“What will we tell them?” exclaims Sargent Allan. “They’ll never believe this at the Yard!”
“They’ll never believe it anywhere!” responds Detective Inspector Quennell.
He wasn’t wrong. When critics lash out at Tigon as a poor man’s Hammer, it’s less Witchfinder General and The Blood On Satan’s Claw they’re thinking of, and more willfully daft potboilers like 1967’s The Blood Beast Terror.
Renamed The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood in the US, and hiding behind taglines like “The blood lust of a frenzied vampire!”, Tigon seemed to lose conviction with their giant Deaths Head weremoth (!?) story late in the game, and try and pass it off as something far more conventional.
There’s little mystery though, so who they thought they’d be fooling is really uncertain.
We’re introduced to a clutch of oversized mysterious chrysalis as a white-clad white colonial in pith helmet sails up a poorly disguised Norfolk broads in the company of two black tribesmen in an opening sequence that condemns the entire decade as the fever dream of Alf Garnett.
Back in England – roughly six miles down the road from Embarrassing Imaginary Africa – there’s a spate of deaths around the home of insect specialist Dr Carl Mallinger (The Horrible Dr Hitchcock‘s Robert Flemying) and his beautiful daughter Clare (UFO and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter‘s Wanda Ventham, and mother of Benedict Cumberbatch), and Quennell (Peter Cushing) is called upon to investigate.
Cushing infamously referred to The Blood Beast Terror as the worst in his bloated back catalogue – which in on screen quality isn’t strictly true, but you can see why it left a less than stellar impression on the ‘gentle man of horror’.
Directed by conveyor belt schlocker Vernon Sewell (The Curse Of The Crimson Altar, Burke & Hare) from a script by Hammer regular Peter Bryan (The Plague Of The Zombies, The Brides Of Dracula), it’s a dismally cheap affair even by the standards of the day, with scenes taking place around the same two buildings, and all external shots lensed tightly to disguise the fact that they seem to be different parts of the same building. In line with its cheapness is its dearth of imagination that gives every indication of being the result of Tigon producer Tony Tenser blurting out “Have we done a giant moth yet?” over a boozy lunch.
With this single dose of WTF? dropped like a paving slab into a plodding mad scientist and monster yarn that drags severely in the middle (and the beginning, and the end), nobody seems to be having any fun – but whether Cushing’s weariness is in or out of character, it sort of works in this role which is half-way between his Sherlock Holmes, his van Helsing, and a frosty phonecall to his agent, but he’s largely alone in his dignity, as everyone else contents themselves with gurning and pantomime peering around trees.
The moth-woman itself, meanwhile, looks like the sort of thing that a soundman would have to shove around the set of Sixties Doctor Who, and it’s tough to imagine staring that down and being able to muster the performance of a lifetime. Considering Clare is the object of half the cast’s affections, preying on them like a big fuzzy succubus, it’s a weirdly chaste affairs considering the bosom-heaving values of the era – less Sixties taboo busting gothic horror, and more of a Thirties monster movie.
Like the 2012 US Blu-ray and DVD, this Odeon Entertainment release contains the full 88 minute cut, offering a welcome respite from the previous, dreary DVD letterbox, but with a film that already feels like the slowest thing in the world, you’ll quickly home to despise those extra dozen minutes of film.
There’s no doubting the quality of the transfer – it’s unbelievable how long the DVD market has been in the thrall of VHS-grade rips – and there’s no doubting that this is the best The Blood Beast Terror has ever looked.
Now if only there was something worth looking at.