Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Taste of Blood (1967)

I’m not a great fan of the movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis, and while his 1967 effort A Taste of Blood does have some interesting features they’re not enough to change my mind about Lewis’s movies.

Which is a pity, since this one has a genuinely interesting premise.

Businessman John Stone (Bill Rogers) discovers, to his considerable surprise, that he has the royal blood of Moldavia flowing in his veins. A message to this effect arrives for him, accompanied by two bottles of Moldavian brandy. The brandy packs quite a punch, in more ways than one. His wife Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson) thinks it smells like blood, and the good lady may be on to something there.

After he’s drunk the brandy Helene notices some disturbing changes in her husband. He sleeps all day and works all night, he seems preoccupied and irritable, and he no longer has any interest in sleeping with her.

It turns out the brandy, a very special preparation, is just the start. He gets another message, asking him to come to England to take possession of the family estate there. While he’s there several rather gruesome murders take place. When he returns to the US he seems even stranger than before.

In fact he is now a vampire, a descendant of Dracula. But this is not merely a 60s version of Dracula - it has some new twists. The new vampire has a mission - to track down and kill six people, all of them descendants of the people responsible for destroying Dracula back in the 1890s. And he is to kill them by driving stakes through their hearts - a rather neat touch.

One of the people on his murder list is psychiatrist Dr Howard Helsing (Otto Schlessinger), and as you might expect with a name like that he proves to be, despite his unpromising appearance (he looks like a down-at-heel middle-aged salesman) a formidable opponent. Helsing knows he is dealing with a vampire, and he knows the drill.

The vampire John Stone has hypnotic powers which he uses on his wife. Helene has been asking advice from John’s best friend Dr Hank Tyson (William Kerwin). Tyson is an old flame of Helene’s and is still in love with her. Stone has always been jealous, but now his jealousy takes on a new zest.

Bill Rogers is effective as the vampire. He’s pretty creepy to begin with and his creepiness naturally increases quite a bit after he’s been initiated into vampirism. He’s perhaps a bit on the weedy side but he has the right mix of weirdness. The other actors range from competent (in the case of William Kerwin) to rather dull (in the cases of Elizabeth Wilkinson and Otto Schlessinger). Look out for a cameo by Lewis himself, as a British sailor. His attempt at an English accent provides some definite comic relief. There’s more comic relief towards the end with some amusing scenes involving a man and his highly trained detective dog.

By the standards of H. G. Lewis films this is a lavish offering, with reasonable production values and a running time of just under two hours. The makeup effects are odd but they work well enough.

The big problem is that very long running time, allied to the movie’s glacial pace. Lewis also has no idea how to stage anything resembling an action scene and his generally pedestrian approach to directing throws away opportunities to build some true gothic atmosphere. Colour is used quite imaginatively though, this being a definite factor in the movie’s favour. There’s considerably less gore than you expect in a H. G. Lewis movie.

Something Weird’s DVD release is satisfactory if not brilliant overall, with some scenes showing quite a lot of print damage.

A potentially interesting vampire movie, but it’s just too slow-moving to sustain interest and it falls disappointingly flat. There are some good ideas here however and it’s not a complete washout. Probably worth a rental.

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