RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at this Cornwall-set mad doctor flick
TITLE: Doctor Blood’s Coffin
YEAR RELEASED: 1961
DIRECTOR: Sidney J. Furie
CAST: Kieron Moore, Hazel Court and Ian Hunter
Question: If you were planning to abduct people for use in experimental transplant operations, with a view to reviving the dead, wouldn’t you at the very least pick somewhere with a large population to minimise your chances of detection, rather than pick a very small Cornish village, least of all the one where you grew up and where your dad is still the local GP?
We’ve barely touched on the basic premise of Doctor Blood’s Coffin, and already hit upon the kind of lapse in logic which pretty much sums up this film.
After being thrown out of medical school in Vienna for conducting experiments of dubious legality, biochemist Peter Blood (Kieron Moore) heads back to his home village in Cornwall to continue his work, which involves using the drug Curare to paralyse his victims, enabling him to remove their still live organs, with a view to using them to bring the dead back to life.
More specifically, Peter feels it perfectly justifiable that those he deems as unimportant in the great scheme of things should be sacrificed to revive the great thinkers and scientists, those who could feasibly further mankind if brought back from the dead. As is often the case with mad doctors from Baron Frankenstein onwards, Peter’s moral compass isn’t so much off-kilter as totally conked out.
Peter’s father Robert (Ian Hunter) is the local GP, assisted by nurse Linda Parker (Hazel Court), a widow whose husband was killed in an accident. Blood Jr. woos Parker, although it’s not entirely clear whether he has any real feelings or if he’s just eyeing her up as another organ donor.
Wisely working under the pseudonym of Jerry Juran, the story by Nathan Juran (later better known for directing TV shows like Lost In Space and The Time Tunnel) has more holes in it than a tea bag. It tries to make some effort at surprising the audience that Blood Jr. is behind the shenanigans, whilst forgetting that the film’s title has already pretty much given the game away.
The laughable “concealed” entrance to a “hidden” passage is a side-splitter. The local villagers obviously know this place like the back of their hand. Don’t you think they’d notice a hole covered by a flimsily constructed wood/vegetation cover? They’d also be more than likely aware of the tunnels running below, where the experiments are taking place.
Even more bizarrely, the local police (represented by Kenneth J. Warren) don’t seem to think that an inordinately high number of disappearances in one village is anything more than your bog standard, rural murder investigation.
Oh, and another point: Peter Blood isn’t a doctor as such. He’s a biochemist, and yet he’s considered suitable to cover his father’s rounds, or carry out an autopsy. He’s not qualified surely?
Still, all that aside, it’s the climax of this mess that really makes it worth the effort, if only for the sight of Hazel Court screaming her lungs out, before quickly regaining her composure to give the mad doctor a very British, jolly good telling off for his misdemeanours. She does this surprisingly calmly, considering a re-animated corpse is staring at her, a “gift” from Peter which doesn’t go down too well…
Whilst the last five minutes are great fun, getting there is heavy going at times, despite the gorgeous Cornwall locations. Doctor Blood’s Coffin promises far much more than it actually delivers (a gory surgery scene midway through the film not withstanding), is way too talky and is easily at least 15 minutes too long for its own good. However, its sheer ridiculousness provides enough giggles to make it worth sitting through. The fact that it’s an early British zombie flick of sorts is also noteworthy.
TRIVIA POINT: Director Sidney J. Furie’s film career would survive this inauspicious start. He would win BAFTA and DGA awards for The Ipcress File (1965), and go on to direct a bona fide horror classic with The Entity (1982).