Vernon Sewell, 1968
Starring: Peter Cushing, Glynn Edwards, Robert Flemying, Wanda Ventham In Victorian England, a strange, apparently vampiric beast is stalking the countryside, preying upon attractive young men and ripping out their throats to drink their blood. Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) and Sergeant Allan (Glynn Edwards) are on the case, though the only witness has been driven insane by the sight of the killer and a number of confusing clues — including some large scales — are discovered at the scenes of each crime. Soon the trail leads back to the suspicious Dr. Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemying), an entomologist not too keen on helping them with the investigation, and his daughter, Clare (Wanda Ventham). I’m going to give it to you straight: a lot of people seem to hate this film (allegedly including Peter Cushing), but I am just not one of them. I can’t bring myself to apologize, but I also can’t pretend that it’s some forgotten masterpiece of British horror; it basically steals wholesale from Hammer’s The Gorgon (1964) and The Reptile (1966), and if you continue reading I am going to ruin the plots of all three films for you in one fell swoop. A controlling and mildly deranged scientist with a beautiful young daughter (or assistant, in the case of The Gorgon, which disappointingly strips the film of any implied incestuous themes), seems to be loosely connected to a strange monster terrorizing the countryside. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the monster turns out to be the girl, in were-beast form. The Hammer titles are stunningly, almost offensively obvious: in The Gorgon, the titular monster is a figure from Greek mythology (though Ovid is probably still spinning in his grave over that one) and in The Reptile it’s — you guessed it — a were-reptile. But with The Blood Beast Terror, Tigon British Film Productions went a completely different route with a ridiculously overwrought title that just fills me with glee, but has nothing to do with a were-moth. And yes, let that one sink in for a minute. A were-moth. A were-Death’s Head moth, even. The US title, The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood, is somehow even more absurd (and inaccurate). There’s no reason that The Blood Beast Terror should be such a flop, as it involves Peter Cushing, capable director Vernon Sewell (though, let’s face it, he’s no Terence Fisher and also can’t compete with Tigon’s biggest name, Michael Reeves), and screenwriter Peter Bryan, who worked on some of my favorite Hammer titles, including The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and The Brides of Dracula (1960). Wanda Ventham (Benedict Cumberbatch’s mother — seriously, look at how similar their eyes are) gives a solid performance as Clare, though she’s nowhere near as sympathetic as either of the female leads in The Gorgon or The Reptile, which I found a little refreshing. It’s a shame she isn’t given more to do. Probably the biggest disappointment of all is that Dr. Mallinger was supposed to be played by the late, great Basil Rathbone, but after his death, the role went to Robert Flemyng. Thanks to the latter’s performance in one of my favorite films, Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, I will never say anything bad about him, but… Rathbone. Undeniably, The Blood Beast Terror has a lot of flaws — a major part of the plot involves Quennell going quite unbelievably undercover on vacation with his daughter to track Mallinger and Clare when they flee the scene — but there are some great moments of atmosphere. There are even some surprisingly solid effects when Mallinger tries to transform young men into a suitable mate for his daughter, which almost (I said almost) makes me wish there were more attempts at the whole killer were-moth theme. But brace yourself for the amazing dialogue and be prepared that there’s an absurdly inadequate amount of exposition, which is also somewhat the case for The Gorgon and The Reptile. And in terms of the ending, I can’t even do it justice, so you’re just going to have to watch it, but — like a lot of the ‘60s Hammer films — it does involve copious amounts of fire. Admittedly, there are a lot of scenes of British people being British (and inexplicable filler sequences of people fishing), something you either have the taste for or you don’t. I love it so much that I’ve signed myself up for a year (possibly two, at this rate), of writing exclusively about British horror films for Satanic Pandemonium. In other words — and I feel like I keep saying it throughout this review — but when it comes to The Blood Beast Terror, my opinion is not really to be trusted. Luckily there has to be at least one person who agrees with me, because Redemption put it out on DVD, so you can and should watch it, though you may regret doing so while sober.