Home Video Hovel- The Blood Beast Terror, by Kyle Anderson
If you’re like me, you love British horror films from the 60s and 70s. From Hammer to Amicus and all the independent ones along the way, this very specific subset of movies has its own distinct look and style and the stories and plots are unique and memorable. Like, you remember that one where Peter Cushing plays a detective inspector in Victorian London trying to solve a series of vampiric murders and it turns out it’s actually a genetically engineered human-moth creature played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s mom? No, you don’t remember that one? Well, let me tell you all about it! It’s 1968’s The Blood Beast Terror and it’s just as entertaining as that title and short description would imply, which is to say brief and fleeting.
Directed by Vernon Sewell, who is known for directing a bunch of other movies I’ve never heard of, The Blood Beast Terror sees horror stalwart Peter Cushing’s Detective Inspector Quennell utterly stumped about the cause and culprit of a recent string of murders wherein the victims (all young men) are completely drained of blood (and smeared with grey paint). He seeks the assistant of genetic scientist and lepidopterist, Dr. Mallinger (Robert Flemyng), who just so happens to have a very fetching daughter named Clare (Benedict’s mom, Wanda Ventham). Mallinger also has a facially-scarred butler named Granger (Kevin Stoney) who looks pretty sinister at all times. Though initially not much help, subsequent victims start having one thing in common: they were all last scene going to or coming from Mallinger’s estate. When Quennell finally puts two and two together, the Mallinger’s have up and gone to their summer home in the country, where the inspector takes his naïve teenage daughter (Vanessa Howard) and the true nature of Mallinger’s experiments is revealed.
Now, this movie is only about 88 minutes long, yet somehow it feels like it’s well over two hours. Surely this has to do with the large supportive cast that are introduced at various moments in the film, seemingly for some kind of narrative purpose, but ultimately just for body count. It has to be said, once you’ve seen one dashing young Englishman with perfectly parted hair and high-collared shirt, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Most of the film follows horror-by-numbers, however a certain sequence stood out to me as interesting, if not slightly superfluous. At about the 1/3 point, we’re treated to a stage play that Mallinger is watching and in which Clare is an actress. It seems roughly to be a mixture of Frankenstein and Burke & Hare, which director Sewell would later make as his final film in 1972. We see quite a lot of this play and it’s entirely meant to reinforce the themes, to get you thinking about Mallinger in the mad scientist role, and to get Mallinger thinking about his own genetic experiments in a different way. It’s the only part of the movie I could honestly say I didn’t see coming or that I’d seen it before.
Peter Cushing, whom I love, does his best with the material; I read after watching the film that, of the many horror and sci-fi films Cushing was a part, The Blood Beast Terror was his least favorite. I’ve personally seen worse Peter Cushing films, but I don’t think I’ve seen any quite as boring as this. Most of the film plods along waiting for more bodies to pile up and then we even get to see a nice, relaxing vacation in the country. The few times we actually see the monster, a human-sized Death’s Head Moth, it’s about as believable as the eponymous cats of the Broadway musical. Wanda Ventham is lovely, but her character is a bit all over the place, even before we realize she’s the one killing the men we somewhat twig on her uneven demeanor.
The film has been released on Blu-ray by Redemption, furthering their line of little-seen horror films from the 60s and 70s. The transfer is quite nice for the most part, though there’s some filmic discoloring that I suspect even the most talented restoration team wouldn’t have been able to correct. I’m also still quite new to HD and Blu-ray so to me everything still has the “Oooh, pretty!” tag attached to it. Save for theatrical trailers for this and three other Redemption releases, there are no special features. Part of me feels like, if you’re going to go to the trouble of releasing these obscure old horror flicks, you should put a critic’s commentary or at least a small featurette to give it some context. Only a half-entertaining film with zero in the way of extras, I would say The Blood Beast Terror Blu-ray is only recommended to die-hard horror fans who like to be able to say they’ve seen “the one with the moth lady.”