Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grave of the Vampire (1972)

... aka: Bébé vampire (Baby Vampire)
... aka: Die Gruft der Dämonen (Crypt of the Demons)
... aka: Die Gruft des Grauens (The Crypt of Horror)
... aka: La bara del vampiro (The Vampire's Coffin)
... aka: La tomba del vampiro (The Vampire's Grave)
... aka: Seed of Terror

Directed by:
John Hayes

College girl Leslie Hollander (Kitty Vallacher) and her boyfriend Paul (Jay Scott) pick the wrong night to go to the graveyard to make out. After he proposes to her (aw, how romantic!), undead-looking vampire Caleb Croft (Michael Pataki) comes crawling out of his tomb, breaks the boyfriend's back against a gravestone, feeds on him and then pulls Leslie into an empty grave and rapes her. She's taken to a hospital to recover, while police officers Lieutenant Panzer (Eric Mason) and Sergeant Duffy (William Guhl) are put on the case. With a missing corpse, one dead body completely drained of blood and a hysterical sexual assault victim on their hands, the officers have their work cut out for them. Panzer, however, isn't above thinking something supernatural may be at play, especially after Leslie responds in horror to a photo of Caleb (who's been dead and buried for three years) he shows her, but he's decapitated before he can get too involved in the investigation. Before leaving the hospital, Leslie's doctor informs her that she's pregnant and recommends an abortion. According to tests, what's inside her womb "isn't a human being" and somewhat parasitic. Thinking she's carrying her dead fiance's baby, Leslie refuses and takes off with Olga (Lieux Dressler), her roommate at the hospital who'd helped to take care of her.

Baby James is born 9 months later. Sickly and with a grey complexion, Olga keeps suggesting Leslie take the boy to the hospital because he won't drink milk. By accident, they discover that the baby will however drink blood. And that's what Leslie feeds it. Instead of a blood pump, she uses a syringe to drain her own blood to put into baby bottles. She somehow manages to raise James to adulthood; passing away soon after, a withered old lady from the hell she's put her body through. A now-grown James (William Smith) has vengeance on his mind; wanting to eliminate the man who raped and impregnated his mother and abandoned them. Knowing he likes to be around fresh young blood, James manages to track pops to a college, where he teaches an extremely popular night class on the occult under the alias Professor Adrian Lockwood.

James ends up enrolling in his father's class, where he meets a pair of much-different roommates; Anne Arthur (Lyn Peters) and Anita Jacoby (Diane Holden). Both James and Caleb are drawn to Anne; Caleb because she resembles his late wife Sarah and James because she's intelligent, compassionate and mature (plus he knows it'll piss off dad if he gets her first). Anita gets put on the back burner, but she's OK with that and has other objectives in mind. She's been doing her research and realizes that her professor is actually a centuries old vampire named Charles Croydon. Interestingly, she just wants him to turn her into a vampire. He slashes her throat instead and leaves her in the shower for her terrified roommate to find her. Charles / Caleb / Adrian finally decides to hold a séance with some of his favorite students (James and Anne included), where he attempts to put his dead wife's soul into Anne's body, leading to a face-off between absent father and bastard son.

Clearly very low-budget and hampered somewhat by such, this still offers enough creepy moments and does enough interesting things with standard vampire mythology to keep it feeling at least somewhat fresh. The vampire baby and half-vampire offspring angles have been done numerous times since this was made, but they were actually novel and quite unique concepts in 1972, and this really should be given credit for that. It also gives its two lead actors; both regular presences in exploitation and horror films, a chance to shine. Pataki makes for an excellent, classy-yet-cruel and very cold-blooded vampire, and this is one of the better actual roles and performances for Smith, who seems somewhat miscast but still does an acceptable job. The screenplay is credited to both the director and David Chase and was (supposedly) based on Chase's novel "The Still Life." It was filmed in just 11 days for about 50,000 dollars.

Hayes also made numerous soft and hard core films (using the alias "Harold Perkins" for the latter) and the genre films Dream No Evil (1971), Garden of the Dead (1972), which played on a double bill with Grave, and End of the World (1977) starring Christopher Lee. Chase went on to mostly TV work; writing numerous episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker before graduating to writing and directing such acclaimed shows as I'll Fly Away and The Sopranos. Grave has slipped into the public domain, so primarily subpar prints of the film are floating around. A restored, high definition print (which I clearly didn't watch!) was released earlier this year by Retromedia. Regardless of what shape you find it in, it's worth a look.

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