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Six weeks after the death of her mother, Nancy Perkins' father remarries. As his employer wants him to relocate to another city, he and Nancy's stepmother, Doris, decide to enroll the eighteen-year-old Nancy in a boarding school, although Nancy does not want to leave her friends, including her boyfriend Glenn. When Nancy and her parents arrive late one night at the Sherwood School for Girls, they are welcomed by the principal, Mrs. Thorndyke, who emphasizes to Nancy that the school is not a corrective institution but a private, preparatory school with a very good reputation. Nancy spends the night in a small room where her prospective dormmates harass her. At breakfast the next morning, after Thorndyke officially introduces Nancy to the girls, Myra, their leader, tells Nancy that it was good thing that she did not mention their behavior from the previous night. Myra also tells Nancy about their secret organization, "The Birds of Paradise," and, on their way to class, introduces her to Eddie, a young groundsman whom the Birds take turns dating. Myra is the teaching assistant for the chemistry teacher, Miss Branding, who is writing a thesis about her belief that there is a terrible power, strong enough to destroy the world, buried within each person. If she can prove this, she hopes that scientists will then abandon their experiments with nuclear bombs and other weapons. When Branding tells Myra that she is looking for a special girl on whom to experiment, Myra suggests Nancy. During a class project, Myra and her friend Nola deliberately burn Nancy, causing her to react violently. Intrigued, Branding asks Nancy if she may hypnotize her and Nancy agrees. Branding then places an amulet around her neck and informs Nancy that it came from the Carpathian Mountain region and is capable of healing, as well as destroying and has the ability to release frightening powers. As Nancy gazes at the amulet, Branding hypnotizes her and instructs her to always obey her. Later, at the girls' initiation party, Eddie and two local boys, Tab and Joe, climb a ladder up to the girls' room. In the adjacent building, Branding hears the noise and, despite the distance, is able to re-hypnotize Nancy, turning her into a vampire. The party is broken up by another teacher, who then sends Nola to the basement to fetch supplies for the next day's class. While in the basement, Nola is attacked and killed. The next morning, as police detective sergeant Stewart investigates the killing, Nancy is unable to wake up until Branding orders her to and, when she relates a terrible dream she had, Branding orders her to forget it. At police headquarters, the coroner informs Lt. Dunlap, who is in charge of the investigation, that he found two puncture wounds in Nola's jugular vein and that the body was drained of blood. A young assistant to the coroner, who shared a room in medical school with an exchange student from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains, remembers his friend's stories about vampires, but Dunlap places no credence in his theory. Later, when the girls organize a Halloween scavenger hunt in the local cemetery, Nancy is again transformed into a vampire and kills another girl as well as Tab. The police subject all the girls involved in the hunt to a lie detector test, but Branding is able to alter Nancy's responses to the questions by remote hypnosis. Back at the school, Nancy, confused and frightened by her transformations, begs for Branding's help, but Branding assures her that the experiment will soon be over and that she will be proud of her part in saving mankind from self-destruction. Because of the murders, the state threatens to close the school, and consequently, Thorndyke asks Branding to take over some of her duties while she attempts to calm worried parents. Glenn, alarmed by newspaper accounts of the killings, suddenly arrives at the school, but Nancy, fearful that she may kill him, acts coldly toward him. Nancy then goes to Branding's laboratory and begs Branding to release her from the experiment and from her power, but the crazed Branding refuses and hypnotizes her again. Nancy once more becomes a vampire, but this time she attacks Branding and strangles her to death with the amulet. While they struggle, Branding pushes Nancy, impaling her on a broken piece of furniture as Glenn, Thorndyke and Myra break into the laboratory. After they discover that Branding's written thesis has been destroyed by acid, Thorndyke remarks that those who twist and pervert knowledge for evil only bring about their own destruction.