First off the blocks to emulate Hammer’s horror success? RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES revisits the gruesomely Technicolor effort, Blood Of The Vampire (1958).
TITLE: Blood Of The Vampire
RELEASED: 26th August 1958
STARRING: Donald Wolfit (Dr. Callistratus), Vincent Ball (Dr. John Pierre), Barbara Shelley (Madeleine Duval), Victor Maddern (Carl), William Devlin (Kurt Urach)
WRITER: Jimmy Sangster
DIRECTOR: Henry Cass
Transylvania, 1874. In the dead of night, a group of men are burying a body in the middle of nowhere. One, wearing an executioner’s mask, drives a stake through the corpse’s heart, and most of the assembled leave a grave digger alone to complete the burial. Before he can do so, he is attacked by a facially deformed hunchback…
A few years later, the revived Dr. Callistratus (for it was he in the coffin), aided by the hunchbacked assistant Carl, is conducting experiments in the hope of curing his own deadly blood disease. The prisoners provide fresh supplies for his regular blood transfusions, and for his sadistic experiments.
When Dr. John Pierre is wrongly imprisoned for malpractice, Callistratus enlists him as a reluctant assistant. However, when Mrs. Pierre comes looking for her husband, with news of his official pardon, the mad doc’s plans look in jeopardy…
This Hammer lookalike was certainly quick off the blocks. Perhaps more of a mad scientist film than a vampire tale per se, this might be a disappointment to those who like a vampire to get their fangs out, but you might argue that the film should also be applauded for trying something different at so early a stage. This might have been an effort by Jimmy Sangster to clearly differentiate his screenplay from the one he had written for Hammer’s Dracula (1958), but also possibly suggests that the film is more inspired by The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), rather than any previous vampire films.
In some ways this is a more brutal and sadistic film than Hammer’s early gothics, with a staking scene at the beginning being particularly gruesome. The laboratory scenes seem intent on outdoing Peter Cushing’s lab for grotesque exhibits, with a dash of torture chamber thrown in for good measure.
Donald Wolfit, perhaps unaware that he doesn’t need to project his voice to the balcony in a film studio, threatens to bring the scenery down on occasion, but his delivery certainly seems to suit the extreme material. You also have to wonder if Marty Feldman saw Victor Maddern’s performance here before making Young Frankenstein (1974) – the resemblance between their bodily gestures is truly uncanny at times…
Transcending mere cash-in status, Blood Of The Vampire is a cracking 85 minutes for gothic horror buffs, and has important historical value as possibly the first response by independent producers to Hammer’s trailblazing success.
TRIVIA POINTS: Blood Of The Vampire managed to make it to UK cinemas a mere three months after Hammer’s Dracula premiered, but it actually began shooting in October 1957, almost a month before Dracula entered production.
It is believed that Blood Of The Vampire may have been the first horror film released on the VHS format, by Magnetic Video in 1978.
Producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker would find global success on TV a few years later with Roger Moore in The Saint (1962-69).
Director Henry Cass would later turn his back on the cinema, apparently becoming heavily involved with the religious Festival Of Light movement. To what extent Blood Of The Vampire may have influenced this decision is unknown.