Sounds like a Hammer Film. Looks like a Hammer Film. Written by one of Hammer’s most notable writers, Jimmy Sangster. What does all this add up to? A non-Hammer title that could easily fool the unsuspecting if we splashed a Hammer Films Production title card into the opening credits.
It’s a filmed in color thriller with plenty of that “red stuff” splashed across the screen beginning with the opening scene involving a funeral procession in Transylvania. The year is 1874. When a body is staked in a coffin and the burial begins, the deformed Victor Maddern murders the grave digger and makes off with the body of Donald Wolfit. Cut to blondes and bosoms. Just like a Hammer Production. It’s in a pub that Maddern finds a doctor who, much like Peter Cushing, gives Wolfit a new functioning heart. He too is murdered for his troubles.
Fast forward 6 years to the town of Carlstadt.
Young doctor, Vincent Ball, finds himself sentenced to prison for life after attempting a blood transfusion resulting in the death of a man who was clearly about to die either way. Ball’s attempt at an unproven theory lands him in prison while his fiancé, Barbara Shelley (another Hammer regular) intends to win the young doctor’s freedom with appeals to the proper authorities. Unknown to him, strings have been pulled to send him to a prison for the criminally insane. Don’t be surprised to see it’s being run by Wolfit with able assistance from Maddern, a sadistic group of guards and a pack of vicious Dobermans.
Wolfit himself is experimenting in blood types and intends to have Ball made a trustee who will assist him in his work. Unknown to Ball, below the prison, Wolfit has a torture chamber of sorts where he subjects the incarcerated to hideous experiments. All in the name of science and for life sustaining blood transfusions upon himself. This set up sounds a lot like the eventual Hammer Production, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell in 1973. Close enough that I had to double check if Sangster was the credited writer on the studio’s swan song for the franchise with Shane Briant arrested and sent to a home for the criminally insane overseen by the Baron, Peter Cushing. The answer was no but I’m still wondering if this is more than just a mere coincidence.
Miss Shelley succeeds in winning her betrothed’s freedom but Wolfit reports Ball’s unfortunate death in an escape attempt. He proves his sadism to Ball by allowing another inmate to suffer his fate at the gnarling teeth of the guard dogs. Ball has no idea he’s won his freedom until Shelley turns up at the prison assuming the role of a new housekeeper hoping to discover what really happened to her man. Maddern in true hunchback fashion will find his heart melting for the beauty and will soon become her protector. She’ll need it when Wolfit discovers the connection between the two young lovers who are about to find themselves suffering the fate of those who have come before them in Wolfit’s house of horrors beneath the prison walls.
Writer Sangster had both this and Hammer’s glorious Dracula to his name in the same release year giving him two tales of vampires to place on his resume card. This one is no Dracula but more of an updated 1950’s color variation on the mad scientist flicks that Lugosi made for Monogram studios. It’s not a stretch to see Bela assuming the role enacted by Wolfit.
Vampire was directed by Henry Cass and photographed by Monty Berman. It’s Berman’s name that caught my eye and for good reason. He worked on a number of British Noirs as both the photographer and producer. He’d then move into producing some well known TV series including The Saint as well as The Baron.
Wolfit is a good fit as the sadistic vampire/doctor and Maddern, another well known character player is all but hidden behind what appears to be a fried egg, over easy, tattooed to one side of his face. You’ll also spot John Le Mesurier as the judge who sentences Ball and even Carry On’s own Bernard Bresslaw making a quick appearance. Not much of a consolation prize here for Bresslaw after apparently missing out on the monster in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. That little bit of trivia reminds us how film history might have changed had Chris Lee not gotten the assignment. Barbara Shelley also appeared in Hammer’s The Camp on Blood Island the same year as this release but would have to wait another eight years to face off against the true king of the vampires in 1966’s Dracula – Prince of Darkness.
Thankfully this flick that was apparently thought to be lost turned up on DVD here in Canada from Dark Sky Films a few years back allowing vampire film fans the opportunity to add it to their film collections. Yes that includes me. Throw the word vampire into a title and I’ve just got to see it. Good or bad. This one leans more towards the side of good so give it a go for an old fashioned thrill.