BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE
Due to its relative obscurity, Blood of the Vampire was always an unknown. Once seen, one is surprised by what a good film it ends up being. An impressive budget has been lavished on the film. Director Henry Cass has a great feel for the lush studio bound period sets that Hammer made distinctively their own. It is a shame that Cass only went on to direct one other item in the Anglo-horror cycle the entirely forgettable The Hand (1960), although had made an earlier ghost comedy Castle in the Air (1952) and otherwise maintained a career turning out forgettable quota quickies. He has a visual eye that rivals that of the genres cult name of Terence Fisher. Indeed, Cass instinctively grasps the Hammer style at a time when it was only being set in place by Fisher and others. In particular, the cell and jail sets where Vincent Ball is originally incarcerated before being transferred to Callistratuss prison are constructed and shot in a way that looks impressive and commands the eye.
Jimmy Sangsters screenplay does a great job of depicting the journey taken by Vincent Balls doctor he going from a background of privilege into a severe and harsh environment filled with casual institutional cruelty, at the same time as the story builds up to the introduction of something it is implied is even worse. The latter half of the film adeptly twists around various plotting surprises Barbara Shelley going undercover to investigate the prison only to be recognised by the doctor who provided false testimony at the trial; Victor Madderns hunchback recognising her picture from locket he took from Vincent Ball; and she then seeing Ball alive in the hall after being told that he was dead.
Part of the effect of the film lies with its memorable offbeat characters. In particular, there is Victor Madderns one-eyed hunchback (stills of which became an iconic representation of the film). With misshapen figure and one drooping eye, Maddern walks through the film managing to both command fear as well as sympathy. Particularly good is Donald Wolfits central performance. The role creates a distinctive look out of Wolfit flabby but harshly hawk-like face, severe beetle brows and a widows peak that has been streaked white, while Wolfit balances the part between an autocratic harshness and a disarming geniality.
The main complaint about Blood of the Vampire would be its title concept. What one suspects happened was that the film started out shooting as a copy of The Curse of Frankenstein the film bears more in common with The Curse of Frankenstein than it does a vampire film and then during filming Hammer released The Horror of Dracula and this was quickly retitled as a vampire film to capitalise on that films success. In reality, the only connection is that the film features a doctor conducting blood experiments there is not much else about it that can be considered vampire-like in the traditional sense. You suspect that a more low-key title that did not spell out what Dr Callustratus is up to would have made for a far better end reveal. Although it was not the first film on the subject there was the much earlier The Return of Dr X (1939) with Humphrey Bogart the one thing that Blood of the Vampire did do, along with The Vampire (1957) around the same time, is popularise the idea of a medical explanation for the vampire, which has played out in a number of other films such as Thirst (1979), Red Blooded American Girl (1990), tvs Ultraviolet (1998), Blood (2000) and Dracula II: Ascension (2003).
Jimmy Sangsters other genre scripts are: X the Unknown (1956), Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), the psycho-thrillers A Taste of Fear/Scream of Fear (1961), Paranoiac (1962), Maniac (1963), Nightmare (1963), Hysteria (1965), The Nanny (1965) and Crescendo (1970), and Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966), all for Hammer. Sangsters non-Hammer scripts are the alien invasion film The Trollenberg Terror/The Crawling Eye (1958), Jack the Ripper (1959), the Grand Guignol psycho-thriller Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971), the tv movie psycho-thrillers A Taste of Evil (1971) and Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), the occult tv movie Good Against Evil (1977), the occult film The Legacy (1979), the spy tv movies Billion Dollar Threat (1979) and Once Upon a Spy (1980), the psycho-thriller Phobia (1980) and the story for Disneys The Devil and Max Devlin (1981). As director, Sangster made three films: The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), the lesbian vampire film Lust for a Vampire (1971) and the psycho-thriller Fear in the Night (1972), all at Hammer..
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