When I was younger my whole idea of what vampires were like was based on Bela Lugosi’s version of Dracula. You know, the fangs, the cape, the widow’s peak, occasional bat transformations…that sort of thing. It turns out, though, there are many different styles of cinematic vampires. The one in our film today, in fact, doesn’t look garish at all. He’s just your average guy running a nightclub in the middle of an African jungle. Have your crucifixes ready for 1945’s The Vampire’s Ghost.
The story focuses on a region of Africa known as Bakunda, where there has been a series of unusual murders in which the victims appear to have been bitten in the neck and drained of their blood. Obviously, we have a vampire on the loose! Some folks aren’t so sure, though, including Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon), his fiancee Julie (Peggy Stewart) and her father (Emmett Vogen). Still, Roy decides to investigate a bit by visiting a local nightclub owner named Webb Fallon (John Abbott) who knows a lot about voodoo and other creepy things. Three guesses who the vampire is.
It soon becomes clear that Fallon is, in fact, a blood sucker when he survives being stabbed through the chest by one of the natives with a huge spear. Since he can’t let his secret get out, Fallon makes Roy his slave, but soon sets his sights on the lovely Julie. Every vampire needs and undead bride, after all. That means that somehow Roy has to break free of the vampire’s spell, save the girl, and destroy the vampire in the only way that will make him dead for good…burning him alive!
The Vampire’s Ghost is one of the earliest writing gigs for Leigh Brackett, who would go on to write screenplays for such films as The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and The Long Goodbye…not to mention contributing to the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back shortly before her death. This is very much a B picture with moderate production value and a paltry running time of 59 minutes, but it manages to have some intriguing elements. You’ve certainly got to admire that it does something very different with the whole vampire mythos. Fallon doesn’t hang out in a coffin all day, only to come out at night…he’s out and about during the day, somehow fully protected from the sun by just a pair of sunglasses. He doesn’t even wear black! White slacks and a white shirt are more his style. There’s nothing terribly creepy about him, he’s just a guy who happens to be a 400 year-old vampire. So the film certainly gets some points for creativity.
However, the film could’ve used a lot more creep to make it more worthy of the horror movie moniker. There are no real shock moments that deliver the kind of atmosphere most viewers want to see in a horror film. The closest we get is a sequence toward the middle of the film where Fallon kills a dancer (Adele Mara) who works in his club after she has helped one of the regulars cheat Fallon out of some money. The scene is actually one of the film’s best moments, but it still doesn’t provide anything unsettling or disturbing for the audience. The film does try to lean a bit on the idea that the region of Africa where this story takes place is a hotbed for voodoo. I tend to think of voodoo more in the Caribbean context, so throwing that term around didn’t really seem to fit here. It doesn’t help that in the big climax of the film, some of the imagery being used seems more like it was borrowed from Hinduism. It’s a hodgepodge, to say the least.
I guess it seems like The Vampire’s Ghost is a film that claims to be a horror movie but doesn’t seem like it really wants to be listed in that category. Check out the original poster online…it makes the film look like a romance. The film really needs to commit more to the whole horror vibe. John Abbott is solid as the titular vampire. He has a real command of the screen, but it also feels like he’s being held back. He needed to be let loose and allowed to create a more intimidating villain. Even when his (spoiler alert) death scene comes around, it’s all played way too politely.
Though there’s nothing terribly spectacular about The Vampire’s Ghost, it is a decent enough way to spend 59 minutes. There’s enough here to appreciate what the filmmakers were going for, even if it falls far short of making full use of its horror opportunities. At least I was moderately entertained enough that I wasn’t too bugged by the fact that despite the title, there are not ghosts of any sort in this film! What gives, man!?!
Note: The Vampire’s Ghost was released on DVD and BluRay by Olive Films. Thanks to them for letting us check out the film.