THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (1945) Blu-ray
Director: Lesley Selander
Olive Films

Since its inception in the mid 1930s, Republic Pictures was known mostly known for their action film serials and their westerns, many which starred the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne (who would also star in such high-profile pictures for the company like THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA and THE QUIET MAN). But Republic rarely dabbled in the horror genre, with 1945’s THE VAMPIRE GHOST being an anomaly in their film catalogue; a seldom seen “Poverty Row” vampire movie which encompasses the production values of the company’s better serials.

In the deepest jungles of Africa (Bakunda, to be exact), a man called Webb Fallon (British-born John Abbott, CRY OF THE WEREWOLF) exclaims in the opening narration that he cannot die or rest, as he enters a hut to claim a female victim. At a plantation, bodies are being found dead, drained of blood, and with puncture marks on the neck, and this of course is rumored to be the work of a vampire. With tribal drums constantly beating and the natives not wanting to work, plantation operator Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon, SWAMP FIRE) decides to visit Fallon as he seems to know more about what’s going than anybody else, even though he’s only been in Bakunda for a short time. Fallon (whose name means “stranger” in Gaelic) runs a rather seedy waterfront dive frequented by crap-shooting American sailors and featuring an exotic dancer (Adele Mara, THE CATMAN OF PARIS) as entertainment. When Fallon hears the jungle drums, he links it to a witchcraft cult in Malongo Village, and agrees to go there with Roy the next day to investigate. During the expedition, Roy learns of Fallon’s vampirism after he’s speared in the stomach with a silver-tipped spear and doesn’t bleed and then tells all. Rather than killing Roy, Fallon leaves him in a trance-like state and eventually ill and bedridden, but it doesn’t stop him from mail-ordering a book on vampires. But Fallon’s ultimate plan is to make Roy’s fiancée Julie (Peggy Stewart, TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM) his companion for all eternity.

With an intelligent story written by Leigh Brackett (THE BIG SLEEP) who also co-wrote the screenplay with John K. Butler, THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was helmed by Lesley Selander, the prolific director of dozens of westerns. Although Selander was known for being more adept with gunslingers than the undead, the film (which runs a swift 59 minutes) has a definite sense of style (especially in some its death scenes), and the sets are terrific. The film owes a bit more to the Val Lewton productions of the period more so than the gothic monster romps being made over at Universal. This was one of the earliest films to showcase a less traditional vampire, as Abbott is not seen in a black cloak but rather a white Panama Suit and can roam around during the daytime as long as he’s wearing shades. He plays the 400-year-old back-storied character well, first seen as tormented and sympathetic, but becoming more sinister (and able to stare down his victims) as the film progresses. Some great bits (which rely on traditional vampire lore and “good vs. evil” motifs) include only the vampire’s clothes and saucered coffee cup being reflected in a mirror (which then cracks into pieces), the natives discovering that bullets go right through him due to the hole in his shirt, and Fallon becoming faint after a priest (Grant Withers, MR. WONG, DETECTIVE) suggests confiding in the church, resting his hand on his shoulder.

As THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was never before given a legit home video release and often circulated as hard-to-view bootlegs, it’s quite a surprise to now be getting it on Blu-ray (Olive is also releasing it on DVD). Presented full frame (1.33:1) in 1080p HD, the elements used for the transfer are in pristine condition, with hardly a blemish to speak of. The black and white gray scale is solid with blacks looking properly deep, and there’s plenty of shadow separation. Detail looks perfect here, while filmic grain has been retained. Audio is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, with dialogue being clean and easily heard throughout, while sound effects and the music score also come through nicely, and there are no age-related issues on the track. There are no extras on the disc, but optional English SDH subtitles are included. (George R. Reis)