THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Bela Lugosi, and Vincent Price. Imagine them all banding together in one all-star neck-biting vampire spectacular. Well, it never happened and they're nearly all dead (only Lee is still alive, and, incredibly, acting in both Lord of the Rings and Attack of the Clones), but at least BFS Entertainment, purveyors of fine fly-by-night public domain DVD releases, have thought to compile all these great actors on one disc. That's right! You get The Satanic Rites of Dracula (with Lee and Cushing), The Devil Bat (with Lugosi) and The Last Man on Earth (with Price) all on one side of one DVD. "How can they cram three feature films onto a single disc," you ask? Well, not without certain sacrifices to image quality, that's for sure. Still, for under $10 this disc, flaws and all, is a great deal.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula is a bizarre, entertaining latter-day Hammer film with Lee as the sinister count with a very creepy basement-dwelling following. Their plans are to kill loads of people with a plague but the thing that makes this film fun is the super-70's style (Shaft-style wah-wah guitar and all) plus an unbelievably fun performance by Joanna Lumley (Patsy from Ab Fab). Whenever Eddie refers to Patsy's past as an actress in films like the fictional Bond Meets Black Emmanuel she's referring to Lumley's work in films like Satanic Rites. It's great fun to get to share in the joke. Equally interesting is the film's X-Files-esque device of pitting an anti-paranormal squad of Scotland Yardies (including a Mulder-esque suit and Lumley's extremely red haired character) against the evil vamps. Cushing plays a descendant of Bram Stoker's Van Helsing out to stop the vampires. The quality of the print and transfer detract from the film, but only a little. This strange and crazy film is colorful, gaudy, loud, and totally cool.
The Devil Bat isn't a vampire movie at all (which stinks) but it stars the always awesome Bela Lugosi (which rocks), so the viewer comes out even. The plot is garbage: An evil doctor (Lugosi) gets fed up with designing shaving relief products (what?!?) for a greedy corporation so he uses weird electrical charges to make a bat grow really big and kill anyone wearing his specially designed cologne. Whenever the stuffed bat falls on his prey there is tons of screaming and flailing – just like the infamous octopus sequence in Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster. Devil Bat is no more competent than Wood's films except that Lugosi is much younger here (and lived through the entire shoot, no less). His sneaky smile and nefarious monologues are always enjoyable and even though the film's director (Jean Yarbrough) was no James Whale, this is a great rainy afternoon flick.
The Last Man on Earth is actually the film that makes this disc almost a necessity. This rare film is one of the weirdest entries in the vampire genre. Shot in Italy (and it shows), The Last Man on Earth finds Price the only survivor of a plague that transformed everyone into vampires. (Maybe it's the plague from Satanic Rites.) The film, made four years before George Romero's masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, is actually a zombie movie in disguise, with the brain-dead vampires endlessly banging on Price's door to gain access. The black-and-white cinematography, the sense of dread, the loneliness all appeared in Romero's film. I wonder if he was a fan of this film before he made his own. While not a typical vampire movie (the vamps can see themselves in mirrors – but they don't like it) The Last Man on Earth is intriguing and terrific. Price delivers his typical excellent performance and the ending is both heart-breaking and perfectly over-the-top.
Satanic Rites is heavily oversaturated. The colors bleed like crazy (no pun intended) and sometimes obscure all detail. The image is blurry and heavily compressed. It is widescreen non-anamorphic. Devil Bat is full-screen and actually looks pretty good. Heavy compression is evident as is dirt and damage, but considering that this is the oldest of the three – by decades – it looks surprisingly good. Last Man on Earth looks blurry and low-contrast. It's non-anamorphic widescreen and once again has heavy compression artifacting.
The disc is all in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Satanic Rites is muffled and echoey and in bad need of subtitles. Devil Bat sounds a little better, but very crackly. Last Man also sounds weak, but acceptable.
Nothing worth noting.
Although I'm not sure that Great Bloodsucking Vampire Movies delivers on its promise of "Guaranteed Nightmares!" it is still fun to watch. Even though it contains more like 1 1/2 vampire movies instead of 3, there is plenty to like. It's just a question of lowering your technical expectations to nothing and opening your mind to some old-fashioned thrills.
Email Gil Jawetz at firstname.lastname@example.org