Saturday, May 06, 2006

Grave of the Vampire (1972)

"I crawled the floors of hell to face you!"

Grave of the Vampire
(a.k.a. Seed of Terror) is a low budget gem from a time when cinematic vampires were migrating from the storm-shrouded castles of Europe into contemporary society. The gothic Hammer style vampire had fallen out of favor, giving way to the likes of Count Yorga, Barnabas Collins, and Blacula. Even Hammer itself brought their trademark monster Count Dracula into modern times with Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. While largely a forgotten film, Grave of the Vampire has been a personal favorite for years and deserves to be better known.

Two young lovers, Leslie Hollander and her boyfriend Paul leave a fraternity party for some quiet time together. Since their destination is a fog shrouded cemetery in the middle of the night, it's easy to predict that things will not end well for the pair. While Leslie and Paul make love in the back seat of Paul's car, we see the lid of a nearby crypt creak open, and Caleb Croft crawls out into the open air for the first time in three years. We later learn that Croft was a serial rapist and murderer who died while being pursued by police, but Croft is just one of the names used over the centuries by a vampire originally known as Charles Croydon. Croft rips the car door from its hinges and, bearing his fangs, drains the blood from Paul. Croft then drags the hysterical Leslie into a nearby open grave and rapes her.

Leslie survives the attack and soon learns she is pregnant. She is overjoyed at the thought of having Paul's child, but when she learns that the newborn infant will only drink blood and not milk, the identity of the father becomes apparent. The child, named James, grows to adulthood with a fierce desire to destroy the creature that assaulted his mother and ultimately brought about her early death. James tracks the creature to an American University where he is teaching a class on the occult under the name of Adrian Lockwood. To confirm that Lockwood and Croft are one and the same, James enrolls in Lockwood's class. Two of James's classmates, Anita and Anne, have eyes for James, but Anita also suspects Lockwood's true nature and seeks a relationship with the Professor to assure her own immortality.

Few would argue that Grave of the Vampire is a masterpiece. Much of the dialogue is overwrought. Anne's discussion with James of their blossoming relationship, for example, is so flowery as to induce hay fever. Most of the actors are at least competent with the notable exception of William Smith as James who comes off as a complete stump, except during the film's climax in which he over emotes to the point of embarrassment. The role called for a degree of subtlety that Smith lacked.

One of the film's greatest strengths is the performance of Michael Pataki as Caleb Croft/Charles Croydon. His dialogue is just as over the top as everyone else's, but he makes it work, coming off as an immortal fiend with a God complex. Kitty Vallacher also gives a strong performance as Leslie, showing equal strength as both a shrieking victim and a strong-willed and protective mother. The opening scene in the graveyard sets a creepy ambiance that holds throughout the picture. Grave of the Vampire may not be a masterpiece, but as a drive-in era horror flick it's one of the best of its kind.

The vampire as serial rapist scenario is, to the best of my knowledge, unique to this film. The sexuality of vampires is a subject that has been beaten to death, but since the relationship between vampire and victim involves close physical contact, penetration, and an exchange of fluids, one need not be a student of Freud to see the obvious. Rape/revenge films were not uncommon in the 1970's, so the mixing of this theme with the vampire genre is not so hard to imagine. Still, Croft/Croydon's status as a rapist serves its purpose by making a time worn movie monster all the more horrific for a modern audience, and the scene in which Leslie is assaulted, though not graphic, is very disturbing.

While I'm grateful that Alpha Video has made this obscure title widely available, the condition of the print is abominable. The movie is presented in fullscreen, and suffers from gatefloat during the first few reels, causing the picture to bounce up and down. The color is badly washed out. A scene in which Anne finds a raw half-eaten steak, showing the viewer that James still retains at least part of his vampiric nature, is rendered meaningless because the degraded print makes the meat appear cooked. Several jump cuts seem to indicate that Alpha's Video's version of the film is culled from an edited TV print. Both Video Search of Miami and Sinister Cinema carry the film, but I haven't seen either of those versions and can not comment on their quality or completeness.

In any case, Grave of the Vampire is past due for restoration and a high quality DVD release. Are you listening Anchor Bay, or perhaps Dark Sky Films?

Grave of the Vampire's entry at the Internet Movie Database


David Zuzelo said...

There is actually a VERY nice remaster of this playing on cable late nights. It looks amazing to say the least. One of my favorite low budget shockers actually, and it reminds of a film drawn by Mike Ploog for a black and white marvel mag in the 70's.
Great review!

David Zuzelo said...

OOPS, sorry...I forgot to mention the channels. It was on Showtime Beyond when a friend taped it for me. It's letterboxed and superclear. Also a bit less cut than the old VHS, though not as long as one other hard to find print that I haven't seen yet.
Yet ;)

Matt Bradshaw said...

Thanks for the info.

JimTex said...

Considering that this was based on a novel by David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos"(!), who also co-wrote the screenplay, wouldn't a remake be in order? I hate the spate of remakes nowadays, but this film is one of those that just seems ripe for it.

Additionally, Chase was also wrote the lions share (8 eps), was story editor and story consultant on the original "Kolchak: The Night Stalker"!

He could greenlight this in a second...

JimTex said...

Oops, sorry for the extra "also" in the second paragraph.

JimTex said...

Oops again, the extraneous "was" in the second paragraph.

I hate it when that happens...

Matt Bradshaw said...

You can never have too many "alsos," and it just ain't a party until someond throws out an extra "was."

Since writing that review I've searched the internet for any reference to the David Chase novel The Still Life. Other than a mention at the IMDB, and a few other reviews that I suspect have gotten that info from the IMDB, I can find neither hyde nor hair of this book. I checked with Curt over at Groovy Age of Horror and he's found nothing on it either. Combined with the fact that no reference is made to this book in the film's credits, I'm starting to wonder if this book ever existed, or if it's just a factual error at IMDB that has given birth to a minor urban legend.

Anybody else know anything about this book?

Anonymous said...

Grave of the Vampire (1972) Full Movie Online

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