During the 1960s, several British production companies arrived on the scene, attempting to emulate the vast success of Hammer Films. One of those companies was Tony Tenser's Tigon, which boasted classics such as THE SORCERERS, WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW, all under their umbrella. BLOOD BEAST TERROR represents the lower end of the Tigon creature catalogue, but it’s still worth revisiting, especially now that it’s being presented on Blu-Ray disc and looking better than ever.
In 19th century London, a rash of murders results in young males being viciously attacked and drained of blood, and the only witness to the horrors is a seemingly insane bystander. Investigating the matter, Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) visits the estate of Professor Mallinger (Robert Flemyng, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK), a respected entomologist giving a lecture to cheeky male students. Although the professor plays dumb to the police and their probing, in actuality he has somehow managed to perform an experiment on his lovely daughter Clare (Wanda Ventham, CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER) which causes her to periodically transform into a black, furry Death’s Head Moth, preying on sex-starved men as her attractive self before devouring the poor suckers as her repulsive and deadly alter-ego.
When Mallinger and Clare realize they might be implicated for the recent murders, they desert their home and flee to Waterloo. Quennell, inadvertently catching Quennell in a lie about his acquaintance with the last victim, sidetracks his planned vacation, and instead goes off, incognito, to track down Mallinger. Accompanied by his young daughter Meg (Vanessa Howard, GIRLY, WHAT BECAME OF JACK AND JILL?), Quennell and his search for Mallinger proves to be difficult, but a tip-off from a scholarly vacationing butterfly collector (David Griffin, TROG) at least proves he’s headed in the right direction. Soon Peg is stripped and hypnotized for some bloodletting to feed a male Death’s Head Moth (intended to mate with Clare), and it's up to the ever diligent Quennell to put an end to all the dastardly doings and science-gone-wrong.
Originally shot as “Death’s Head Vampire” and released in the U.S. in 1969 by Pacemaker as THE VAMPIRE-BEAST CRAVES BLOOD (on a double bill with "Curse of the Blood-Ghouls," a retiling of SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES), BLOOD BEAST TERROR has often been maligned as a second-rate outing directed by the often-uninspired Vernon Sewell (THE CRIMSON CULT). But if you accept it as old-fashioned horror pic with the traditional gothic flair of a period Hammer, Amicus or AIP production mixed with 1950s B-monster sensibilities (the resulting lady moth killer resembles the cousin of Roger Corman’s THE WASP WOMAN, albeit with flapping wings), the film can definitely be appreciated for what it is. It carries a carefree, undemanding attitude, and is fully self conscious of what it is, throwing in such clichés as a sinister butler (Kevin Stoney) with a jagged scar covering half of his face, and the moth attacks allow for a sufficient quotient of bloodletting, as well as lingering corpses and human bones. A grand guignol-style play, where students in a drawing room re-create a tale of grave-robbers and the re-animation of dead bodies, is interesting filler meant to either remind us that this is a gothic period horror picture, or to inspire Mallinger to add electrical resuscitation to his repertoire of mad experiments.
The veteran director Sewell does his best to work with the rather standard material, even if the climax (consisting of the unconvincing destruction of the monster), is rather underwhelming. With its eye-catching period costumes and impressive production values (making ample use of England’s Goldhawk Studios), there are also some quaint locations in the film, including the exteriors and (to a much lesser extent) interiors of the familiar Grim’s Dyke house, seen in such other British genre efforts as NAKED EVIL, THE CRIMSON CULT, CRY OF THE BANSHEE and ENDLESS NIGHT. The Death’s Head Moth costume (and the would-be male mate, seen largely in a web-encrusted, slithering state) was created by the underappreciated Roger Dicken, who also created the oversized bloody vampire bat in SCARS OF DRACULA, as well as the constructing of the mammoth creatures in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (in which he received an Oscar nod), THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS.
It has been documented in the past that Basil Rathbone was up for the Cushing role: that’s untrue as Cushing was signed onto the project from the beginning. Actually, Rathbone was contacted to play Mallinger, but died of a massive heart attack before he was to fly to London, being quickly replaced by Flemyng. A celluloid teaming of two of the screen’s greatest Sherlock Holmes portrayers would have been grand, but it was not to be. As for Cushing, he apparently wasn’t very happy with the script by Peter Bryan (who also scripted THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, all for Hammer). Cushing ended up changing a lot of his dialog (including some of the interaction with comic actor Roy Hudd as an unflinching morgue attendant), and brings his usual amount of memorable mannerisms and props to the role, which is kind a cross between Holmes and Van Helsing, though very different than his portrayals of both those characters.
THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR was last visited on home video in 2000 when Image Entertainment released a flat, letterboxed and rather grainy looking edition of the film on DVD. Redemption, through Kino Lorber, now presents it on Blu-ray (as well as a new DVD using the same transfer), mastered in HD from the original 35mm negative, looking so much better than any past video or television presentation, that the film now has a more lavish appearance than even seasoned fans would ever have expected. THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR bows here in 1080p resolution, in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, looking quite spectacular. The first thing you’ll notice is how the red-colored opening titles pop off the screen, and what follows is an almost blemish-free image with extremely sharp detail and spectacularly vivid colors. The mono audio is more than adequate, with the numerous post-synched scenes easy to decipher and Paul Ferris’ eerie score coming through nicely.
Extras include the original British theatrical trailer, trailers for other Redemption Brit horror titles available on Blu-ray and DVD through Kino Lorber, and a still gallery which includes a rare behind-the-scenes shot of Cushing on the set with Tony Tenser. (George R. Reis)
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