Following the aimless The Oblong Box that almost teamed up Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, director Gordon Hessler was at it again later that same year when he signed up not only Price and Lee, but also Peter Cushing to appear together in this off-beat Cold War horror movie that’s more successful than The Oblong Box was in spite of (or perhaps because of!) it being more confusing.
You get the whole “bait and switch” feeling that you had with The Oblong Box, since once again Lee and Price only share one scene together and Cushing is only in the movie for five minutes and doesn’t get to appear with either one of the other two, but with car chases, amputations, a serial killer on the loose, and a plot to take over the world, it doesn’t leave as bad a taste in your mouth like it did with The Oblong Box.
Having one of these Price-American International productions take place during the present day is a breath of fresh air after so many movies that saw him doddering around parlors and dirty basements while some curse or other harassed him into madness. This one even comes complete with a few nightclub scenes where some guy is vainly attempting to make a song out of the movie’s title!
Keith is a crazed vampire killer, but he isn’t a complete whack job as he’s focused on picking up broads and getting the heck out of that club as soon as possible! You’d have to be even crazier than a crazed vampire not to split that scene!
This does bring up one of the movie’s failings and that’s that with so many ideas and plot threads running through it, sometimes little details like why Keith suddenly wanted to suck the blood out of chicks aren’t ever explained, even after Price’s Dr. Browning explains what Keith really is.
The movie takes its own sweet time revealing the main thrust of the story, with seemingly unconnected events like a jogger in a hospital repeatedly waking up to find out that more and more of his limbs have been amputated (very unsettling moments that I remember vividly from the first time I saw the film more than thirty years ago) to the police investigation of the violent rapes and deaths of young women in the area, to some unnamed foreign country (complete with cheesy red and black symbol that looks like a trident) where a guy delights in torturing people who are trying to escape across the frontier.
Eventually all these things are tied to together, though the ending only serves to muddle up exactly who’s really behind everything. That really didn’t affect my enjoyment of this strange mix of action, horror, and spy conventions which felt more like a police thriller complete with gruff talking lead investigator, than the usual sluggishly paced gothic effort AIP and Vincent Price had recently been churning out.
The primary focus of the film is the efforts of the police to track down the killer of a couple of women. Their violent deaths along with the lack of blood at the scene has them stumped and so they pull a move right of out TV classic Hunter‘s book: police women undercover as skanks!
We all know that psychos like nothing better than the smell of bacon all dolled up and ready to go for a ride in their cars, so it doesn’t take long for our suspect to get himself involved in a high speed chase with the authorities after displaying superhuman strength when they try to arrest him. He’s eventually subdued by being handcuffed to the bumper of a police car, but even that doesn’t stop him! Finally, he ends up throwing himself into a vat of acid on Dr. Browning’s grounds, which only serves to deepen the mystery since his first victim worked for Dr. Browning.
The spies go to work once the police hit a dead end, with some maniac from behind the Iron Curtain coming to London to try his death touch out on whomever gets in his way, while Christopher Lee appears once or twice in the role of Fremont, a British spy, who agrees to trade some information to this Iron Curtain country in exchange for the safe return of a downed pilot. (It all makes a little bit more sense when you actually see the movie, but it’s best to just let it wash over you and chalk it up to impenetrable spy motives.)
But even though the police have been ordered to close out their investigation and even though you have a movie starring Lee, Price, and Cushing, some young fresh-faced coroner not played by any of them steps up and decides to do some investigating on his own!
The script is surprisingly prescient in its discussion about the ethics of organ transplants. (Who is more deserving of a new organ and who should decide? And hasn’t Man always played God in making life and death decisions anyway?)
Today we have real life events where people conceive children solely for the purpose of providing bone marrow for another child. How far away is that from the horrors described in this film? This movie even describes how surgery can be better conducted via closed circuit television and this was way back in 1969! (Still, I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I want my doctor doing my vasectomy in anything less than 1080p HD!)
Ultimately, it’s an updated take on the Frankenstein story complete with rampaging creature and doctor who is obsessed with perfecting life, but with sufficient twists to merit a viewing. It’s just too bad that Lee and Cushing were squandered in throwaway roles and that Price wasn’t given more to do (though he does make some good faces).
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