Inspector Quennell of Scotland Yard is called in to solve the mystery behind the brutal killings of two young men, whose bodies were completely drained of blood. The press favor the theory that they were the victims of a giant bird of prey. Quennell (Peter Cushing) discovers that both men were students of the distinguished entomologist Dr Mallinger (Robert Flemyng), but he seems unable to help the inspector with his inquiries. Meanwhile, a young entomologist called Britewell (William Wilde) arrives at Dr Mallinger’s home from Africa with some specimens. It soon transpires that Mallinger during the course of his research, turned his daughter Clare (Wanda Ventham) into a creature that can turn herself into a giant Death’s Head moth, which thrives on human blood. After she seduces and kills Britewell, Quennell learns from the local police station that Britewell was a colleague of Mallinger’s as the village constable gave him directions to his mansion. However, when Quennell approaches Mallinger with these facts, he denies ever meeting him. Quennell is now suspicious but Mallinger and Clare flee to another remote district of the English countryside. Quennell makes a discrete search of Mallinger’s deserted house and finds the body of his butler as well as the skeletons of other victims hidden in Clare’s underground lair. In the guise of a banker called Thompson, Quennell takes his daughter Meg (Vanessa Howard) to the village where Mallinger has fled having tracked him down because one of his former servants overheard where he was taking his daughter. Having successfully arrived in the village incognito, Meg befriends William (David Griffin), a young man who catches butterflies and moths to study them under his microscope. They go out on a hunt together and accidentally stumble upon Mallinger and Clare’s hiding place and narrowly become victims themselves. Quennell realises that he must act quickly and apprehend Mallinger and his fearsome creation before the death toll reaches a horrifying level. In addition, Dr Mallinger is working on a mate for Clare…
The Blood Beast Terror (US title: The Vampire Beast Craves Blood) was originally to have featured Peter Cushing as Inspector Quennell with Basil Rathbone playing Dr Mallinger. Unfortunately, Rathbone died just weeks before filming was due to commence at the Goldhawk studios in Shephards Bush London. Both Cushing and Rathbone had enjoyed acclaim as Sherlock Holmes as well as being cast in numerous horror films. It would of been interesting to see what sort of chemistry they would have created between them on the screen. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Nevertheless, the film has many fun moments such as British comedian Roy Hudd’s comedy relief role as a mortuary attendant whose always scoffing pickled onions. In addition there’s an amusing sequence in which Dr Mallinger’s students stage a Frankenstein like play in the former’s living room complete with hammy acting and lousy home made special effects. It’s practically an in joke at theatrical mishaps like when one of the students goes to pull the curtain across the stage “Oops the curtain’s stuck.” he cackles.
As a horror film, it emerges as enjoyable on the cheesier side of British horror. For instance, it was clearly made on a shoestring (even cheaper looking than Hammer’s films of the period) and Clare’s transformation scenes into the creature aren’t very satisfactory. Yet Peter Cushing and Robert Flemyng play their parts with a certain authority that makes the picture a lot better than you’d expect and director Vernon Sewell (a true veteran of the British film industry) keeps things moving at a good pace so the film never outstays its welcome. It is made all the more entertaining as it light heartedly sends up the genre with its in jokes about theatrical mishaps and cheesy effects. Wanda Ventham is excellent as the evil Clare portraying the character with a genuine sense of malice and evil. In summary, it is the distinguished cast and director who put this film a lot higher than it deserved. With lesser talents it would have been a complete disaster.