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.

Das indische Tuch (1963)

... aka: Edgar Wallace - Das indische Tuch
... aka: Edgar Wallace - The Indian Scarf
... aka: Indian Scarf, The

Directed by:
Alfred Vohrer

Elderly Lord Frances Percival Lebanon (Wilhelm Vorwerg) is strangled to death with a scarf in his study by a black-gloved killer; a murder that is blamed on a heart attack. Various estranged relatives then show up at his country mansion in Scotland for the reading of his last will and testament. There's bad blood between nearly everyone who shows up. After all, there's half a million pound to divide up between many people and some feel like they're more deserving than others. But there's a catch to the will. Because of the venomous relations and the lot of them soiling the once-good family name, a stipulation of the will is that everyone remain in the mansion for six days and six nights to try to patch things up.  If any one is to leave early, they'll be unable to collect. And if someone is to - say - die, then their share will also be divided between the remaining family members. Lord Lebanon's lawyer, Frank Tanner (Heinz Drache), is to oversee and supervise the execution of these conditions. Immediately after the will is read, a storm breaks out, cutting out both the phone lines and the electricity, and causing a flood that effectively stranding everyone there. It's going to be a long night... and one of the potential heirs, Reverend Lionel Hastings (Alexander Engel), won't be surviving it.

The following morning, butler Bonwit (Eddi Arent) casually relays the information that the reverend has been strangled to death while everyone's enjoying breakfast. Suspicion falls upon pretty much everyone. There's the Lord's bitter wife Emily (Elizabeth Flickenschildt), who doesn't understand why she has to split up everything with a bunch of people she hardly knows. Then there's Edward (Hans Clarin), Emily and the late Lord's son, who obsessively plays the piano... and is clearly not right in the head. The Lord apparently got around as he has both an illegitimate son, Peter Ross (Klaus Kinski), an intense, possibly morphine-addicted sculptor, and an illegitimate daughter, Isla Harris (Corny Collins). And then there's Mr. and Mrs. Tilling (Hans Nielsen and Gisela Uhlen). He's an obnoxious, brutish jerk and a button from his jacket is found by the dead Reverend's bedside. She hates him and wants a divorce... but does she hate him enough to plant evidence to implicate him? Explorer Sir Henry Hockbridge (Siegfried Schürenberg), who's brought along a chatty parrot and a poisonous tropical spider from one of his Amazonian expeditions, and Dr. Amersham (Richard Häussler), the Lord's personal physician who discovered his body and may have falsified the death certificate, round out the group. And what would one of these things be without a hulking, Tor Johnson-esque cook / chauffeur / valet / handyman ("Chiko" played by Ady Berber)?

The suspect roster becomes smaller and smaller as various possible heirs turn up dead; mostly strangled to death by a scarf. Apparently, Lord Lebanon picked up a dozen of them while in India... and the killer is going to need most of them in this Ten Little Indians-style krimi based on the novel "The Case of the Frightened Lady" by Edgar Wallace. The mystery elements are just middling and the plot set-up is an all-too-familiar one, but the cast is very good, it features some good art direction (lots of use is made of catacombs and secret passageways) and is nicely photographed (most of the murder scenes are done from the killer's point of view and feature the killer's arms sticking out from behind the camera twirling the scarf). Despite the many murder scenes and a high body count, the tone is relatively breezy and there's a good deal of humor. Arent, almost always used as annoying, bumbling comic relief in these things, gets to pull it back a notch here.

Director Vohrer made tons of these films and is the most prolific of all the krimi directors. His other credits in this subgenre include Dead Eyes of London (1961), The Door with Seven Locks, The Inn on the River (both 1962), The Squeaker (1963), The Mysterious Magician (1964), Hunchback of Soho (1966), The Bloody Dead, The College Girl Murders, The Horror of Blackwood Castle (all 1967), The Ape Creature, The Zombie Walks (both 1968), School of Fear, Terror on Half Moon Street (both 1969) and probably a few more I'm forgetting.

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