Don’t do drugs kids! That’s the message behind this horror gem from the 50s that is my next stop on DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies by legendary director John Landis.
Set in Smalltown, Anywhere USA, single father Paul Beecher (John Beal) is the local sawbones, and when he’s called to a scientist’s home to check on the ailing man, who dies in front of him, he pockets the pills that are the culmination of the scientist’s work.
That was his first mistake.
Not to mention that he didn’t turn it over to the proper authorities.
Things go from bad to worse, when his daughter, Betsy (Lydia Reed) brings him his migraine tablets, but brings him the wrong canister. That’s right, he takes the wrong one! Which he soon learn is highly addictive and also causes blackouts that lead to a secret life for Beecher.
A life as a vampire. Not a charming and well dressed one, a repugnant looking, violent creature that takes lives easily every night.
All of this ends up being a very thinly veiled anti-drug allegory that doesn’t even entertain with some fun and bloody kills. There are some quirky characters, but nothing to make this one surprisingly memorable.
Still, as an exploration of vampires in the cinema, this one is definitely worth the watch, It eschews the concept of sexy vampires, was happily created before sparkly vampires, and portrays vampires as suffering from a sickness. This is a concept that will be explored in future vampire films, sometimes better, sometimes worse (though it’s hard to imagine how).
It’s obvious why Beecher is working in a small town as a doctor, his ignorance of protocol, and ethics would prevent him from taking a position elsewhere, I’m sure.
There is one cool scare moment, that probably freaked out younger viewers who were seeing this at a Saturday matinee in the theatre. It involves a decomposed body and a grave being exhumed.
To return to the subject of Beecher’s vampiric appearance, it almost works in a Hyde and Jekyll way, and all the usual vampire tropes don’t even come into play – sunlight is fine, crosses aren’t even mentioned, there’s no garlic, and no mirrors.
I will say this, I think during the 50s, anyone could make a monster movie as long as they pitched some kind of idea. It was going to put kids’ butts in seats on a Saturday, and that’s all that seemed to matter.
Pick up a copy of John Landis’ immensely enjoyable Monsters in the Movies, available from DK Books, and discover vampire cinematic lore for yourself!
Not to mention the other creepy crawlies that haunt the silver screen…