Blood of Dracula: “Her name was Nancy, her face was nothing fancy….”

Blood of Dracula directed by Herbert L. StrockBlood of Dracula directed by Herbert L. Strock

Blood of Dracula directed by Herbert L. StrockIn the memorable cult horror film I Was a Teenage Werewolf, future Bonanza star Michael Landon plays the part of hotheaded adolescent Tony Rivers, who goes to Dr. Alfred Brandon (the ubiquitous Whit Bissell) for help with his temper problems and is turned by the doctor, via a mysterious serum, into the titular monstrosity. Released in July ’57 and written by its producer, Herman Cohen, along with Aben Kandel, the film was such a hit that it induced the team to come out with three more cinematic wonders in a similar vein; films in which a diabolical adult causes an innocent teen to become a homicidal and monstrous killer. In I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, released four months later, Bissell was at it again, building a monster using the young and muscular Gary Conway. In How to Make a Monster (7/58), Robert H. Harris plays a Hollywood makeup artist who turns two teenage boys into rampaging horrors. But perhaps the most interesting of this quartet was Blood of Dracula, which was released as part of a double bill alongside I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and which featured, for a change of pace, a young woman who becomes an object of terror and dread, and who is brought to woe by a scientist who also happens to be a woman. Similar to two other films of which I have recently written here, Earth vs. the Spider (’58) and The Screaming Skull (’58), Blood of Dracula is a film that I saw once before, around 30 years ago, at the NYC revival house extraordinaire Film Forum, but retained virtually no memories of, incredibly enough. A recent rewatch, however, has served to remind this viewer that the film is indeed a well-done one, combining a teenage love story, rock ‘n’ roll, and classic horror elements into one economical and compact package.

The film introduces us to pretty 18-year-old Nancy Perkins, played by Sandra Harrison in her only credited film role. Nancy, when we first meet her, is being driven by her father (Thomas B. Henry, who had just appeared in The Brain From Planet Arous one month earlier and who would go on to appear in How to Make a Monster) and her brand-new stepmother (Noel Neill lookalike Jeanne Dean) to the Sherwood School for Girls, where they plan to dump her before going off for their honeymoon, a mere six weeks after the death of Nancy’s mother. Rebellious, morose and understandably sullen, Nancy has a difficult time fitting in at first with the other, admittedly bratty girls in the school, particularly with Myra (Gail Ganley), the leader of the cliquish club called the Birds of Paradise. Myra also happens to be the student assistant of the school’s chemistry teacher, Miss Branding (Louise Lewis, who had appeared in I Was a Teenage Werewolf and who would enjoy a very long TV career all the way into the mid-‘90s), who is engaged in a very interesting form of research.

Branding’s theory is that each individual has a latent ability within him- or herself that is more devastating than anything that the A-bomb scientists could imagine; as she puts it, “…There’s a power strong enough to destroy the world buried within each of us, if only we could unleash it … I can release a destructive power in the human being that would make the split atom seem like a blessing….” Branding goes on to tell Myra that she needs a girl with “a natural fire … explosiveness close to the surface … a disturbed girl, perhaps….” Myra, having already seen our Nancy enter into fights with the others, recommends her to the teacher’s attention, and soon enough, Nancy is brought into Branding’s office, where she is hypnotized by her teacher with the help of an amulet from the area of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. And so, it is almost at the halfway point of this brief 68-minute film that we see what becomes of this Branding treatment, as one of the students, Nola (Heather Ames, who would also figure – and what a figure! – in How to Make a Monster), is attacked and killed, drained of her blood, by something in the school’s basement. The cops are mystified, and later, when two more teens are killed in the local cemetery during a Halloween scavenger hunt, we finally get to see, at around the 50-minute mark, what Nancy is transforming into when riled … and the results are not exactly pretty!

Blood of Dracula is a film whose title is something of a misnomer, actually, as it features absolutely no blood whatsoever, not 1 cc, and the word “Dracula” is never even mentioned. Still, the vampiress that poor Nancy becomes looks like nothing that you’ve seen previously. With a bushy head of hair terminating in a widow’s peak, thick eyebrows that extend diagonally up toward her ears, ears that are huger and pointier than Mr. Spock’s, and canines and incisors so prominent that her mouth could not possibly close shut if she wanted it to, Nancy really is a sight to behold, and indeed, moviegoers would have to wait a whole 13 months before seeing another female on screen who looked quite so hideous (Sandra Knight, in the December ’58 wonder Frankenstein’s Daughter). Unfortunately, we only get to see this pleasing creation on a handful of occasions, as her attacks are limited to the two mentioned above, plus one other. Still, the film has several other pleasing aspects to commend itself to the viewer’s attention. Its script, by Cohen & Kandel, using the pen name Ralph Thornton, is a no-nonsense and streamlined one – the two would go on to create such memorable horror outings as Horrors of the Black Museum (‘59), The Headless Ghost (‘59), Konga (‘61), Black Zoo (‘63) and Berserk (‘67) – and the film’s direction, by Herbert L. Strock (who had already been responsible for ‘54’s Gog and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and would go on to direct How to Make a Monster and ‘63’s The Crawling Hand), is at times imaginative and involving.

The film does indeed feature what I suppose would be termed a “no-name cast,” and indeed, any film whose biggest star is Malcolm Atterbury, here playing Lt. Dunlap, the local chief of police on the case (trust me, you’ve seen this guy’s vulture puss on any number of occasions, such as when he spoke to Cary Grant about crop dusters in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece North by Northwest, and when he popped up as a deputy in Hitchcock’s ’63 classic The Birds), has got to be called “no-name.” But all the players are surprisingly quite good, and the acting here is uniformly fine, even by its young players. Particularly good, perhaps, is Lewis, playing the misguided and manipulative chemistry teacher (the only teacher at the Sherwood School who we get to see, actually), a nice-looking, middle-aged woman who alternately comes off as sweet and as evil. Mary Adams (who I’d recently seen in one of the very scariest episodes of The Twilight Zone, the one called “Twenty Two”), playing the school’s owner, Miss Thorndyke, is also very good, and she gets to deliver the film’s wise and closing line: “There’s a power greater than science that rules the Earth, and those who twist and pervert knowledge for evil only work out their own destruction….” So yes, combine a unique female monster, a tight script, competent thesping, some decent FX and a rock ‘n’ roll number (the song “Puppy Love,” sung by Jerry Blaine, the song’s writer, here playing Tab, a future victim of the toothsome Nancy) and you’ve got a surprisingly winning, minor horror outing.

On the original poster for the film, potential theatergoers were told that the picture “Will Give You Nightmares Forever,” and while this bit of come-on is surely just hyperbole – I cannot imagine anyone but the most impressionable child ever getting a single bad dream from this picture – Blood of Dracula is still a mighty entertaining experience. The film is indeed a pleasing one, except for the fact that the ultimate fate of Nancy Perkins is one that any viewer will feel is wholly undeserved, as was Tony Rivers’ in the 1957 film. “The deed and the responsibility are mine,” Miss Branding had told her earlier, and so we really don’t care what happens to her, despite her professed good intentions of putting an end to mankind’s atomic folly. But as for Nancy … well, the love that she had been harboring for her boyfriend Glenn (Michael Hall, who had appeared over 10 years earlier in the great Hollywood classic The Best Years of Our Lives) is here doomed to be snuffed out in its, uh, nascent puppyhood. That poster had also declared, of Nancy, “In her eyes … desire. In her veins … the blood of a monster!,” and I suppose that at least that part is more on the money. Nancy is indeed a warm and loving young girl, full of youth and life, shabbily treated by her parents and her fellow students, and the viewer hopes that things will work out alright for her in the end. You’ll permit me this slight spoiler as I tell you … no such luck. Talk about things that really suck!


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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2 comments

  1. I guess boarding school movies have been around for quite a while!

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