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Saturday, October 28, 2017

THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST -- DVD Review by Porfle

Clocking in at 59 minutes and originally released on a double bill with "The Phantom Speaks", Republic's 1945 horror-thriller THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST is a short-but-sweet foray into the supernatural that owes more to that studio's jungle features and serials than to the sort of dark Gothic chills you'd expect from a vampire tale.

The setting reminds me of Republic's serial PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO but with somewhat richer production values. (Olive Films' DVD of this beautifully-shot black-and-white film looks terrific.) A small village in darkest Africa is beset by a series of murders which, to the superstitious, appear to be the work of a vampire. 

Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon of SWAMP FIRE, here bearing some resemblance to Buster Crabbe), soon to marry his sweetheart Julie (Peggy Stewart, THE RUNAWAYS, BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW), is having trouble keeping native workers on his rubber plantation as more of them flee the bloodsucking menace.

Julie's father, Dr. Vance (Emmett Vogan, THE MUMMY'S TOMB, THE MUMMY'S GHOST), is, in fact, baffled by the great loss of blood from the victims, which also has the local priest, Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers, FORT APACHE, RIO GRANDE), keeping a crucifix within reach at all times. 

The only local who doesn't seem overly concerned is cucumber-cool club owner, Webb Fallon (John Abbott, perhaps best known to TV fans from Star Trek: "Errand of Mercy" and The Man From UNCLE: "The Birds and the Bees Affair"), whose star attraction is an alluring dancer played by Adele Mara (SANDS OF IWO JIMA).  Fallon's luck on his own gambling tables is almost supernatural in itself, raising the ire of ship captain Jim Barrett (prolific Western actor Roy Barcroft) who accuses him of cheating. 

Barrett attacks him, but one piercing stare from the mysterious Fallon causes the man to back off in fear.  It isn't long before we're pretty sure Fallon is the vampire, a suspicion soon borne out when Roy comes under the mysterious man's mental control.  After that, the ailing Roy seems powerless to stop Fallon as the centuries-old vampire sets his sights on none other than Julie herself as his undead bride.

Gordon and Stewart play the typical romantic couple from a million adventure yarns, but Abbott's interpretation of the bloodsucking fiend of ancient lore is about as low-key and restrained as one could imagine.  In fact, even when he's exercising his insidious mind control over helpless victims or revealing his sinister intentions for the hapless Julie, Fallon barely ruffles a thread of his tailored suit or a hair on his neatly-clipped head. 

He doesn't even sleep in a coffin--a small box of native soil underneath his pillow suffices--and is capable of withstanding daylight in small doses.  And what with the constant native drums in the background (local tribes keep each other informed on local vampiric goings-on) and other familiar tropes of the jungle adventure--safaris, native carriers, huts, spears--the emphasis of the rather literate screenplay by Leigh Brackett (STAR WARS V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) is more upon characterization and a measured suspense than eliciting nightmares.  

Which, indeed, is the modest appeal of THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST, a "horror" tale that feels like an extended serial chapter in which the cliffhangers consist of quietly suspenseful moments rather than action thrills.  (It was helmed by prolific Western director Lesley Selander, responsible for several of the better "Hopalong Cassidy" entries.)  Even the climactic showdown between humans and vampire in a remote jungle temple is a pleasantly told diversion meant simply to entertain us, which it does. 

Order it from Olive Films

Subtitles: English (optional)
Video: 1.33:1 aspect ratio; B&W
Runtime: 59 minutes

Extras: none
Year: 1945



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