Just Vampires II!
By Kristin Battestella
Because who can’t get enough vampire movies, am I right?
Queen of Blood – Roger Corman (House of Usher) and Stephanie Rotham (The Velvet Vampire) produced this 1966 AIP science fiction meets horror tale from writer/director Curtis Harrington (What’s the Matter with Helen?). Though the borrowed footage and stolen special effects don’t really match the primitive explorations of the moon, Venus, and Mars, the old-fashioned sci-fi sounds and empty sets with blinking lights are mid-century charming. Granted, most of these “1990” space stylings look like toys and dated artwork, but silhouettes, shadows, and colored lighting help hide the hokey. The unscientific old jargon and constantly interrupting intercom pages, however, are simply laughable. These attempts at high tech and the supposedly cool alien footage are actually more confusing than establishing because today’s viewer can’t tell what’s happening. The slow, time wasting, goofy effects should have been done away with in favor of more drama from John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), a very young Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet), and the blink and you miss him Forrest J Ackerman (Kentucky Fried Movie). Fortunately, the cast and story are quite intriguing – an alien message, contact with Earth, a crash on Mars, and our ill-prepared rescue attempt. The suspense rises thanks to a stranding on Phobos, three passengers for a two-person pod, and of course, the creepy, hypnotic, titular, green – yes green – Florence Marly (Tokyo Joe). Between the now standard SF action and the freaky, cynical ending, one wouldn’t expect the aliens to turn scary, much less be vampires, but the sensual, scary mix works. Is it preposterous? Heck yeah. Is this an entertaining space horror delight? For sure.
Scars of Dracula – Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers) takes the helm for this 1970 entry in the Hammer series once again starring Christopher Lee as the eponymous count. The plot kind of sort of picks up from Taste the Blood of Dracula with the pre-requisite resurrection in the first few moments and sets the mood with booming orchestration, outdoor scenery, wild carriages, and cool castle interiors accented by red décor and bloody, pecked, and stabbed victims. Yes, the period design is cheap and the plot standard – a young village girl is attacked, angry townsfolk and the clergyman head off for Dracula’s known lair, one person doesn’t heed said village’s advice, a couple pursues him to the castle… The tale starts several times and takes too long with seemingly random players before the vamp action, and most of this set up could have been abandoned for an in medias res cold open. Expected series inconsistencies and a plodding lack of panache detract from the Stoker touches, but Lee looks good, mixing both violent and torturous intensity with suave and delicate mannerisms. From casual dining and conversations to a seductive vampire bride and slightly hokey bat control, Lee has much more to do with these developments, and it’s wonderfully creepy. Likewise, Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) is a seedy, hairy, hatchet wielding, and conflicted henchman. Though the nudity and bed hopping are a little more risqué, there could have been more and subtitles would clarify a lot! Yes, it’s somewhat typical with nothing new on the vampire theme, but Lee’s presence anchors the spooky iconography here.
Vampyres – Late Spanish director Jose Ramon Larraz (Symptoms) gets right to the unabashedly naked lesbian soft-core action and slobbery kisses for this 1974 blood and spicy. Despite our contemporary love of sex sex sex, one might initially groan at this potentially unnecessary boobs before violence – yet the kitschy mood and sensuous gothic tone works with the blended British seventies style and Old World, cluttered Victorian creepy. Outside of some great cars and sparse electricity, the viewer may not know when this takes place, and the Oakley Court estate and churchyards are perfectly isolated eerie. Couple Sally Falkner (Doctor Who) and Brian Deacon (The Feathered Serpent) give the audience a likeable believer and a relatable skeptic to set up scares and shocks while Murray Brown (Dan Curtis’ Dracula) learns the dangers of picking up beautiful hitchhikers in dark capes Marianne Morris (Lovebox) and Anulka Dziubinska (Lisztomania). Though the foul afoot is certainly suspected, the simmering, alluring build doesn’t reveal the juicy all at once. Sure, some plot points don’t make much sense – sharper editing or script clarifications would have helped – and the seventies sex and kinky lingerie strip teases can be laughable, I grant you. However, the strong titillation provides comfort, rough, or bemusement ahead of the bloody kickers. The predatory approach is traditional but there are no fangs and quick, demented, near cannibalistic feminine twists keep the pace unconventional. Viewers who prefer their gore, language, and sex fast and furious may find the action slow or the plot lame, but the meant to be hazy and dreamy mood belies an intense finish. Although the volume and sound are soft, the new blu-ray release has commentaries, interviews, and by golly makes this movie look brand spanking new.
Count Dracula’s Great Love – Co-writer and star Paul Naschy (Fury of the Wolf Man) adds sexy plottings to this largely standard 1974 Spanish vampire tale. Moody fog, menacing carriages, Bram Stoker and Vlad the Impaler references, and good old fashioned grave robbing do start off well. Add crazy sanitarium history and the mysterious, suave undead Doctor Naschy nearby, and you have the perfect Transylvania weather for our stranded ladies to shack up in the hospitable vamp’s run down castle and then go for a naked swim! The extremely colorful, garish frocks may not be period authentic and it’s tough to tell our buxom guests apart beyond said boobs, hair color, or virginity and promiscuity status. However, the nightgowns, wispy robes, and nighttime bedroom visits are all in gothic good fun. Thunderstorms, candles, cats jumping out, and howling wolves keep up the traditional vampire retelling – I wouldn’t spend the night in this place! Dreamy ultraviolet filming, blue lighting, and neat vampire eyes work when we see the scary action, but slow pacing, lengthy exposition, and sudden love hamper the girl on girl attacks, blood smeared breasts, meaty blood rituals, and dungeon chains. Poor video quality doesn’t help, and the Elvira’s Movie Macabre DVD edition from her 1982 first season contributes to the cheap production and camp atmosphere – lovely as Cassandra Peterson is with an apron that covers everything but her rack! Bad dubbing and no subtitles are part of the charm here, and the serious approach on Dracula seeking a virgin to resolve his curse could work wonderfully. This film is bemusingly bad to see and has some germs of possibility, but it’s too short, slightly limp on the bites, and feels tame compared to other vampy sexploitation of the era.
The She Beast – I really wanted to see this quick 1966 Barbara Steele vehicle from director Mike Reeves (Witchfinder General). Though I’m not really sure what the “vampire witch” description on the sleeve actually means, I’ll go with it, the Transylvania connections, and Van Helsing hobnobbing! Despite too many starts and a tough to see opening execution, the mayhem and titular nasty are dang creepy against the swanky clothes and sexy Steele voice – so often not heard thanks to international dubbing. She’s almost topless, too, but there really isn’t enough of Steele for her fans to enjoy here. The action kicks up with a car accident and disappearing bodies, but the people and plot are too nonsensical to root for anyone. The rapacious, voyeuristic, nasty hotel clerk is too sleaze ball foul to enjoy; he’s sloppy and serves no purpose in the film as far as I can tell. Not only do the English subtitles not work on the cheap Netflix DVD, but the print is absolutely poor – the color is so faded that it looks black and white! Though a campy, fun viewing, I can’t tell if this is a bad movie that flops itself or if the crappy video butchers all coherence. I suspect it’s a little of both!