The Blood Beast Terror (1968) aka The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood
Dir. Vernon Sewell
Written by Peter Bryan
Starring Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng, Wanda Ventham, Vanessa Howard
A shifty entomologist is up to something in detective Peter Cushing’s neighborhood in this laughably inept Tigon release. There have been a series of mysterious blood-draining deaths recently. Clearly the the murders and suspicious entomology lectures are linked, but since the explanation is that the nefarious insectophile has bred a species of enormous blood-sucking supermoths that can turn into humans, you can sort of forgive Detective John “Blood Beast” Terror* (Cushing) for not figuring out what the deal is right off the bat. Slightly harder to forgive him for going on vacation to the countryside halfway through. He’s supposedly “incognito” and doing detective stuff, but to the untrained eye he sure looks like he spends most of his time fishing and strolling contentedly in the idyllic nature, presumably hoping to randomly encounter his nemesis, which as luck would have it eventually more or less happens (eventually). In the meantime, THRILL to the adventures of Peter Cushing learning in excruciating detail what tomorrow’s dinner menu will include. GAZE in shock as he discusses the fishing prospects in the local river with several well-dressed gentleman. RECOIL in horror as he is issued a friendly admonishment to take it easy on the police expenditure account by his good-natured supervisor.
|OK, we got blood drained. Mysterious scratch marks on face. Moth-like scales scattered around the crime scene. This looks like the work of rowdy teens. Lou, cancel the prom.|
Yeah, this is a pretty terrible one, but it has a sort of good-natured Z-grade charm that buoys it a bit. Tigon was the poor man’s Amicus, which itself was the poor man’s Hammer, which itself was the poor man’s “a real studio” so don’t go into this expecting anything but rich, gooey cheese and you won’t be disappointed. Aside from a long working vacation in the country, there’s a goldmine of sublimely silly plot points to wade through. You can look forward to watching (in full) an adorably incompetent Wes-Anderson-style play put on by a bunch of entomology students which roughly mirrors both Frankenstein and the tale of Burke and Hare**. You can enjoy Cushing’s detective character carefully considering the blood-drained corpses with curious scratch marks on their faces (these are actually never explained, come to think of it) and a crime scene covered with mysterious iridescent scales, only to come to one inescapable conclusion: these were the victims of an vicious unprovoked eagle attack. This is a theory the movie treats quite seriously, even spending time with Cushing interviewing the local entomologist (who also happens to be an eagle expert in his spare time?) about the likelihood of murderous eagle dive bombers (he’s assured that yes, this happens all too frequently). Oh, and don’t get me started on the neckerchief-clad 20-something running around with a butterfly net, loudly cursing the fact that girls are always trying to distract him from his noble pursuit.
I don’t know about you, but man-sized bloodsucking vampire were-moths that turn into buxom blondes are not exactly in my top ten most terrifying nightmares, but I gotta give Tigon credit for ponying up the cash to build an appropriately preposterous costume and having the balls to actually show it clearly. This is basically just a vampire/werewolf template with giant moths (presumably because someone at Tigon learned about the “death’s head” moth, featured more successful in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) but at least it’s a slightly different gimmick and with about a hundred times more entomology than usual (arguably only Argento’s PHENOMENA rivals it in the bug-centric horror department). And of course, Cushing (looking dapper as fuck here) is always good. More surprising is Robert Flemying (Riccardo Freda's THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK) as the fiendish bughound, he’s actually a real good actor and makes the role more memorable than it otherwise would be. A quick IMDB search reveals he languished in total crap for most of his professional life, but he did get to end his career with Soderbergh's KAFKA and Attenborough’s SHADOWLAND. The story has a happy ending!
Director Vernon Sewell (CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTER) is not what you might consider to be a classic genre director, but he’d been a director since the 30’s and brings a decidedly old-fashioned corniness to this cheapie creature feature. Even though it was almost 1970, this one (minus the color) could have played next to THE MAN FROM PLANET X or something and you’d barely notice the difference. I consider that a good thing; as these British genre studios would discover by the late 70’s, better to stick with the schlock you know and love rather than try and chase after the hip new thing which is just going to look desperate and dated. Case in point: I doubt that by the 70’s they’d have had the balls to end the movie as perfectly as they do here: (SPOILER, to the extent that it’s possible to spoil THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR) they build a big leaf fire and the moth gets confused and flies into it. That about sums up the case for BLOOD BEAST: Idiotic and time-wasting, but at least it has the decency to be amusingly daffy.
*OK, not really.
**which director Sewell would later adapt into his last picture!