The mysterious vampire Khorda (Robert Quarry) washes up on the shores of a California beach and makes his way to a house full of free-spirited but aimless hippies, whom Khorda soon has under his sway. Only Pico escapes and he must go back and try to defeat the guru vampire before his girlfriend is used as a sacrifice.
Deathmaster is a true sign of the times, a dated late 60's/early 70's (it was released in 72') horror film offering a counter-culture slant on the vampire genre. Tales of insane charismatic cult leaders were a dime a dozen in the post-Charles Manson world. Though not exactly genius, Deathmaster's idea of a messianic vampire was a good one because a key to the vampire mythology was the hypnotic trance and legion of followers a nosferatu could sire. This idea fit well in a paranoid confused youth culture that was horrified and still reeling from the Tate/LaBianca murders. But, inspiration and execution are two totally different things. While they had an idea, the makers of Deathmaster had little else and just stuck to a flimsy (if it even existed) script and standard horror pattern.
Star and co-producer Robert Quarry is best known for his similarly groovy 60's take on the vampire with AIP's Count Yorga, Vampire and its sequel... Khorda. Yorga. Sounds similar, huh?... It is one of those rather unthreatening, by the book , drive-in 60's features, and one with not too much blood or sex so that it could be shown in theaters during the day for the kiddies. While I do enjoy many low budget acid trip/hippie/beatnik horror films, there was just a time when they were tired and had worn out their welcome. Deathmaster definitely falls into this category since it was released right before horror would get a breathe of life with the new wave of more mature and violent content pushing masterpieces like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist. So, frankly, when I watch horror I'm a nudity gore lover, or at least some tense atmosphere. In that respect, it doesn't deliver; despite a few St Vitus dance numbers there is no flesh bared and the gore is minimal, just a few blood capsules and some dime store puncture marks.
While it moves well, and is fun in a b-movie way, it certainly isn't the most trippy or "so-bad-it's-good" film I've seen from this era. Quarry's performance is the only one worth noting and is a definite selling point in terms of the films worthiness. The cinematographer was Bill Bulter, who would go on to notable features like Jaws, Anaconda, Frailty, Childs Play, Demon Seed, Stripes, Omen 2, and a couple of Rocky sequels. Deathmaster is probably an interesting enough diversion for Count Yorga and hippie film, low budget horror fans; though I thought it was fairly lightweight.
The DVD: Redemption
Picture: Widescreen, 16X9 enhanced. Remastered from an original 35mm negative, fans should be left very impressed. Proof that old low budget films can be resurrected and given a nice treatment. Despite the inherent problems of the actual production, the print is great, sharp, fair color, and decent contrast.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo Surround. While there is only so far you can push the sound of a film from this era and budget, considering the genre, the audio track is quite good and pretty clean.
Extras: 6 Chapters--- Trailer--- Still Galleries: Deathmaster Gallery (19 stills), Behind the Scenes (10), Robert Quarry Portraits (19), Stage, Screen, and Points In-between (12)--- TV Commercials "Shasta Soda, Lucky Strikes, Sugar Hills, and Count Yorga, Vampire"--- Robert Quarry Radio Spots (3:07)--- Commentary by b-film maker Fred Olen Ray and star Robert Quarry. This is a fine commentary track; despite getting on in years, Quarry is still very sharp, has a great memory, and is very chatty recalling facts behind making the film. Their conversation is interesting and never hits any lulls. Definitely the largest factor in my recommending this DVD comes from the pleasant commentary track.
Conclusion: Certainly it is a case where this is the kind of cult film where you really have to be fan in order to purchase it. Well, if you are into such b-films, you get a nice bunch of extras and a good transfer at a fair price. But, it is the kind of 'b' or 'z' grade fare that I would be hesitant to recommend just any old person running out and getting unless they know what they are in for.