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One of the last vampire films made before Hammer Films changed the game entirely with Horror of Dracula (1958) was this United Artists production, which was often programmed on double features with another 1957 monster outing, The Monster That Challenged the World. Interestingly, both films had the distinction of being written by a woman, Pat Fielder, which was something of a rarity at the time in horror cinema. A production assistant at the time, she went on to team up again with this film's first-time director, Paul Landres, for a follow up of sorts one year later, The Return of Dracula, along with the sci-fi film The Flame Barrier. That quartet of features would prove to be her only big screen credits, but she and Landres went on to work together on several episodes of the TV show The Rifleman, which made her a very busy writer for crime shows throughout the 1970s.
< BR>The year before the release of The Vampire was an unusual one in the history of bloodsucker cinema thanks to the release of American International Pictures' Blood of Dracula, an attempt to fuse the troubled teen fad with the conventions of monster cinema in a manner similar to the more successful I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). Serious vampires had been largely absent from American screens throughout the '50s, but the demand for updated twists on the monsters made popular by Universal quickly resulted in the same year's odd alien/vampire hybrid Not of This Earth from Roger Corman. In Mexico, another film also entitled The Vampire (El Vampiro), was released in 1957 as well, provoking no small amount of confusion in some horror movie guides with this particular title.
Taking a cue from Blood of Dracula, The Vampire minimizes the risk of bringing back an still out-of-vogue monster by introducing elements of science fiction, a far more popular genre on movie screens at the time. The fears of the atomic age are certainly present in this story of Dr. Paul Beecher, an all-American dad and scientist played by John Beal, a familiar character actor in films ranging from the 1937 version of Madame X to Amityville 3-D (1983), with a brief but memorable stint on Dark Shadows in between. Here he's cursed with a unique condition when his dead colleague leaves him in possession of some dangerous pills resulting from experiments with vampire bat extract. Thanks to an accidental switcheroo involving his daughter, the good doctor regularly turns into a murderous, hirsute predator.
Though it doesn't boast any particular major star power, The Vampire also makes for fun viewing for character actor fans. Reliable sci-fi veteran Kenneth Tobey gets a sizable role as the town sheriff, one of a string of monster-fighting roles alongside his earlier work in The Thing from Another World (1951), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). He would remain in demand on both the large and small screens for decades, gracing drive-in screens again in Walking Tall (1973) and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) before becoming a fixture in several films for director Joe Dante starting with The Howling (1981). As the chief damsel in distress is another familiar face, Coleen Gray, making her horror debut after an already busy career kicked off with a pair of film noir classics, Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley (both 1947), and the western classic Red River (1948). This wouldn't be her last creature feature, however, as she went on to star in Universal's wild The Leech Woman (1960) two years later. Also lending support as the start of all the trouble is colorful TV favorite Dabbs Greer, best known as Reverend Alden on TV's Little House on the Prairie, who had already appeared in Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and also appeared in another 1958 matinee staple, It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Another TV regular, James Griffith, is also on hand, a World War II veteran and reliable guest actor on seemingly every single TV western show in existence and a surprising presence in films as disparate as Russ Meyer's Lorna (1964) and Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1955).
One of the strongest assets of The Vampire is its atmospheric score by composer Gerald Fried, a specialist in yielding maximum production value with very little money. This was not only his first horror film but also his first with the Fielder/Landres team, with whom he would also work on their two subsequent features. More relevant to film buffs, however, is Fried's status as Stanley Kubrick's composer of choice since their debut film, Fear and Desire (1953) (as well as the earlier 1951 short, "Day of the Fight"). By the time he scored The Vampire, Fried had also worked on Kubrick's Killer's Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956, also featuring Griffith), and Paths of Glory (1957). That would prove to be the end of their partnership, however, with Fried going on to a tremendous number of made-for-TV films, series, and drive-in features into the late 1980s. This is still one of his most full-blooded works, appropriately enough for a film that still refuses to die.
By Nathaniel Thompson
Paul Beecher (John Beal), a small-town doctor, attends to the death of a scientist who was working on a project devoted to expanding man's intellect. When Beecher later develops a severe headache, his young daughter accidentally gives him some pills the doctor had confiscated from the scientist's laboratory. Before you know it, strange things are happening in the community, like a series of unexplained deaths in which all the victims' bodies are found drained of blood. Upon investigation, Beecher eventually learns that the pills he took were part of an experiment involving vampire bats and...my, doesn't that neck look tasty?
Unfairly lumped with other grade-B horror flicks from its era, The Vampire (1957) actually deserves some credit for adding a new spin - pill addiction - to this overexposed horror genre and placing the story in a contemporary setting. The Vampireis also impressive for what director Paul Landres achieved on such a minuscule budget - $115,000 (small even for low-budget standards of the period) - in just six days!
John Beal, whose career dates back to early talkies in the 1930s, acquits himself well in the title role and manages to wring some unexpected pathos from his part as the doomed doctor. Kenneth Tobey, a veteran of such science fiction thrillers as The Thing (From Another World (1951) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), also offers solid support as the sheriff investigating the vampire murders. In Attack of the Monster Movie Makers by Tom Weaver, Tobey recalled the filming of The Vampire: "That was another six-day wonder, and we were at locations all over Hollywood. Most of the outdoor stuff was shot at an undeveloped lot, and all I remember is running. I'd run out one end of the lot, then we'd have to go back and set up at the other end of the lot, and shoot me running out the other end! What I also remember is John Beal, who is a very, very nice man....Coleen Gray was nice, too; she tried to get me into selling skin products and things like that door to door. I told her, 'I may be unemployed but I'm not unintelligent!.'"
If the visual look of The Vampire bears some similarities to the horror thrillers of Val Lewton, it's not a coincidence. The cinematographer, Jack MacKenzie, once worked for Val Lewton at RKO Studios during the forties. There are other influences as well, such as Greek tragedy! In Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver, screenwriter Pat Fielder said, "On The Vampire, the theme of the father potentially destroying the thing he cared about most - the ultimate victim being his daughter - seemed to me a classic theme around which to build a story. It seemed to have a particular kind of horror, going back to the Greeks, to Oedipus and Medea, all the great classics."
Producer: Arthur Gardener, Arnold Laven, Jules Levy
Director: Paul Landres
Screenplay: Pat Fielder
Art Direction: James Dowell Vance
Cinematography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editing: John Faure
Original Music: Gerald Fried
Principal Cast: John Beal (Dr. Paul Beecher), Coleen Gray (Carol Butler), Kenneth Tobey (Sheriff Buck Donnelly), Lydia Reed (Betsy Beecher), Dabbs Greer (Dr. Will Beaumont), Herb Vigran (George Ryan).
By Michael T. Toole & Jeff Stafford