Monday, October 29, 2012


In the African village of Bakunda, the latest in a series of murders in which the victims have had their blood drained is causing fear among the superstitious natives. Plantation manager Charles Gordon and his girlfriend (Peggy Stewart) aren't troubled by the rumors of vampires, but the local priest (Grant Withers) is. Gordon goes to John Abbott, owner of the local gin joint, to see if he's heard anything through the grapevine. He notes that there is a witchcraft cult in a nearby village which might be the source of trouble, but while he's having tea with Gordon, a servant notices that Abbott has no reflection; she screams and the mirror shatters, and of course she tells no one what she saw. Sure enough, Abbott eventually confesses to Gordon that he is a 400-year-old vampire. Gordon is laid low with a fever and Abbott makes plans to take Stewart as his unnatural bride. The priest helps Gordon regain his health and willpower, but Abbott has already taken Stewart to the Temple of Death to make her his own. Can they arrive in time to stop him? And if so, how?

This B-horror film is much closer to the low-key feeling of dread of a Val Lewton film than to the blood-and-thunder thrills of a Universal film, and though it doesn't have the creepy, magical touches that make the Lewton films stand out, it is still worth seeing. Partly because of the exotic setting, several shots in the film reminded me specifically of Lewton's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, though this film doesn’t sustain that film's other-worldly atmosphere. Abbott (above right), with his quiet demeanor, dark, bulging eyes, and weary outlook is much closer to the more romantic vampires of recent films than to the bloody monsters of the 40s, and he is very effective. He can walk about in daylight, send mental messages, be rejuvenated by the full moon, and be killed only by a silver spear. In one particularly nice scene, his shadow falls on a sailor and kills him. Gordon is an attractive lead, if a little bloodless (no pun intended), but Stewart (pictured with Gordon) is forgettable. The screenplay is by science-fiction writer Leigh Brackett who wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. This is a goodie for an October night. [Netflix streaming]

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