Thirst (1979)

ate Davis (Chantal Contouri), a successful businesswoman unknowingly descended from the notorious vampiress Elizabeth Bathory, is abducted by a cult of modern-day vampires with a view to uniting her bloodline with that of another upper-class vampire bloodline. The cult – whose membership numbers 70,000 worldwide – harvest humans for their blood on farms and consider themselves a superior race. However, Kate stubbornly refuses to accept her vampire links, which means the cult has to use methods that threaten to cause a split amongst their leaders…

Thirst came across as to me as The Prisoner (TV series) coupled with an updated version of the Nazi holocaust camp, and a study of the inevitable adoption of brainwashing techniques of any widespread organisation whose power is allowed to grow unchecked. While it uses vampirism as a theme, it doesn’t really serve as a device for horror in the way that more conventional vampire films do. In fact it is more a psychological thriller focusing on the systematic destruction of a person’s will. For this reason it’s difficult to compare it with any other vampire movie to provide a frame of reference. That doesn’t mean this is any better than others of the genre, but it is definitely, well, different.

The acting is pretty strong throughout, although Shirley Cameron as one of the more sadistic leaders of the cult, acts like she’s in one of those spoof spy thrillers of the 60s: all she needs is an eye patch, a cigar, and a flick-knife in her boot to make the impression complete. David Hemmings, whose pretty looks were already fading while he was still in his thirties, provides by far the slickest – and understated – performance, and seeing him run rings around the rest of the cast makes you wish he had found roles more deserving of his talent. Henry Silva also makes an appearance, although he has practically nothing to do other than die a memorable death.

Thirst does have a fairly slow pace that won’t appeal to fans of more conventional vampire flicks. It disregards vampire lore – the ‘vampires’ have no fangs, can stand daylight, garlic, crosses,etc – and for that reason it’s to be applauded. Made at a time when the vampire genre was going through something of a hiatus – it at least makes a better fist of transplanting the genre to the modern day than other 70s efforts like the Yorga films and Hammer’s Dracula 1973 AD, but it still seems a little unsure of itself and fails to make its basic idea entirely convincing simply because it tries to merge old-style religious ceremonies with production-line technology. For anyone who likes to see movies that at least try something different – even if it doesn’t succeed completely – this one would definitely be worth a look.