Blood of the Vampire (1958)

Barbara Shelley stars in this effective British gothic horror. DD Home Entertainment UK R2 DVD. Released 15th Jan '07

The Film

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 Overnight it outdated the black and white horror films, and introduced a new generation of gothic horror where blood, and hints of sex, were permissable, even encouraged.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...

Somewhere 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.

Director 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 useful.
Renouned 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.

An 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.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Barbara Shelley - star of Hammer's Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Directed by anyone interesting? Henry Cass - a lesser known British director.
Any gore/violence? Some occasional blood and human organs on display.
Any sex? 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.


Visuals 1.66:1 widescreen (title card is windowboxed to reduce overscan effects on certain televisions, but remains 1.66:1). Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
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)




The 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
Audio Original English audio track - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras 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.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? 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.
Cuts? The 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.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th January 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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