Barbara Shelley stars in this effective British gothic horror. DD Home Entertainment UK R2 DVD. Released 15th Jan '07
Curse of Frankenstein
(1957) was a massively influencial film. Overnight it outdated the
black and white horror films, and introduced a new generation of gothic
horror where blood, and hints of sex, were permissable, even
encouraged. In Britain it was the first domestic movie to receive the
16+ X rating, a move
previously considered to be all but suicidal for distributors. In light
of the film's enourmous sucess, Hammer quickly moved to produce a
follow-up, which would become Horror of Dracula
(1958). At the same time the small-scale British firm Tempean Films
(best known for the Richard Attenborough war film Sea of Sand
(1958)) decided to capitalise on this newly popular genre with their
own entry, and hoping to obtain some of the Hammer magic they acquired
the services of script writer Jimmy Sangster to pen Blood of the Vampire...
in Gothic-middle-Europe a man is buried with a stake driven through his
heart, yet he does not remain there for long - a hunchbacked man
attacks the grave digger and takes the body, and forces a surgeon to
perform a heart transplant on the victim. Several years later a Dr.
John Pierre is on trial - accused of medical malpractice for attempting
to perform a blood transfusion that killed his patient, he is found
guilty and sentenced. His fiancée Madeleine Duval (Barbara
Shelley) insists that she will do everything to get him released, but
Pierre is soon sent to a grimy Criminal Asylum. However, he does not
remain a prisoner for long, being taken to meet the asylum's chief,
Dr. Callistratus (the staked man in the film's opening sequence)
who puts him to work on research into a mysterious blood condition.
However it soon transpires that Callistratus has far more sinister
motives than merely advancing the course of science, and Pierre
plans to escape...
Despite the title, Blood of the Vampire is actually much more of a Frankenstein style picture, bearing a notable similarity to the much later Hammer film Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
(1974) - with its theme of a doctor being incarcerated for his
experiements, only to discover that he would be able to continue them
behind bars - although Sangster's film takes a much more interesting
twist on the theme, with his incarcerated doctor being desperate to
escape and some sequences early on with him being introduced to life in
the asylum. Even more so than many of the early Hammer films, the
pacing here is quite slow and largely dialogue based, although it does
build up to a strong climax, with some effective tension.
Henry Cass does a generally good job with the production, and although
without any fancy touches, he lets the film tell itself. The production
itself is very nice, with some impressive looking laboratory scenes,
surprisingly realistic looking human organs in jars, and a plausibly
grimy asylum, with rats scurrying around in the background. Some
obvious model shots are used for exteriors, but their use is kept to a
minimum. Stanley Black provides an effective orchestral soundtrack,
although it is notably absent in a few scenes where it would have been
British theatre star Donald Wolfit takes the villaneous lead role, with
his striking appearance and dark tones, he seems to suit it perfectly.
Although more frequently appearing on television, the young looking
Barbara Shelley was a frequent star of the Hammer horror films and
gives a strong performance here as Miss Duval. Victor Maddern and
Vincent Ball give good turns as the hunchbacked Carl, and Dr. Pierre
respectively, while the attentive will notice future Dad's Army star John Le Mesurier as a judge and Carry On star Bernard Bresslaw as a sneakthief.
interesting film, although rather slow paced and despite its title
closer to Frankenstein than Dracula. Largely forgotten down the years,
it is well written, acted and produced - certainly of interest to
Hammer and British/gothic horror fans and comes recommended.
Some occasional blood and human organs on display.
An attempted rape, no nudity.
Who is it for?
Fans of the Hammer Horror films, or British horror in general should enjoy this similar effort.
widescreen (title card is windowboxed to reduce overscan effects on
certain televisions, but remains 1.66:1). Anamorphically enhanced.
The film is acceptable visually, with some print damage and grain, and
a noticable softness throughout. There is some obvious cropping at the
top of the print as well (see the shot above of Dr. Pierre losing the
top of his head). Generally watchable.
Image Comparison - DDHE (left) vs. Dark Sky R1 disc (right)
DDHE disc is noticably softer, and except for the title card, is
cropped on both sides of the print and on the top (although with a
slight amount of additional information at the bottom).
Dark Sky R1 disc images - courtesy of Mirek Lipinksi at Latarnia.com
Original English audio track - sounds fine.
The disc is barebones,
but the DVD case includes a detailed 24 page booklet about the film and
its background, fully illustrated with poster-art.
(UK, Europe) - PAL
Recently released by Dark Sky Films in the USA as part of a double bill with The Hellfire Club
(1961), and containing a better print (although with the same cut
status), plus audio commentary from Jimmy Sangster and some bonus trailers.
film is believed to be fully uncut as per the UK theatrical version.
Some additional scenes were shot for continental export print, these
are not present here. English language print.
An effective Hammer style gothic horror, well written and boasting good acting and direction. Recommended to gothic horror fans.
An acceptable DVD release, with a watchable print and interesting booklet, but not nearly as good as the recent US release.