The Blood Beast Terror (1968), or as it was known in North America, The Vampire Beast Craves Blood, plays more like a quirky detective story than a straight up horror picture. Interestingly, director Vernon Sewell would in fact go on to work on one episode of the most genre-friendly English Detective series, The Avengers, for which he was uncredited. Sewell would also go on to direct horror icons Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in The Curse of the Crimson Altar in 1968. Here, he works with writer Peter Bryant—who had previously penned screenplays for The Hounds of Baskervilles, Brides of Dracula and Plague of Zombies—and star, Peter Cushing, who gives us a variation on his Sherlock Holmes character in the role of Detective Inspector Quennall as he attempts to solve the mystery surrounding several grisly deaths.
Inspector Quennell of Scotland Yard (Cushing) is called to solve a complicated mystery: the bodies of several promising young male students of Dr. Malinger (Robert Flemyng) have been drained of blood. Meanwhile, rumors of nightly attacks from a giant bird run rampant throughout the village. When Frederick Britewell, a young explorer contracted to bring Doctor Malinger live specimens from the jungle, enters the scene, he becomes interested in Malinger’s daughter, Clare (Wanda Ventham), after viewing her one evening in a “Frankenstein”-esque play, performed as a dress rehearsal in Malinger’s house. Soon enough, however, Britewell meets the same fate as the other students. The mystery deepens when Quennell asks Doctor Malinger for help with Britewell’s body, only to discover that Malinger has no idea who Britewell is.
The picture then becomes an exercise in avoiding discovery by all parties: Dr Malinger has given his daughter Clare the ability to turn herself into a giant moth, which has a taste for blood and now wants a mate, leading both to flee their home. Quennell, unable to crack the case, resorts to subterfuge of his own, only to return in disguise as a banker on holiday with his daughter Meg (Vanessa Howard). Meg is introduced to a young butterfly hunter, William (David Griffin). with whom she discovers the monster’s lair complete with skulls. Quennell searches Malingers house, tracking down old servants who were dismissed for learning of strange events. Meg is captured by the Doctor, and under the influence of hypnosis, has her blood transfused in what will be the male mate for Clare. Reminiscent of Bride of Frankenstein, Malinger realizes that creating a mate for the monster is wrong and stops himself before its too late.
Comic relief comes from the slightly crazy mortician, played by Roy Hudd, who cracks jokes, crunches huge pickled onions and eats his meals around corpses, resorting to cooling his grog between the ankles of a corpse. Further comic relief comes with Quennell’s “Watson”-style sidekick in the dimwitted yet faithful policeman Sgt. Allan (Glynn Edwards). The well-meaning Sergeant is on hand for each of Quennell’s revelations and supplies much-needed physical backup.
The Blood Beast Terror certainly has budgetary constraints, which are immediately apparent in the opening sequence, which is supposed to be set in a jungle yet is obviously shot in a British marshland. In spite of this, the film is able to distill a convincing English period feel, with lavish furniture and draperies, though nothing can save the ending which betrays some shockingly cheap special effects.
The Blood Beast Terror is presented in a wonderful-looking transfer, in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, restored form the original 35mm interpostive. The color palette is strong, bringing out the rich shades, contrasts, and lush colors. There is some black crush in night sequences, which only adds to the mystery of the unseen. There is some minor dust and tears on the print, but nothing serious. The film grain is fully present. The technicolor blood effects are ample and bright red.
The transfer presents a solid soundtrack with a good mix between music and dialogue. You can hear in some sequences that some dialogue has been looped in through ADR, as there is a slight increase in volume. Everything sounds nice and clear, with minimum hiss.
The Blood Beast Terror contains a stills gallery and the theatrical trailer that is not as well preserved as the film, with lots of wayward levels and contrasts. A 26 min featurette titled Interview with Wanda Ventham is also included, in which she chats on camera about her Doctor Who involvement, recalls working with Peter Cushing and working on the Gerry Anderson series UFO. Ventham also learns for the first time on this featurette that Basil Rathbone was to have been in the role of Doctor Malinger, but passed away weeks before filming. But the best extra feature is the wonderfully informative audio commentary track with ‘English Gothic’ author Jonathan Rigby and Peter Cushing biographer David Miller.
The Blood Beast Terror is a timid little tale that should have been resolved quickly and suffers from a visible lack of budget. Cushing completists should have this picture in their collection, if anything just to watch the master of props, with his impeccable professionalism, make the preposterous seem believable. Yet, the picture still is great fun, especially with campy lines like, “They would never believe this at the yard!”
~ By Terry Sherwood