Another dip into the selection of DVDs left to me by my late brother, and this time it’s all vampire movies. This is the stuff he was watching when I was just a wee child…right before he started grooming me for a life of horror.
CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (1974)
This Hammer film is as hokey as the title suggests. While I like the concept—a vampire that sucks the life out of people, causing them to age immediately, the few shots of decrepit old faces aren’t enough for me to overlook that it’s a silly, swashbuckling vampire hunter period piece.
When young women begin turning up dead and aged in the forest, a local doctor calls his vampire hunting buddy Captain Kronos for help. After that, I have no idea what’s going on.
There’s some ominous religious imagery, a woman’s face is attacked by a bat, and there are occasionally more victims. But all the farcical filler failed to keep my interest until the okay denouement, when the truth is revealed about who the vampire actually is right before a swashbuckling finale.
GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (1972)
The director of Garden of the Dead helps break the sanitized mold of horror from previous decades, beginning this film with a warning that you shouldn’t watch it if you’re disturbed by the sight of an infant nursing on human blood. Awesome.
The film starts strong, with a couple parked in a cemetery when a vampire rises from its tomb, rips their car door off, and takes care of bloodsucking business with the guy. He drags the girl into his tomb and we later learn he raped her.
She gives birth to the vampire’s baby! This is where the baby feasts on boob blood, but it’s not visually depicted as gruesomely as it sounds.
In the meantime, the vampire is out there feasting on other women to stay alive and working as a college professor. Little does he know he has a son that is going to grow up…
…to enroll in his college course all about the occult!
A shower scene is perhaps the best horror this movie has to offer after the cemetery opener. It’s mostly about the son plotting to confront and do away with his murdering rapist vampire father. It’s a cool plot weighed down by lots of dialogue and even a romantic relationship segment that really hurts the pacing.
THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967)
It felt really icky watching this considering it’s directed by perv Roman Polanski and features his murdered wife Sharon Tate in a role. The good news is that this is a total vampire farce, so it got my mind off the disgusting and morbid elements of its reality.
While my DVD has the full length film, apparently it had previously only been available in an edited version that cut 20 minutes from the movie. Supposedly the studio wanted to tighten it up to exploit the humorous aspects and Polanski was furious.
Honestly, I’m with the studio. Whether Polanski likes it or not, this is purely a goofy satire, and the slapstick moments are watered down by lots of unnecessary filler. Faster pacing would have made it funnier. Large chunks of the film are quite boring, and the uneven injection of the humor just feels weird.
An Einstein looking scientist and his male assistant travel to Transylvania to do some vampire hunting. At the inn in which they are staying, there is garlic everywhere but no one talks about vampires.
But then a vampire abducts Sharon Tate. The vampire hunters track her to a castle, where they are welcomed by the vampire master. He has a hunchback assistant and a flamboyant gay son who makes several advances on the younger vampire hunter, which is some of the funniest stuff here and quiet refreshing for a film made before the 1970s. It also lands this film on the list of does the gay guy die? movies.
The vampire hunters are a comic duo not unlike Abbott & Costello or Laurel & Hardy, the tone is a precursor to many of the slapstick horror themed comedies of the 1980s, and the final shenanigans at an undead ball are quite fun even if the movie’s timing is a little off beat.
It closely follows the original plot of the novel, beginning with Harker being held captive at Dracula’s castle, and then eventually focusing on Lucy sick back home and Van Helsing hunting down the vampire.
The tone and look of the film just feel very sterile and staged to me. Trying to get the vibe of a period piece causes the costumes and set pieces to all look too theatrical. For instance, the darkest underground labyrinths where all the vamp and coffin action happens is so brightly lit there’s no grit to the setting.
Also, there’s nothing truly gruesome here, obviously because this was made for TV, and I don’t find Jack Palance at all menacing in the role of Dracula. So basically this one is worth a watch if you’re not looking to be creeped out by a horror movie and simply want to get a general idea of the plot of the original novel.