Actor Peter Cushing used to claim The Blood Beast Terror (1968) as the worst of his 90-plus film appearances, no small feat for a man whose credits include Bloodsuckers (1969) and Hitler's Son (1977). Actually, The Blood Beast Terror isn't all that terrible, just depressingly routine with an especially ridiculous monster. Mostly it's something of a throwback. It has the look of an undernourished Hammer film (complete with imitation James Bernard score), with a monster straight out of late-'50s sci-fi pictures like The Wasp Woman, and a plot like cobbled from '40s George Zucco/John Carradine/Bela Lugosi pictures at PRC and Monogram.
The slim story -- and the picture runs just 77 minutes with credits -- has poor Peter in the not very interesting part of a Police Inspector Quennell, who's investigating a strange series of murders: all are men, all drained of their blood. Though Quennell's investigation is structured in the film like a mystery, other aspects of the screenplay all too clearly point almost at once to Professor Mallinger (Robert Flemyng), an entomologist collecting oversized cocoons and clearly up to no good.
For one thing, Mallinger has in his employ a sinister butler (Kevin Stoney), complete with scar-filled face and given that stock-in-trade of mad scientist's assistants, a sadistic bent toward defenseless creatures. For another, Mallinger has a beautiful daughter, Clare (Wanda Ventham), whose "come hither" seductions are invariably followed by the discovery of her would-be suitor's corpse.
(Spoiler -- well, barely)
All this leads to the obvious but confused explanation that Clare sometimes transforms (via unimaginative dissolve) into a human-sized giant Death's Head moth, complete with antennae, glowing red eyes, and flapping wings. Peter Bryan's confused script is never entirely clear about the creature's origins, or purpose, or anything. At times Clare seems to be Mallinger's biological daughter transformed somehow, while at other times it's suggested that the mad doc has created her from the ground up, so to speak. The ending especially, while keeping it true to the instinctive behavior of moths, giant or no, is especially silly and incompetently dramatized.
Even if the monster had looked spectacular, however, The Blood Beast Terror would still be mediocre thanks to its badly-plotted script. The shameless padding arms Cushing's inspector with more than enough evidence to charge Mallinger early on, but Quennell keeps his distance, putting his own daughter in danger in the process, even after finding a gaggle of rotting skeleton's in Mallinger's basement and a body stuffed in a nearby closet. (Mallinger isn't exactly diligent in covering his tracks.)
In a glaring lapse in continuity worthy of Casino Royale, Quennell's daughter suddenly turns up on Mallinger's makeshift operating table, under hypnosis no less, without ever showing just how she came to such a fate. The script also suggests about every third man in Britain is a Death's Head Moth enthusiast, hardly believable.
Conceived under the much better title Death's Head Vampire (nearly 25 years before Silence of the Lambs made the species of moth famous), The Blood-Beast Terror was also released as The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood which is the actual title on the print DD Video has sourced. Under any title, though, the picture is pretty much a dud. Cushing, always delightful even in the cheapest pictures, keeps his scenes watchable, but there's also a lot of footage without him, and Robert Flemyng, despite a starring turn in Riccardo Freda's memorable The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (1962), lacks screen presence (he looks like a bank manager) and his scenes without Cushing are extraordinarily flaccid.
The part of Dr. Mallinger was originally to have been played by Basil Rathbone, but the tired old thespian died just days before filming was to have begun. Rathbone's presence wouldn't have made the picture any better, but it might have made it more enjoyable. (And it would have brought together two of the screen's great Sherlock Holmeses.)
There's very little to distinguish the film, other than the awfulness of the moth-woman costume, and perhaps the almost-good clowning of wild-eyed Roy Hudd, "guest-starring" as a morgue attendant who cheerily eats his meals literally at the feet of his clients. Hudd and Cushing extensively reworked those scenes, and it shows.
Fans of British horror will want to give this film a look anyway. It's well below average though not interminable, and because it has rarely been shown since its initial release, it does carry a certain novelty value. However, one pass will surely suffice.
Video & Audio
The Blood Beast Terror is presented in 16:9 anamorphic format, an improvement over the 4:3 matted Region 1 Image release, which definitely uses a different source, though both appear to use theatrical prints. The U.S. DVD carries the title The Blood Beast Terror, while the British DVD carries an alternate American one, The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood. Like Clare's victims, the prints sourced on both DVDs are drained of color and with weak blacks and video ghosting, with DD Video's release slightly worse off. The long-defunct Movielab is credited on both prints, their credit haphazardly tacked on with no regard for the atmosphere (or font) generated during the opening titles. Unlike the region 2 release of Island of Terror, The Blood Beast Terror is largely free of the dirt and splices found on that title, though overall visually is looks somewhat worse. The mono sound is unexceptional but okay. There are no subtitle options.
Once again, DD Video has done an excellent job supplement-wise, giving The Blood Beast Terror enough extras to make even this very minor film appealing to genre fans. The handsome, 24-page, Full-Color Booklet is full of interesting info on the film's production and background on its cast, writer, producers, and director. This reviewer found it especially interesting to read about just how close Rathbone came to making the film.
Also included is a U.K. Trailer, in 4:3 hard-matted format, bearing the Blood Beast title. A pretty good Gallery of production stills is anamorphically enhanced.
Best of the supplements though is a charming Interview with Wanda Ventham, which runs 25 minutes and is in 4:3 full frame format. After about eight minutes discussing the film, interviewer Marcus Hearn turns to Ventham's other genre work, including appearances on TV's Doctor Who, the Hammer Pirates of Blood River and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. The actress shares a delightful story about corresponding with Italian U.F.O. fans, and the conversation is warm and witty.
Though it's a long way from being a masterpiece of Gothic horror, The Blood Beast Terror isn't awful thanks to Peter Cushing's fine work, and DD Video's nice selection of supplements make this a title genre fans will want to check out.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.