Directed by Paul Landres
Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: John Faure
Music: Gerald Fried
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), James H. Griffith (Henry Wilson)
Made in six days for just $150,000, The Vampire (1957) shows the kind of miracles director Paul Landres could perform with no time and no money. The fact that it made it to the screen to begin with is quite a feat — then consider that it’s a pretty solid little monster movie.
Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal) is a small-town physician who becomes a bloodthirsty monster after he mistakenly takes an experimental drug extracted from the blood of vampire bats. That the vampire here is the product of science, not the undead, is an interesting twist — and so 1950s. What’s more, it serves up a pretty good, and certainly early, depiction of the perils of drug addiction.
Landres began as an editor, cutting series Westerns and serials at Universal, and made the move to director in the very early 50s — both in features and TV. He retired after a 1972 episode of Adam-12. The late 50s were a particularly interesting period for Landres. He directed a few Regalscope pictures (including the terrific Frontier Gun in 1958) and a handful of cheap horror/sci-fi movies that transcend their budgets — The Vampire being one of them.
Along with Landres’ direction, what helps elevate The Vampire are its thoughtful script by Pat Fielder — who wrote a number of good science fiction pictures, including this film’s co-feature, The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and the solid character actors who make up its cast. John Beal does a superb job of keeping Dr. Beecher sympathetic, even as he’s killing an old lady. Coleen Gray and Kenneth Tobey are always a treat. And Dabbs Greer and James H. Griffith steal the show was two guys from the university that sponsored the drug research. Then there’s Jack MacKenzie’s moody photography. He worked with Val Lewton at RKO on Isle Of The Dead (1945), so he’s no stranger to shadows and atmospherics, and he puts them to good use here.
With a cast and crew like this, how could The Vampire go wrong?
The scene where John Beal stuffs James Griffith into the incinerator is one of those monster movie moments that has stuck with me since I was a kid. Part of a genre, and an era, I adore, this one comes highly recommended.
The Vampire is available on DVD as part of one of the old MGM Midnite Movies collection, paired with The Return Of Dracula (1958), another little gem from Paul Landres. The version I watched this week was the Movies 4 You: Horror set from Timeless Media Group — which also includes a pretty good transfer of The Screaming Skull (1958). The widescreen transfer of The Vampire is excellent, allowing for some artifacts coming from cramming four features onto one disc, and a real bargain at five or six bucks.