Saturday, 7 March 2009

Condemned to Live (1935)

Condemned to Live is an interesting little 1935 vampire film from Poverty Row studio Invincible Pictures. A village is being terrorised by a series of grisly murders which the villagers blame on a giant vampire bat. But eventually it becomes obvious that the monster is human, or at least human in form.

What distinguishes this from other vampire movies of the time is that the vampire doesn’t know he’s a vampire, and the origin of his vampirism is also a rather original idea - his mother was bitten by a vampire bat in Africa just before his birth, and the bite infected the child. The identity of the monster is revealed fairly early so I don’t think it really qualifies as a spoiler. In fact the movie relies on the audience knowing the identity of the monster and still feeling considerable sympathy for him.

It has some of the fun horror movie cliches of its era - a horde of stupid superstitious villagers with flaming torches determined to kill the wrong person, a hunchbacked servant, etc, but it adds enough original touches to remain fairly gripping. The movie’s biggest weaknesses are the pacing, which even with a running time of just 67 minutes is quite slow, and some rather stiff acting. Ralph Morgan though is quite good as the tragic and tortured Professor Kristan. Maxine Doyle is terrible as the film’s love interest.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of other horror movies of that era that feature sympathetic monsters, movies like Frankenstein and The Mummy. Since the identity of the fiendish murderer is obvious from the start it’s clear that the intention of the movie is to focus on the tragic consequences for the unwitting monster, and the moral dilemmas face by his friends when they discover his secret. Unfortunately the quality of the writing, the directing and the acting are not equal to the challenge, but for a Poverty Row movie it’s a brave attempt. And it does have more good ideas than many of the bigger budgeted and much more celebrated Hollywood horror films of the 30s.

The best thing about this movie is the absence of comic relief! The ending is reasonably well done. Despite its flaws it’s well worth a look, and it’s considerably more interesting than a movie like Mark of the Vampire.

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