50's sci-fi and horror movies, of the low-end drive-in variety, have always held a special place in my heart. This is the era when no matter how horrendous the movie may have been, I always seem to find something about it that appeals to me. This was the era when not only the film the movie was shot on was black and white, but the stories were as well. It was the scientists and the cops vs. the aliens, monsters and beasties. And no matter how bad things got, the good guys always triumphed in the end with a well placed bullet or an ingenious plan that someone pulls out of their ass in the waning seconds before the credits roll.
The Vampire is a movie that had somehow eluded me all these years, probably because of the fact that I'm not really a big fan of vampire movies (unless they are of the Bela Lugosi type). But in reality, The Vampire isn't really a vampire flick per-se, sure its got a guy who bites people on the neck in the dead of night, but its also a science fiction movie as well. And a surprisingly well done one at that.
We begin with a scientist who has been doing animal experiments in the hopes of unlocking the secrets of instinct regression. His work has progressed to the point where he has created a pill derived from parts of a vampire bat that achieves that very end. Sick and near death, the scientist sends for the town doctor, Dr. Beecher ( John Beal), just before the scientist dies he hands the doctor a bottle of pills. With no idea what the pills do, the doctor absentmindedly places them in his coat pocket and forgets about them. The following day, while attending to patients at his home office, he asks his young daughter to reach into his coat and get him one of his migraine pills. Not surprisingly, she gives him the wrong pill. The doctor later lies down for a nap and awakens the following day to find that a prowler has been seen in the neighborhood. While this is going on, a couple of the original scientists colleagues arrive at his home-lab to figure out what happened and to continue on with the research. Local sheriff, Buck Donnelly,(Kenneth Toby) also arrives on the scene just as the mystery begins to deepen. For those who don't know who Kenneth Tobey was, he was basically the William Shatner of the 50's, usually playing the role of an Air Force pilot, submarine captain, or cop who always has time for lip-locking with the leading lady when not slaying aliens, sea monsters and even vampires. For fans of 50's drive-in fare he's pretty much a legend with movies like The Thing from Another World, It Came from Beneath the Sea and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms to his credit. (along with The Vampire) And Toby doesn't miss a beat here, taking no time at all to get his hands on the doctors smokin' hot nurse Carol, (Coleen Gray) while still finding time to investigate the dead bodies with puncture wounds in the neck, which begin to pile up. It appears the pill the doctor unintentionally took is highly addictive, he can no longer control what happens to him once the pill has been taken and things go downhill for him as well as the innocent townsfolk who fall victim to his murderous rampages.
It's really a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type story-line as opposed to a straight-forward vampire movie. What surprised me most about this film was the acting, which was pretty high caliber for this type of movie. This was the era when United artists was churning out sci-fi/horror movies on a virtual conveyor-belt to feed the hungry drive-in movie crowds. A lot of their stuff was hit and miss but this little gem really hits the mark with a perfect combination of cheesiness spread over a surprisingly entertaining story-line. Is it scary? Of coarse not. Not even for a second. The vampire make-up effects and transformation scenes are nothing short of laughable. But that's part of what makes these 50's B-movies so endearing to its fans, along with the fact that the entire cast plays it arrow-straight and serious throughout, all involved are terrified and yet for those of us watching, its absurdly hilarious.
Distributor Cheezy Flicks knows their cheese and should be applauded for cleaning up and re-releasing this obscure, hokey little gem of a movie. For those of us who weren't around in the 50's, it is nothing short of a magic window into days gone by when you sat parked at the drive-in, in dads Buick on a Saturday night. Munching popcorn and hoping to get to second base with the hot girl in the poodle skirt sitting next to you, watching the drama of movies like The Vampire unfold on the big screen. This is fun, fun stuff.....even without the Buick.