Blood of the Vampire (1958)

Decent Hammer imitation with a script by that studio’s chief scribe, Jimmy Sangster. Producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker competed with Hammer in the horror stakes during the late 1950s/early 1960s (with Berman usually doubling also as cinematographer) via such efforts – besides the one under review which was actually their first – as THE TROLLENBERG TERROR aka THE CRAWLING EYE (1958), JACK THE RIPPER (1959), THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960) and THE HELLFIRE CLUB (1961). Director Cass is best-known (if at all) for the Alec Guinness comedy LAST HOLIDAY (1950), itself recently retooled for the dubious talents of Queen Latifah!

The film (which I had been looking forward to for ages after viewing stills from it in critiques of the genre penned by film historian Alan Frank) is a lurid melodrama in vivid color and with, pardon the pun, full-blooded performances – but the contrived end result somehow misses the mark. For starters, the script seems uncertain whether it wants to be a Dracula (given its title and ‘bloodthirsty’ villain) or a Frankenstein (in view of the villain’s guinea-pig experimentations with moribund or dead subjects) clone; the fact that it is almost entirely set in a mental institution-cum-prison (that includes future “Carry On” member Bernard Bresslaw as a rowdy jailbird) brings forth comparisons with the superior final Hammer Frankenstein entry FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)!

Distinguished thespian Donald Wolfit is surprisingly but effectively cast in the lead, while Victor Maddern has a memorable look as his knife-wielding henchman (although, again, bearing hideous features that are never explained); future Hammer startlet Barbara Shelley and Vincent Ball (playing a character saddled with the amusing name of John Pierre!), then, are reasonably appealing as the romantic leads. The rousing score is equally notable – as is a nasty climax featuring a pack of wild dogs prefiguring the one in Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959)! Incidentally, there is a very noticeable jump-cut during one of the lab scenes (suggesting that the film had censorship issues back in the day); incidentally, the Dark Sky DVD – which cleverly pairs it with the aforementioned THE HELLFIRE CLUB – amusingly allowed one to watch the show just as if it were playing in an old-fashioned Drive-In (complete with a host of schlocky trailers, ads and announcements)…