Friday, December 4, 2009

A cautionary tale about mixing up your meds....

The Vampire (aka "Mark of the Vampire") (1957)
Starring: John Beal, Kenneth Tobey, Lydia Reed, Coleen Gray, Dabbs Greer, and James Griffith
Director: Paul Landres
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A kindhearted small-town doctor and single father (Beal) accidentally takes an experimental drug in place of his migraine medicine. Each night around 11pm, he now transforms into a hideous manbeast whose bite infects victims with a virus that causes the cells in their bodies to disintegrate. Will he find a way to stop the transformations before he attacks and kills his pretty nurse (Gray) or, worse, his little daughter (Reed)?

"The Vampire" is a somewhat misleading title. There really aren't any vampires in the film, and the story draws more from "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" than from any vampire legends.

That aside, this is a neat little flick where horror meets mad science. John Beal plays a very sympathetic main character who is as much a victim as the people he attacks--and unlike many other movie characters in his stead, he actually tries to take action to stop himself but fate or disbelief on the part of those he asks for help always steps in to keep the movie going until it's inevitable conclusion.

Although there are few moments of horror in the film, it does manage to deliver many tense moments. It is also structured in such a way that I was starting to wonder if the film would take the unusual step for movies from this period of having the precocious young daughter of our hero/monster (played with better-than-average skill for a child actor) be attacked or even maimed. It film doesn't go down that road, but it's an illustration of the how well the script is put together that I even thought it might. (Actually, this is one of those rare movies that could do with a remake. What if Beal had bitten his daughter or the nurse but not killed them? The race to swiftly develop a cure before their bodies start to break down would have made for a great end to the film.)

"The Vampire" is one of those films that can feed the imagination if you're in the right (twisted) frame of mine, and that makes it worth seeking out. Entirely too few movies do that.