Sunday, October 09, 2011
31 Days Has October: THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST
Set in Colonial Africa, The Vampire's Ghost eschews the usual Gothic or contemporary urban trappings of the genre, and sets its action in a European-inhabited African community surrounded by jungle. (Interestingly the map shown at the beginning of the film indicates a decidedly landlocked, mid-Continent location for its fictional city, yet there are numerous sailors present in the film's tavern, and mention of a seaport...). Into this environment comes gawky Webb Fallon (John Abbot), who takes over proprietorship of the local tavern. Soon, mysterious deaths are occurring both within the European enclave and the surrounding native villages, and the jungle drums soon spread the word: a vampire stalks the jungle.
The story and script are by acclaimed author and screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, and it's a bit of a departure from her screenplays for Howard Hawks. Brackett's script is surprisingly thoughtful for a B-horror programmer, from its unusual African setting to its imaginative interpretation of the cinematic "rules" of vampirism. Unfortunately, the film is almost completely miscast - John Abbot plays the role of an urbane, 400 year-old bloodsucker reasonably well, but lacks screen presence and bears an unfortunate physical resemblance to a depressed Don Knotts. I'm convinced that if Republic had cast Bela Lugosi or John Carradine - or even someone like Lionel Atwill or Henry Daniell - in the role, the film would be remembered today as a Poverty Row "classic."
Burly Grant Withers - who I know mostly as the first screen Jungle Jim and as Police Detective Bill Street in Monogram's Mr. Wong series - makes an unconvincing Catholic missionary/priest. I suppose they were going for a Pat O'Brien type of cleric, but Withers just didn't pull it off. Fortunately, both of the major female characters come across well, especially sexy Adele Mara as the dancer at Fallon's saloon.
The movie is solid fun, smartly-told, and at a brisk 59 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. It's cool to discover a new Halloween treasure, especially one written by one of my favorite authors. If you have Netflix Instant, I recommend checking it out.