Blood of the Vampire - 1958
Blood of the Vampire is a surprisingly well-done Hammer film. It is only about vampires in the sense that Donald Wolfit (as prison warden Callistratus) uses forced transfusions from his inmates in his prison hospital to feed his body which is in a constant biological war with itself due to his mixing together different blood types.
With a story more dependent upon basic science than is typical with cinema vampire stories, Dr. Callistratus enlists the wrongly imprisoned Dr. John Pierre (played by Vincent Ball) who helpfully joins in the goal of advancing Callistratus' research into blood types and its inherit problem of compatibility/incompatibility. As the assistant in the laboratory (and therefore kept from duties elsewhere in the sadistic prison), he eventually discovers that there is a secondary, more sinister secret lab down lower in the prison.
Meanwhile, John's wife Madeleine (Barbara Shelley) is on the outside trying to get her husband's unfair conviction reversed. She eventually makes her way to Callistratus's prison, and using a fake identity gets employed there as a maid. Her kindness and general decency wins the admiration of Callistratus's deformed henchman Carl [played by Victor Maddern] and something like a proto-Esmarelda/Hunchback relationship develops, something that plays a critical part in the climax of the tale when Callistratus's experiments begin succeeding a bit too well.
Hammer's usual sumptuous costuming and art direction is here, as does the excellent Donald Wolfit. Elements of Blood of the Vampire can seem predictable as this film has been borrowed from for later Hammer movies (not that many of the elements here are particularly original, though the biological dilemma that is Callistratus's certainly is).
The film takes side trips into Hammer-style gore (relatively tame circa 1958) and the film's short run-time of 87 minutes means the tale (written by Jimmy Sangster) doesn't have a lot of space to develop itself, though it does what it can with what its got. The title is not entirely misleading since the prison location looks more or less like a Dracula castle where Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee could reside, and Callistratus' "science" is a kind of vampirism via medical equipment.
A combination of a prison-break and mad-scientist film, Blood of the Vampire has a good cast and often goes beyond its exploitation origins to be a well done monster movie from the late 50s.
Original Page May 2020
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