Blood of the Vampire - 1958
Blood of the Vampire is a surprisingly well-done Hammer film that is only about vampires in the sense that Donald Wolfit (as prison warden Callistratus) uses forced transfusions from his inmates to feed his body which is in a constant biological war with itself due to mixed blood types. A bit of science is thrown into the tale as Callistratus enlists the wrongly jailed Dr. John Pierre (played by Vincent Ball) who has nothing better to do with his time in the sadistic prison than to helpfully advance Callistratus research into blood types and its inherit problem of compatibility/incompatibility. As the assistant in the laboratory, he eventually discovers that there is a secondary, more sinister secret lab down under the prison.
Meanwhile, Madeleine (Barbara Shelley) is on the outside trying to get husband John Pierre's unfair conviction reversed. She eventually makes her way to Callistratus' prison and using a fake identity gets employed as a maid. Her kindness and general decency wins the admiration of Callistratus' deformed henchman Carl [played by Victor Maddern] and something like an Esmarelda/Hunchback relationship develops, something that plays a critical part in the climax of the tale when Callistratus' experiments begin succeeding a bit too well.
Hammer's usual sumptuous costuming and art direction stands out here, as does the excellent Donald Wolfit. Elements of Blood of the Vampire can seem predictable as this film has been borrowed from for later Hammer movies (not that many of the elements here are particularly original, though the biological dilemma of Callistratus certainly is). The film takes side trips into Hammer-style gore (relatively tame circa 1958) and the film's short run-time of 87 minutes means the tale (written by Jimmy Sangster) doesn't have a lot of space to develop itself, though it does well with what its got. The title is not entirely misleading since the prison location looks more or less like a Dracula castle, and Callistratus' "science" is vampirism via medical equipment.
A combination of a prison-break and mad-scientist film, Blood of the Vampire has a good cast and often goes beyond its exploitation origins to be a very well done monster movie from the late 50s.
Original Page May 2020
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