists that he was never contacted by the court. Auron, who is on Callistratus's payroll, had intercepted the letter to Meinster and forged a reply. He now must reopen the case.
John grows increasingly uncomfortable with his work because the blood is from unwilling inmates, many of whom die. Auron visits Callistratus and tells him that the Prison Commission has ordered John's release. Callistratus, however, tells John that the Commission has denied his appeal and tells the Commission that John and another inmate, Kurt (William Devlin), both died in an escape attempt. John and Kurt then actually try to escape, but fail. Kurt is presumably killed by the vicious Dobermans which keep the prisoners in line. Madeleine refuses to believe that John is dead and takes a job as Callistratus' housekeeper so she can investigate.
John discovers that Kurt's grave is empty. Auron visits Callistratus again and recognises Madeleine from their meeting. Auron goes to her room and attempts to rape her, but is stopped by Carl, who has fallen in love with her. Callistratus demands an explanation of the assault. Madeleine tells him what happened. Auron denies it and tells Callistratus about her relationship with John. Callistratus throws him out. Insulted, Auron threatens to expose Callistratus. After he leaves, Callistratus sends Carl after him and Auron is not seen again.
Callistratus takes Madeleine to his laboratory and chains her to a wall. John arrives to rescue her but is also chained. Callistratus orders Carl to strap Madeleine to an operating table, but Carl refuses. Callistratus shoots him. Callistratus straps her down himself and wheels out Kurt, now just a torso with a head and one arm. Callistratus tells John that because of his earlier work with blood, he was executed for being a vampire, but had put himself into a state of suspended animation. The heart transplant revived him, but he now has the "rare and fatal blood condition" he spoke of earlier. He needs constant transfusions and has drained all the blood of many inmates. He now intends to transfuse Madeleine's blood into Kurt.
John yells to Kurt to "resist" and Kurt grips Callistratus' arm. As they struggle, they move close enough for John to knock Callistratus unconscious and free himself. Kurt dies from the exertion. John unstraps Madeleine and takes Callistratus hostage, demanding free passage from the prison. They walk free but Carl, who survived Callistratus' shot, frees the hounds, then dies after being shot again by the guards. The Dobermans tear Callistratus to shreds.
Opening and closing credits differ. This list in the order of the end credits, with corrections and additions from the British Film Institute (BFI).
- Donald Wolfit as Callistratus
- Vincent Ball as John Pierre
- Barbara Shelley as Madeleine
- Victor Maddern as Carl
- William Devlin as Kurt
- Andrew Faulds as Wetzler
- John Le Mesurier as Judge
- Brian Coleman as Auron ('Bryan' is correct spelling & used in opening credits)
- Cameron Hall as Drunken Doctor
- George Murcell as First Guard
- Julian Strange as Second Guard (not in opening credits)
- Bruce Whiteman as Third Guard (not in opening credits)
- Barbara Burke as Housekeeper
- Bernard Bresslaw as Tall Sneak Thief
- Hal Osmond as Small Sneak Thief
- Henry Vidon as Professor Meinster
- John Stuart as Uncle
- Colin Tapley as Commissioner of Prisons
- Muriel Ali as Gypsy Dancer
- Max Brimmell as Warder (not in opening credits)
- Dennis Shaw as Blacksmith (not in opening credits)
- Otto Diamant as Gravedigger
- Milton Reed as Executioner (not in opening credits; BFI spells surname 'Reid')
- Richard Golding as Official
Theodore Williams' name appears in the opening credits, but neither the actor's nor the character's name are in the end credits. BFI refers to him as 'Emaciated Prisoner'. BFI also includes five additional uncredited performers: Yvonne Buckingham (Serving Wench); Sylvia Casimir (Laughing Woman at Tavern); Suzanne Lee (Uncredited); Gordon Honey (Stretcher Bearer); and Carlos Williams (Stretcher Bearer).
The film was inspired by the success of Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958). The producers hired Jimmy Sangster, writer of both those movies, to do the screenplay. Shooting took four weeks. Blood of the Vampire was distributed in the UK by Eros Films and in the USA by Universal International.
Posters for Blood of the Vampire indicate that it was considered an adults-only film in France and the UK at the time of its release. French posters note that viewing by people under age 16 was prohibited and UK posters show that the film carried an X Certificate from the British Board of Film Censors, which prohibited the exhibition of the movie to those under 16. The X Certificate is indicative of the activities of Eros Film Distributors, which had by then deliberately 'embarked on a new X-certificate path'. Tempean Productions 'embraced' not only films designed to get an X cert, but also 'Eros's policy of offering co-feature programmes which could be marketed not only in Britain, but also on the American drive-in circuits'.
Producing films for drive-in theatres was apparently successful. According to a contemporary newspaper advertisement, the Moonlite Drive-In in Smithtown, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday, 3 August 1960 ran a dawn-to-dusk triple feature with Blood of the Vampire as the first movie - nearly two years after its American release - Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) the second and The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) the third. As a promotion, attendees whose tickets ended in 13 or 31 were treated to 'Dracula's Buffet Luncheon', which consisted of 'Dracula's Cocktail, Deviled Zombie Skulls, Crispy Skull Chips, Devil Fruit, Voodoo Spirits' and a 'Werewolf Tall Sandwich'.
Blood of the Vampire was released over a considerable amount of time in a number of countries. After its London premiere on 26 August 1958, it opened in the USA in October 1958 and was followed by Germany in December 1958, the Netherlands in April 1959, France in April 1960, Japan in July 1960, Spain in 1966 and Sweden in October 1969. The film also played in theatres in Belgium, Italy, Greece and Brazil. It was re-released theatrically in France in 1986, as well. The running time of the film was 84 minutes in the UK and 87 minutes in the USA.
Curiously, the model village scene for Carlstadt at about 10 minutes into the film uses the same model set (with the Globe theatre) as used for the 1944 film Henry V.
Initial reviews of Blood of the Vampire were mixed. Review Digest in the January 19, 1959 issue of BoxOffice magazine showed the following ratings: Harrison's Report and Film Daily called the film "very good"; BoxOffice, The Hollywood Reporter, and Parents' Magazine rated it as "good"; and Variety called it "fair". The New York Daily News, always a part of "Review Digest", did not review the film.
In summarizing contemporary reviews, film critic Bill Warren writes that "although the film was popular and still has its adherents, Blood of the Vampire was not greeted by much enthusiasm by film critics, although most thought it somewhat above average". For example, Charles Stinson of The Los Angeles Times wrote, "it is gratifying to be able to turn in an on-the-whole good report on the film. It is "intelligently scripted and well acted by a group of British performers". Jack Moffitt of The Hollywood Reporter, whom Warren calls "hard-to-please", wrote in his review that the film "rates more serious audience attention than most of the contemporary rash of domestic horror films. Direction by Henry Cass is brisk enough to keep yawning from being contagious to the audience".
Reviews from the U.K. were mixed. According to film critic John Hamilton, Film Daily described the film as "one of the best films in the horror-fiction category. It ventures into gore and supernatural with a headlong grandeur", while The Monthly Film Bulletin took a dimmer view, calling it "an essay in hokum" and stating that the producers incorporated "every trick of the macabre and the horrific they can legitimately introduce".
In a more modern view of the film, historian Paul Adams points out that 'Blood of the Vampire is a vampire film in name only as ... the undead creature of the title is in fact a human scientist, rather than a true nosferatu, resurrected from beyond the grave by an impromptu heart transplant and subsequently kept alive by frequent and gory Eastman Color blood transfusions courtesy of the inmates of a local insane asylum". Author Paul Meehan calls the film "packed with the blood, gore and sadism of Jimmy Sangster's script" and notes that "grafting an element of science fiction onto the traditional notion of vampirism" doesn't work all that well. "The film's pseudoscience, such as do-it-yourself 19th century heart-transplant surgery and suspended animation, strains credulity while reaching for a scientific rationale for vampire resurrection".
In Warren's view, "It's a shade better than some of its class, but the lumpy direction, muddled plot, and slow pace make it look much worse now than it did when it was new ... This is horror by the book, circa 1958, and it's pretty drab ... Cass' direction is, at best, pedestrian, but he probably had little time to do anything". Taking the opposite view, Meehan says, "Director Henry Cass moves the plot along vigorously while providing effective gothic atmosphere". British critic Phil Hardy seems to agree, calling it a "superior British horror movie" and "probably the routine Cass's best movie".
Warren finds some virtue in the film, though, calling the art direction by John Elphink "imaginative" and noting that "several sets seem positively cavernous", probably because of lens choice by cinematographer Geoffrey Seaholme. But overall the end result is disappointing because Wolfit "is made up to resemble Bela Lugosi, which he otherwise does not" and because "characters pop up, deliver their lines, and are quickly disposed of". In the end, he writes, "Blood of the Vampire is notable today for its bogus qualities: it is a fake Hammer film, about a scientific vampire, with an imitation Bela Lugosi".
Clips from Blood of the Vampire are featured in two episodes of the TV series 100 Years of Horror: in episode No. 2, "Blood-Drinking Creatures", which originally aired on December 19, 1996, and in episode No. 15, "Scream Queens", first shown April 17, 1997. Film posters or clips were shown in the made-for-television film Hollywood's Creepiest Creatures, hosted by Elvira, and airing on Halloween Night 2004.
Blood of the Vampire has been available for home viewing for decades in the U.S. It was first released in 1978 on VHS and Betamax by Magnetic Video. Gorgon Films later released the film on VHS in 1993. A 2006 DVD release followed from Dark Sky Films. Theatrical trailers from the film were used in the 1996 VHS release, Nightmare Theater's Late Night Chill-o-rama Horror Show Vol.1.
Finding the film in the U.K. seems to have been more difficult. Hardy wrote in 1986 that "all prints of it appear to have been destroyed". The first mention of it being available in the U.K. for home viewing is its 2007 DVD release by Simply Media.
- John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 52-56
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