The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
"The Blood Lust of a FRENZIED VAMPIRE!"
Police inspector Quennell investigates a series of murders in which the victims are found drained of blood and have huge claws marks all over their bodies. With rumours of a strange flying creature being spotted at the scene of such crimes, Quennell’s investigation takes him to good friend and entomologist Karl Mallinger who discredits the theory and insists that no such creature alive could cause that damage. Quennell’s suspicions are raised by Mallinger’s actions, and he eventually discovers that Mallinger has been conducting experiments that have caused his daughter to transform into a giant Death's Head moth, killing the men who are attracted to her.
Peter Cushing once remarked that The Blood Beast Terror was the worst film he ever took part in and he's probably not too far from the truth. The Anglo-horror era in Britain in the 50s and 60s saw plenty of international smash hits churned out from the likes of Hammer Film Productions and Amicus Productions. But there were also a few lesser known studios which wanted a piece of the pie and tried to muscle in on the market to little avail. This one is from a studio called Tigon British Film Productions, a start-up production company which was founded in 1966 and had stopped producing films by 1973. They made the excellent The Witchfinder General but then struggled to keep the hits coming with middling efforts like The Curse of the Crimson Altar and The Creeping Flesh. The Blood Beast Terror is one of the better examples of their poor Hammer knock-offs - a horror film which should have been easy rinse-and-repeat type of film based upon an established formula but one which delivers pretty much nothing - no scares, no suspense, no excitement. You can see why Tigon went under with genre output like this.
The Blood Beast Terror is a complete mess. Even the worst Hammer and Amicus films usually had some form of coherent plot which made some sense no matter how stupid the story eventually ended up. Here, there is nothing done to explain anything that happens. No doubt you're wondering what the hell the plot is all about and it's never explained throughout the course of the film. We don't know how Mallinger managed to create a moth that big, let alone one that can change appearance between human and moth in the blink of an eye. Nor does it explain why the moth becomes a vampire, desperately needing blood to survive as opposed to whatever moths eat to stay alive. I guess any reasons would have been silly but at least we'd have a reason! It's better than clutching at straws. Peter Bryan’s script is very poor and light on detail, leaving out huge chunks of exposition which would have at least given some scenes a bit of purpose.
Signs that the film was made by people who didn’t ‘get’ horror continue. The Blood Beast Terror itself is terribly flat and has an odd approach to what should have been a nice and easy traditional narrative – look at 1966’s The Reptile from Hammer for an example of an identikit movie with a small village being tormented by a female monster. This lack of attention to horror detail presumably comes from director Vernon Sewell, who had similar problems in building up the mystery or tension in The Curse of the Crimson Altar. Not a great deal happens for the first half of The Blood Beast Terror, outside of a few deaths scattered around, and there’s little development of anything up until the forty-minute mark. At the half-way point, the big reveal occurs where we find out who/what is killing the men and then the script begins to add a load of new characters, pretty much restarting the film, only this time with the bonus of knowing what the threat is.
With a whole load of nothing going on and no clear direction, the script meanders all over the place and limps up to a terrible finale where Cushing’s character builds a huge fire to attract the moth to it (arguably one of the film’s only believable moments). This scene is so badly filmed and rushed that it's over before it begins, a massively disappointing climax, though it wasn’t like there was much build-up. There's one shot of something flying towards the fire but the lens seems to have been out of focus so it's hard to explain what it is. Then the film ends very suddenly, almost as if there’s a scene missing but more likely than the writers didn’t know how to properly end a film which seemed to go on and on forever without really progressing any story. If there is one positive, it's the great in-joke as some students put on a play of Frankenstein in Mallinger's house. Cushing's character peers through the window and smiles at the play, a self-referential wink to one of his greatest performances in The Curse of Frankenstein.
It's on this note to acknowledge the contributions of the cast. At least the acting is reasonable with Peter Cushing being flawless as always and the consummate professional despite the absurdity of the material on hand. He could tell you that there was a killer moth on the loose and you would believe him, such was the authenticity and gravitas that he always spoke, raising the low standard of this type of genre material to a level far more worthy than they deserved. Even the worst dialogue could be turned into intelligent scientific facts by Cushing, and he has his work cut out for him here, trying to sell the ridiculous premise with years of experience behind him. Co-star Robert Flemyng, a late substitute for Basil Rathbone who was supposed to star as Mallinger but died before filming, is decent too but he hated working on the film and this clearly comes across in his performance. Wanda Ventham is the ill-fated ‘moth woman’ and it's a thankless task. The moth costume looks ridiculous - fancy dress hire quality with its black bodysuit, big red eyes and some tacked-on wings. It's a good job that you don’t really get to see a lot of it because its one of the worst-looking monsters of the decade.
Cushing was right. The Blood Beast Terror was the worst film he ever starred in, through no fault of his own - but almost everyone else's. It's a massively underwhelming experience, definitely one of the worst entries in the Anglo-horror cycle of the 50s-70s, though Cushing's performance deserves at least a token watch out of respect for how hard he tried.
The Blood Beast Terror
Director(s): Vernon Sewell
Writer(s): Peter Bryan (screenplay by)
Actor(s): Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng, Wanda Ventham, Vanessa Howard, David Griffin, Glynn Edwards, William Wilde
Duration: 98 mins