Blood of the Vampire [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Nucleus Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (19th July 2022).
The Film

Transylvania 1874: With the help of his faithful deformed servant Carl (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Victor Maddern), Dr. Callistratus (Room at the Top's Donald Wolfit) who was staked by suspicious villagers as a suspected vampire is brought back from the dead via a heart transplant carried out by a drunken confederate (I See a Dark Stranger's Cameron Hall) who is soon regrets resorting to blackmail for a bigger payday. Twelve years later in the city of Carlstadt, physician John Pierre (Where Eagles Dare's Vincent Ball) is sentenced to life in a penal colony for medical malpractice when a patient deemed hopeless by Pierre's superiors dies during an experimental blood transfusion. John is saved from the penal colony when asylum for the criminally insane head Dr. Callistratus has him transferred to help him classify and group blood types with the goal of isolating and treating a rare blood disease. Little does John suspect – in spite of much foreboding but vague warnings from his cellmate Kurt (The Shuttered Room's William Devlin) – that Callistratus has been using the bodies and blood of his inmates for his experiments to prolong his own existence. When John's fiancιe Madeleine (The Gorgon's Barbara Shelley) is successful in getting the judge (Dad's Army's John Le Mesurier) to reopen John's case, Callistratus takes advantage of John's and Kurt's failed escape attempt to report him dead. Nevertheless, Madeleine gets a job inside the asylum as Callistratus' housekeeper to do her own investigation; however, Callistratus has just started experimenting with female blood, starting with the previous too-curious housekeeper (Barbara Burke).

It is really hard not to spoil plot developments for Blood of the Vampire because this suspected repurposed The Curse of Frankenstein sequel from Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster is anything but subtle or measured – suggesting the Hammer touch was in the execution rather than the writing – from it's opening staking that anticipates Kiss of the Vampire to the asylum setting of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. While the surprises are spoiled early on for the viewer, the trademark bland hero – although Ball is better than some of Hammer's young protagonists, presumably because they are usually secondary to a veteran – gets plenty of "you'll see for yourself"-type sinister replies to his questions from cellmate Kurt and de rigueur sadistic guard Wetzler (The Crawling Eye's Andrew Faulds) during the laggy setup half of the film. Halfway through, however, the action starts careening as Sangster skips over the business of Madeleine landing the housekeeper job and discovering that the love for which she has been mourning is alive seconds later, being exposed for her true identity soon after, and Callistratus providing the villain's explanation to his captive audience because the backstory was apparently too complicated to convey gradually to the audience, and an ending in which the Beast falls for Beauty and effects an ending that anticipates the closing moments of Eyes Without a Face. While certainly not a good film, Blood of the Vampire utterly revels in its gruesomeness to a degree that would have even made fifties-era X-certificate Hammer wince with the sort of material that producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman would subsequently reserve for the "continental" versions of The Flesh and the Fiends, The Hellfire Club, and Jack the Ripper. Berman's Eastmancolor cinematography floridly captures bloody stakings, cast-off offal, and laboratory specimens as expertly as forced-perspective sets and tormented faces to the sub-James Bernard bombast of Baker/Berman-regular Stanley Black.


Released in the U.K. with an X-certificate by Eros Films yet heavily cut and uncut stateside by Universal-International, Blood of the Vampire has had a rather muddy video history with an early uncut Magnetic Video VHS release stateside followed by less complete editions on both sides of the pond including Gorgon Video's nineties VHS release around the same time parent label MPI Home Video started distributing the classic Dark Shadows soap opera and its 1990 revival miniseries on tape. While the U.K.'s DD Entertainment released a DVD that reflected the U.K. theatrical version, MPI sub-label Dark Sky's heavily-cropped stateside DVD – working from a master prepared by Rainbow Holdings for the Monsters HD channel, a handful of which had been licensed by Dark Sky for DVD – was virtually complete apart from a shot involving the housekeeper and other chained women in Callistratus' dungeon lab. French label Artus Films put out their own DVD in 2013 that was the most complete edition to date; however, it would be roughly a decade before they spearheaded a Blu-ray remaster with their mediabook making its debut late last year followed stateside earlier this year by a barebones limited edition using the same master.

Nucleus Film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray also utilizes the same master but it has done some subtle regrading, reducing the yellow tinge so that blood reds really pop when they should and the yellow credits also seem less recessed into the image. Matte paintings and the joins between sets and painted backdrops are more apparent than ever but pleasantly so for viewers who admire the craftsmanship of British genre films of the period. There is still an inconsistency between shots and scenes with some scenes looking like they were shot yesterday and a few looking a tad faded which may have as much to do with the materials and the grading as the color scheme of some of the scenes in the less-oppressive environs of a bawdy tavern, the judge's quarters, and Callistratus' above-dungeon lab favoring grays, browns, and light blues. One is uncertain if the grisly pan over various pieces of strewn offal fails to pop because of the "age" of the materials within the shot or as a concession to the BBFC (it is still grisly, just not title card stake-through-the-heart in-your-face red).

In addition to the grading tweaks to this uncut presentation, Nucleus has also restored some audio censorship to the elements that was not done for the Artus or Scream Factory editions (ostensibly because the people working on the master were not able to access the BBFC notes on the film during the pandemic). These bits of audio were present on the Magnetic VHS including the sound of the incision when the doctor starts Callistratus' heart transplant, the sound of water bubbling around the donor heart – both of which were noted as points of contention by the BBFC who mistook the latter for "blood boiling" – and the scream of a male inmate when Carl and Callistratus hold him down to bleed him (part of this was present in the materials utilized for the Dark Sky disc).


The sole audio option is a mostly good-quality DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track augmented by those brief snippets of restored audio from VHS, the first two of which are so brief you will not notice a dip in quality. The third bit involving the male inmate's scream sounds like it has been patched together from more than once source with the latter half dipping in volume briefly. Scoring and dialogue are always audible and clean-sounding. Optional English and English SDH subtitles are provided.


While Artus' edition featured some new extras and Nucleus has some of their own, Nucleus is the only Blu-ray edition so far to port over the Dark Sky audio commentary by writer Jimmy Sangster and producer Robert S. Baker, moderated by Marcus Hearn in which Sangster sets the record straight that the film is not the discarded project that Hammer announced as "Blood of Frankenstein", responds with "if it ain't broke" when Hearn calls attention to repeating motifs here and in Sangster's other Hammer films, and justifies the "misleading" title. They also discuss the cast, including Wofitt who was knighted during production (having closed his touring company the year before) – and disagree whether Wolfitt matches the detailed description of his character quoted from the script – future Labour MP Foulds, Captain Clegg's Milton Reid under an executioner's mask, Ball's prolific television career once he returned to Australia in the sixties, and the restoration of the screen appearance of Coronation Street's Patricia Phoenix who was in the dungeon scene that was cut from the British release. They also discuss the film's censorship, and Sangster contrasts the back-and-forth with the censor at the scripting stage with the multiple rewrites to his American projects. New to this release is an audio commentary by film critics Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons who contrast Baker and Berman with Hammer, noting that they only had Curse of Frankenstein to go on at this point since Horror of Dracula was in-production at the same time as Blood of the Vampire (thus, Wolfitt was not doing a Christopher Lee impression), and that Baker and Berman were successful at replicating the look of Hammer but their approach was more "cartoon pulp" than serious.

Rigby also appears in "He Begins Where Dracula Left Off" (47:10) noting just how gruesome the film was during a time when the very notion of British horror – as opposed to the American imports curtailed in the mid-thirties by outright rejection by the British censors after the sadism of The Raven and the second and third American horror booms of the forties and early fifties – was considered a moral panic by journalists and cultural critics who built up their own image on labeling various trends as endemic of an unhealthy society. He also looks to the production schedule of 1957 to demonstrate the rapid attempt to cash-in on the success o f Hammer's Frankenstein film with not only their Dracula production and the Baker/Berman film but a number of other pictures including the aforementioned The Crawling Eye (under its British title "The Trollenberg Terror" as a feature adaptation of a BBC serial), the Karloff vehicle The Haunted Strangler (and fellow Richard Gordon production Fiend Without a Face) among others.

In "Sangster and the Censor" (20:44), Rigby looks at not only the film's censorship history with the BBFC but the earliest indicators that Sangster's screenplays would be getting special attention from the censors and the suggestion that both Sangster in the scripts and the filmmakers would add material hoping it would distract the censor from other things they would like to retain. Rigby notes the existence of the continental versions of other Baker and Berman films but suggests that Baker making the excuse to the shocked censors upon first viewing of the film that it was the continental version was untrue, and that there never was a continental cut of Blood of the Vampire just this full-length cut which was submitted to the BBFC and exported to other markets; as such, it is very unlikely that there was every any more to the sequence of the housekeeper's molestation by Carl after she is strapped down for bleeding. It is here that Rigby also discusses the details of the audio censorship restoration work.

The disc also includes VHS-sourced French and Italian Credits (3:52), the film's theatrical trailer (2:02) – which is also repeated in the Barbara Shelley trailer reel (28:27) with eleven other titles including Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Rasputin: The Mad Monk, and The Shadow of the Cat – an image gallery (6:57), the "Malia" 1964 Italian fotoromanzi (2:21) which does not include any additional material shot on set for the magazine like we have seen with some Italian exploitation pictures, and the "Dr. Terror's Vault of Horror" hosting segment (2:00) for a 1993 BBC2 airing of the film in a double bill with I Don't Want to Be Born.


Third time's the charm for Blood of the Vampire with Nucleus' stacked and thus-far definitive Blu-ray edition.


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