"They'll never believe this at the Yard."
Redemption, Kino Lorber's fun releasing arm that handles all those great, schlocky British horror titles from the 60s and 70s, has released The Blood Beast Terror, that not-so-great, schlocky 1967 monster movie from tryer Tigon British Film Productions, starring icon Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng, Wanda Ventham, Vanessa Howard, and Glynn Edwards. Released here in the States in 1968 as The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood, The Blood Beast Terror Should Have Craved a Better Screenwriter because plot holes big enough to fly a king-sized killer moth through pepper this ultimately silly exercise in sub-Hammer lepidopterous porn. A pristine new widescreen transfer from the original negative helps a lot, though, so fans of this genre will at least want to take a look.
Victorian England...back when a moth lecture could fill a room. Etymologist Professor Dr. Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) has no trouble attracting handsome young men to his talks on insects, especially when his voluptuous daughter, Clare (Wanda Ventham), serves up the refreshments to the horny lads in bodice-bursting frocks. Unfortunately, Dr. Mallinger's eager young students are starting to turn up dead in the surrounding woods, their necks torn apart, their bodies drained of blood (and with smiles on their faces you couldn't pry off with a crowbar). Coachman Joe Trigger (Leslie Anderson) found the latest victim...but Joe's a complete nutter now, jabbering on about seeing a giant winged creature hovering over the half-dead boy. Certainly Detective Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) doesn't believe him, but what is the inspector to think when he found some rather large scales at the scene of the crime? Normally, Quennell might question Dr. Mallinger more thoroughly about those scales―are they from a super-sized eagle, perhaps, like the one the doctor owns?―when the latest victim was brought to Mallinger's house...but Mallinger was too busy quietly snuffing out the boy to answer. It's going to take more than an industrial-sized drum of RaidŽ to solve this fluttering mystery.
Actually...it won't take anything more than a second grade level of schooling to figure out what's going on in The Blood Beast Terror, an at-times painfully obvious low-budget English monster movie/detective mystery hybrid. I'm not giving away any secrets by discussing the "big reveal" in The Blood Beast Terror―not just because a host of other reviewers have already done so, but because unless you've never seen a movie before, you can't help but suss out what's going on in the first five minutes. After all, in the opening act, the minute sexy Wanda Ventham passes out as a goofball student puts a fake spider on her shoulder, and when Flemyng strangles a dying student right in front of apparently oblivious Cushing, two and two equals Ventham's a big Death's-head moth and daddy is covering up her crimes. The Blood Beast Terror isn't about who or what is doing the killings, it's about...well, it's about nothing, actually.
The Blood Beast Terror is meant to scare small children and addle-pated adults who like simple, shadow-filled spookums where whispery flutters are heard in the dark, followed by screams, followed by a few flash frames of something that only seems scary because we can't quite make out what it is (and good thing, too, considering the costume/special effects budgets here). It certainly isn't about a well-developed story or scintillating direction or even enthusiastic thesping. Written by Hammer alumnus Peter Bryan (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Brides of Dracula), he either couldn't wrangle the story into any kind of logical sense...or he didn't try, because much of The Blood Beast Terror is senseless (and distressingly sexless, a key Hammer ingredient they forgot here). What, exactly, is Ventham? A super-sized moth Flemyng created out of whole cloth, or his actual daughter transformed into a were-moth? Why does she need human blood to survive (have you ever been bitten by a moth?)? And why does it have to be a virgin's blood? Why did Flemyng create/transform Ventham? What's his "plan," if any? Why do we have to watch that silly little play-within-a-film put on by Flemyng's students (and seriously why are they doing it for him?) when we long ago got the movie's Frankenstein connection? Why is Cushing, who makes all his lines sound so smart, about the dumbest copper in movie history: at numerous points he could have busted Flemyng...but even a cellar-full of rotting skeletons isn't enough for him to call in Scotland Yard's finest. Why does Cushing bring his lovely-but-apparently-thick daughter, Meg (absolute honey and future exploitation star Vanessa Howard), along as "cover" for his inept pursuit of Flemyng? Why do we get to see a completely irrelevant, last-minute character, played by David Griffin, go fishing for five minutes when the suspense screws are supposed to be tightening even quicker at the movie's finale? Since when could Flemyng hypnotized people, and how the hell did Ventham get Howard off the garden path and onto an operating slab before you can say, "Is that a Thysania agrippina acherontia or are you just glad to see me?" (boy is that one hell of a jump cut! Boom!)? None of that makes any sense to anyone paying even half-attention to The Blood Beast Terror.
Director Vernon Sewell (Ghost Ship, Urge to Kill, Burke & Hare) seems to direct The Blood Beast Terror from a great, great distance (as if he were observing it from the wrong end of a telescope), resolutely draining any possible excitement or suspense out of the situations, while treating it with a woefully straight face. "Reserved" doesn't even come close to describing The Blood Beast Terror's vibe, and while I admit that that perverse choice intrigued me at times (they're shooting a giant killer moth movie with a somberness worthy of Shoah), it makes for hard-going by the end, when you finally have had enough of the kid gloves and you want to see that babe in action (I'm not even going to bother describing the kills or the final destruction of Ventham: they're just...sad). As for the acting, it's equally frustrating because all the performers are at the very least, more than competent. Flemyng, while not having the gravitas to headline with Cushing, still conveys the requisite British imperiousness that fits so snugly with these kinds of mad doctor roles (apparently, Basil Rathbone was supposed to star...but one look at that script killed him). Sultry Ventham gets a couple of scenes where she delivers some low-key horniness at the thought of ripping apart a handsome boy (I dig her in that black wig and low-cut peasant blouse), while I can almost imagine that Howard is having some ironic fun with her sunny, dopey character who doesn't want to see even a moth harmed.
As for Cushing...you know, I'm getting bored always writing "he's/she's professional, as usual" for actors and actresses of his caliber who phone in their roles in crap like this. It's time to take a stand. So Cushing's a professional here? Well, at the very least I would hope to god he's a professional in junk like The Blood Beast Terror―imagine how even sillier he'd look if he wasn't. Being "professional" is no great saving grace here; simply put, Cushing looks bored out of his skeletal skull, and he puts the barest minimum into a project he clearly has no respect for (he often cited it as his least favorite movie). It's not fair just to blame Sewell and Bryan and third-string Tigon's pittance of a budget for The Blood Beast Terror's distressing languor: Cushing's cruising is equally to blame. He could have jacked up the proceedings if he wanted to, but he obviously didn't care to plug in anything but the barest minimum.
So I'll do the same: blah The Blood Beast Terror stars blah Peter Cushing. Your littlest kids might be scared by it.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.