A honeymoon falls victim to the full moon and a murder of vampires, their passion consummated upon an altar of blood. Hammer resuscitates their bloodthirsty genre by omitting the clichéd Count, going for the jugular with a tale of decadent Victorian morality and tainted sexuality repressed by virgin urgency.
Director Don Sharp begins the film with funerary precision as a dark shape looms above the procession like a gargoyle. As the ceremony nears its last rights, a man appears before the grave and with a menacing look, demands a shovel. He then thrusts it like steel spike through the coffin and an inhuman scream tears through the chill air, as blood boils from the casket’s open wound. The family runs in fear as he hovers over the open grave, a close-up revealing the weary years of alcohol and anxiety, as if some deep trauma has taken root upon his blackened heart. This is one my favorite opening scenes in the Hammer oeuvre!
The plot involves newlyweds Gerald and Marianne trapped in a rural village who become guests of the local lord Dr. Ravena and his incised siblings. The “good” doctor indoctrinates Marianne into the libidinous virtues of undeath while condemning Gerald to eternal bachelorhood. But the local drunk Professor Zimmer is a vampire hunter who knows the spell that can summon evil to fight evil, and together he and Gerald must save Marianne while destroying the cult of hemoglobin as its red blood cells gather together for an evening of dancing with the stars. Zimmer casts the spell and summons a colony of rubbery vampire bats which devour the cultists, magically hovering over squirming victims or confined by silly strings. Though the SPFX are laughable, the fluttering and gruesome climax is still an apologetic poetic justice.
A few interesting flourishes include the details of Zimmer’s shack: look closely on the wall for the cross that Peter Cushing presents in BRIDES OF DRACULA, then loses in the windmill finale. Or Gerald’s escape from the two-fanged Doctor as he makes a cross in his own blood to drive away the sultry vamps. I also like the ominous piano concerto that mesmerizes Marianne, like the girl with the faraway eyes. Even the introduction of the motorcar reveals a metaphor concerning the unchanging past and uncertain future, as evil transcends human time and temporal understanding.
Final Grade: (B)