Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Vampire's Ghost

Somebody on the PulpMags group mentioned this movie favorably a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of it before, so I decided to give it a try. When I think about Republic Pictures, I don’t think about horror films. Republic means Westerns and serials, of course. And THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST definitely has some Western and serial connections.

One of the villains is played by the great Roy Barcroft, the bad guy or chief henchman in many a Roy Rogers movie, and Western fixture Grant Withers plays a priest. There’s even a saloon brawl, albeit a brief one. The movie was directed by Leslie Selander, who directed a lot of B-Westerns, and written by John K. Butler and Leigh Brackett. Butler went from a career writing wacky, hardboiled detective stories for the pulps to writing wacky, hardboiled Western yarns for the movies. Brackett, of course, is a legend, and this movie was some of her first film work.

So with a pedigree like that, you’d think that THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST would at least be worth watching, and here’s the good news . . . it is. It’s a really nice little low-budget thriller, set in the African river port town of B’kunda. An Englishman named Webb Fallon owns a bar and casino there, and there’s a rubber plantation nearby managed by the stalwart Roy Kendrick.

When some mysterious murders in the area spook the natives and threaten production on the plantation, Kendrick decides to get to the bottom of the killings. He enlists Fallon to help him, which is maybe not the best idea in the world since Fallon is actually the 400-year-old vampire who’s responsible for the deaths. This is revealed almost immediately, so it’s not much of a spoiler. It doesn’t take long for Kendrick to find out what’s going on, either, but he can’t tell anybody, because Fallon, who has befriended him and doesn’t want to kill him, mesmerizes him into not revealing his secret.

This is an extremely pulpish yarn, right down to a final showdown in an ancient jungle temple, and it probably would have been very much at home in a 1940s issue of WEIRD TALES. The screenplay by Butler and Brackett races right along, ably abetted by Selander’s efficient direction. Having made a career out of B-movies, Selander had to be very accustomed to shooting quickly. The performances are good, especially that of John Abbott as Webb Fallon, who manages to be both sympathetic and suavely evil at the same time. As a tormented, angsty vampire, he’s something of a forerunner of all the romantic hero bloodsuckers we have running around in books, movies, and TV today. Also, one of the highlights comes early in the movie in the form of a wild, erotic dance done by the beautiful Adele Mara, who is dark and exotic in this movie, rather than blond and wholesome like she is in many of her films. This dance, which takes place in Fallon’s casino, is hot stuff and ends with Mara looking defiantly right into the camera. It’s a quick shot, but very effective.

All in all, I found THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST to be very entertaining. It’s available on Netflix to watch on-line, and at a brisk 55 minutes, it’s well worth your time.


pattinase (abbott) said...

You can drink me under the table with the movies and books you come up with. Wow!

Jerry House said...

Sounds just right for me! Thanks!

Fred Blosser said...

It would be interesting to know what was Brackett's and what was Butler's. "Webb Fallon" sounds like it should be the name of one of Brackett's PLANET STORIES heroes.

Todd Mason said...

You know, for me, as someone who was most impacted by the films the revived Republic released in the '90s (such crime/social drama, usually featuring distinctive women characters, as BOUND, FREEWAY, RUBY IN PARADISE and LIVE NUDE GIRLS, it's odd that (perhaps because of the Brackett touch? Maybe because the Republic guy was a Romantic ready to be the starmaker for Vera Hruba Ralston?) there even seems to be a resonance or two of that in this film as you describe it...it also sounds like it'd make a fine double feature with either of Yvette Banek's films this week.