Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In short: The Vampire's Ghost (1945)

Colonial "Africa". Since the arrival of Webb Fallon (John Abbott) in the local community, a strange series of killings plagues the "natives". All victims have been partially drained of blood with no signs of physical trauma except for the classic small puncture marks.

The "natives" soon peg Fallon as the perpetrator, and are very much right in their idea of Fallon being a vampire. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, their first attempt to kill the vampire fails. Fallon - not one of the easy to frighten of his kind - does not use this as an opportunity for escape. He instead overpowers the (rather weak) mind of colonial-person-without-a-job-description Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) to push himself into the life of plantation owner Thomas Vance (Emmett Vogan), or rather Vance's daughter and Roy's fiancee Julie (Peggy Stewart). He is growing quite lonely in his old age and plans to make Julie his permanent companion. Now if only whiny, semi-hypnotized Roy could get off his ass and do something about the vampire problem...

The Vampire's Ghost (which should reasonably be titled The Vampire's Curse - there are no ghosts to be found here, but much talk of "The Curse of the Undead") is a hard to find, short, made on the cheap Republic film with a script by Leigh Brackett, directed by Lesley Selander, and it is really surprisingly good. Mostly filmed on very fake looking sets, it's not much to look at, but the script is rather intelligent and bloat-free, both qualities one doesn't find in films like this very often. Brackett has obviously spent a little more time thinking the rules of vampirism through than most of her colleagues of the time did, and so we have the pleasure of observing a vampire who has no mirror image while his clothes have one (realized in a neat little effects sequence), who does not take to sunlight all that well but is far from helpless by day and whose supernatural powers mostly lie in a form mind domination that seems to prey on the weak spots of his victim's psyche - all demonstrated in mostly subtle ways which show a degree of trust in the intelligence of the viewer that is still not too common today.

I was also positively surprised by the relative lack of racism in the piece. The "natives" here may be wearing the usual silly outfits, but they are treated as people throughout, without the terrors of bug-eyed "comic-relief" or "comic cowardliness". Actually, the film does not have any comic relief at all, a wonderful omission, if you ask me.

The acting is unfortunately a little flat, but "a little flat" is a lot better than is to be expected from an hour-long cheap programmer of the time; it's never getting bad enough to distract from the general neatness of the script which is more than enough to make for a fine hour of horror film on its own.

 

1 comment:

Doug Gibson, Steve Stones said...

Enjoyed post. I linked to it on my film blog p9crotd.blogspot.com

Doug