Doctor Blood's Coffin
Doctor Blood's Coffin is a 1961 British horror film produced by George Fowler, and directed by Sidney J. Furie. It stars Kieron Moore, Hazel Court and Ian Hunter. The story is that of young biochemist Dr Peter Blood (Kieron Moore), who returns to his hometown in Cornwall with the belief that he can selectively restore life by transplanting the living hearts of 'undeserving' people into dead people who 'deserve' to live. The film is significant for being one of the first two zombie movies to be shot in colour, the other being the obscure 1961 US film The Dead One and for its early portrayal of zombies as homicidal rotting cadavers. The movie was released in the UK in January 1961 and in the US in April of that year, where it was on a double bill with another British film, The Snake Woman (1961).
|Doctor Blood's Coffin|
|Directed by||Sidney J. Furie|
|Produced by||George Fowler|
|Based on||original story and screenplay by Nathan Juran (as "Jerry Juran")|
|Music by||Buxton Orr|
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
Caralan Productions Ltd.
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Strange crimes are occurring in Cornwall. Doctors' surgeries are being burgled and people are disappearing. No-one knows it yet, but the stolen medical supplies have been used to set up a laboratory in the disused Porthcarron Tin Mine and the missing people have been taken there after being immobilised with a drug.
Into this situation comes young Dr Peter Blood (Kieron Moore), fresh off a biochemistry research grant in Vienna. He's a Porthcarron native and his father Robert (Ian Hunter) is the village doctor. Robert is assisted by a young widowed nurse, Linda Parker (Hazel Court),
Police Sgt Cook (Kenneth J. Warren) is investigating the crimes. Peter eagerly volunteers to help search the tin mines for the latest missing man, George Beale (Andy Alston). But Peter's motive is not altruistic: he wants to prevent Cook from discovering the lab in the mine, for Peter is behind the thefts and disappearances.
Inside the mine, Peter finds Beale slowly crawling away, but can't stop him as Sgt Cook is too near. Beale drags himself outside. Searchers call Peter to render medical assistance. As Beale mumbles incoherently, Peter injects him with something and pronounces him dead, then offers to do the post mortem. Meanwhile, Robert is unable to analyse the contents of a broken syringe, stolen from his office and found in Beale's room. He takes it to Plymouth Hospital for a full analysis. Then Linda finds a curious clay container. Peter explains it away as a gift from a schoolmate - an ancient South American curare container.
Peter speaks oddly to Linda about his time in Vienna. He says that he and his supervising professor were on the verge of a controversial medical breakthrough, but the professor refused to continue. Peter calls him rule-bound, superstitious and ignorant, and arrogantly tells Linda that 'no-one's going to hold me back now'.
Beale's PM is to be done at the mortuary of village undertaker Mr Morton (Gerald Lawson). But Beale's not dead and Peter begins to remove his living heart. Morton interrupts Peter's grisly work. Peter tells Morton that Beale was worthless - sitting around in pubs, never making anything of himself - and that he's going to put Beale's heart into someone dead who, unlike Beale, deserves to live. Morton tries to stop Peter, and in the ensuing struggle, Peter accidentally kills Morton. By then, Beale's heart has died. 'Now I'll have to find another heart', Peter mutters.
Peter takes Linda to the tin mines, where she's never been. Inside, he tells her a weird story that as a boy he played there, pretending he was dead and then coming back to life. They're startled by self-employed tin miner Tregaye (Fred Johnson), who leads them out. Peter later returns and Tregaye becomes his latest victim. When Peter and Linda attend Beale's funeral, Peter notices that Linda has gone off to gaze lovingly at her husband Steve's grave.
Robert returns from Plymouth Hospital. The liquid in the syringe is curare. Trying to deflect suspicion, Peter says that, coincidentally, he and Linda had recently been talking about curare. But Linda is in fact growing suspicious. Sgt Cook arrives, telling them that Tregaye has been found dead and asks Peter to perform the PM. Tregaye is not at all deceased, though. He's been immobilised by Peter's curare.
Linda confronts Peter, He tells her that he will put the living hearts of wastrels into the dead bodies of those who deserve to live, such as great scientists and philosophers. Linda says that only God has the right to decide who lives and who dies, but Peter insists that as a doctor he too has that right. Linda replies that he may be able to restore 'physical life', but the result will be an 'evil being'. She runs away when Peter says that she only loves Steve's memory - and not what he is now, 'pinned down by a gravestone'.
Sgt Cook and Robert have also by now realised that Peter is behind the crimes. Peter goes to the cemetery, unearths a body, and hauls it back to his lab, where Tregaye also lies. He transplants Tregaye's beating heart into the body that he's disinterred. The body, of course, is that of Steve Parker (Paul Stockman).
As Sgt Cook organises a manhunt, Peter forces Linda into the mine, where she encounters her reanimated but rather decomposed husband. 'You haven't brought Steve Parker back to life', she screams. 'This is something from hell!' Suddenly zombie Steve attempts to strangle Linda without apparent provocation. Peter pulls him off her. They fight. Steve kills Peter and then dies again. Linda runs to the search party on the shoreline, safe once more.
- Kieron Moore as Dr. Peter Blood
- Hazel Court as Nurse Linda Parker
- Ian Hunter as Dr. Robert Blood, Peter's Father
- Kenneth J. Warren as Sergeant Cook
- Gerald Lawson as Mr. G. F. Morton
- Fred Johnson as Tregaye
- Paul Hardtmuth as Professor Luckman
- Paul Stockman as Steve Parker, Linda's Husband
- Andy Alston as George Beale, Tunnel Expert
Nathan Juran wrote the script under the pseudonym 'Jerry Juran' and sold it to Furie, who had it rewritten by James Kelly and Peter Martin in order to better fit England, as the original story took place in a gold-mining town 'out west' in America. Furie set up the film at Caralan Productions Ltd and signed a distribution deal with United Artists for both the UK and the US. Doctor Blood's Coffin was one of the last movies to be shot at Nettlefold Film Studios in Walton-on-Thames.
Doctor Blood's Coffin was filmed in 10 days on a budget of £25,000. Of that amount, Furie's salary as director was £3500. The movie was shot in Eastmancolour at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Its working title was Face of Evil.
One source states that scenes set inside the tin mine were shot on a studio sound stage. But Hazel Court said in an interview that those scenes were filmed inside 'the real thing' - a 'very wet' cave in Cornwall.
Doctor Blood's Coffin opened in the UK in January 1961 and had its US premiere in Los Angeles on 29 April 1961. The film was released theatrically in March 1961 in Ireland and in August 1961 in Argentina, before reaching Mexico in November 1962. It also played in theatres in Finland, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Brazil, Portugal and Spain, but all at unspecified dates.
In the UK, the British Board of Film Censors gave the film an X-certificate, which restricted exhibition to those over age 16. The X-cert was granted after cuts to 'one or more versions of [the] work' had been made, although no details of the nature of the cuts are available. Perhaps surprisingly', writes British critic John Hamilton, 'UA was happy enough with the finished product to rush it into cinemas at the start of 1961, less than six months after the start of filming'.
Although it had 'only a handful of playdates' in the US, this was enough to attract the attention of BoxOffice magazine, which published a review in its issue of 22 May 1961. The anonymous reviewer wrote that 'the picture is strictly for patrons who like their gore in large doses. Theatres catering to the horror fans should find an eager audience, but its ghastliness will restrict it to that category'. The reviewer warned, 'Young children should not be encouraged to see the picture, in fact, it is likely to cause nightmares among sturdy adults'. Later, after the movie had played in the US for the summer, BoxOffice in its 28 August 1961 issue summarised ratings from several publications. BoxOffice itself and Variety gave it a 'poor' rating; Harrison's Reports, Parents' Magazine and The New York Daily News all called it 'fair'; while Film Daily rated it as 'good'.
Contemporary reviews of Doctor Blood's Coffin tended to be less than favourable, despite United Artists being 'happy enough' with the film. American science fiction film historian Bill Warren quotes a review in Monthly Film Bulletin as saying that the film, 'though rich in curare, flashing scalpels,decayed flesh and Cornish landscapes, lacks style, suspense and imagination and will scarcely satisfy the most naive necrophiliac'. On the other hand, Warren notes that Limelight critic Jack Moffitt wrote that 'The more discriminating horror fans ... may find merit in this intelligently directed and well-written British recapitulation of the Frankenstein formula'. However, Warren himself, writing nearly 50 years after the film premiered, says that its plot 'was not only preposterous but hackneyed' and that while Furie 'does have a vivid surface style, he rarely goes beneath that to anything resembling content, for he's one of several directors who seem to feel the look of the film is the content'.
British film historian Phil Hardy is equally unimpressed with Doctor Blood's Coffin, calling it 'a crude shocker ... with an inane plot' and noting that it 'simply piles up shots of bloody surgery and decayed flesh on the assumption that vivisection or a heart transplant performed in a disused Cornish tin-mine is sufficient to tap into audiences' unconscious fears or taboo fantasies'. He writes that 'the kindest possible comment' to make about the script and story is that they are 'poverty stricken'. But in opposition to Hardy's comments about fears and fantasies, British critic Jamie Russell posits that 'As Linda Parker's experience suggests, the return of the dead signifies not only our fear of death but also our fear of the dead themselves - those that we loved, but were unable to save from the inevitable end'.
Writing in The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, academic film historian Peter Dendle identifies the film as offering 'the first glimpse of the modern screen zombie - decayed and violent, rather than simply pale and aloof'. Steve is 'horribly decomposed, with greenish cracked skin, and some sort of unappetising bright green moss growing all over his face in thin strips'. He is also 'unusually powerful - clearly new things are in the air for the screen zombie'. Still, Dendle is disappointed that zombie Steve 'is only on-screen for two minutes, at the movie's climax,' and he calls the movie 'dated and watery in most respects'.
Whiled the film bears 'the first modern screen zombie', Glenn Kay, in Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, criticizes the 'deadly slow pace' of the movie. He also writes that 'Zombie fans in particular will no doubt be displeased by the distinct lack of zombie activity', concluding that 'It's all pretty lame stuff'.
Doctor Blood's Coffin has long been available for home viewing in a variety of formats in the U.S. It was released on VHS by Alpha Video in 1991, 1995, and again in 2005. VHS versions were also released in 1999 by both MGM Home Entertainment and Image Entertainment (the latter offered a VideoDisc of the film as well), and at unspecified dates by Dark Dreams Video, Network Enterprises, and Something Weird Video.
There have been numerous DVD releases of the film, with Alpha Video Distributors the first in the U.S. in 2002. It was later released by MGM Home Video on October 18, 2011 via MGM's Limited Edition Collection Disc-On-Demand service as a Region 1 widescreen DVD, and a month later, November 2011, in Region 2. Media Sales U.K. also released a Region 2 DVD in 2014, which according to one source was the year in which the DVD was 'officially' given a 15-certification by the British Board of Film Classification (a 15-certificate is the rough equivalent of an American R-rating).
Scream Factory is set to bring the film to Blu-ray on May 15, 2018.
- Stinson, Charles. 'Dr. Blood's Coffin' Could Well Be Buried. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 Apr 1961: 14.
- Kay, Glenn (2008). Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide. Chicago Review Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-1-55652-770-8.
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