Sunday, February 18, 2007

Grave of the Vampire

(1974, 95 min.)

Starring William Smith, Michael Pataki, Lyn Peters, Diane Holden, Kitty Vallacher, Eric Mason, Lieux Dressler, Jay Scott, Abbi Henderson, Carmen Argenziano, Margaret Fairchild.

Written by David Chase and John Hayes, based on a novel by Chase.

Directed by John Hayes.

Paul and Leslie (Scott and Vallacher), two college students (who look old enough to qualify for tenure), sneak away from a frat party to pledge their love for each other (and get it on) in a graveyard. This plan, historically a bad one for those living in a fictionalized world, goes awry when Caleb Croft (Pataki), moldering but still active, decides tonight’s the night to come crawling out of both retirement and his coffin for some unsavory fun. He breaks Paul’s back over a headstone and then drags Leslie into an open grave.

Later, Leslie is in the hospital, having survived. Tests indicate she was raped. When the detective investigating the case, Lieutenant Panzer (Mason), shows her a series of pictures to identify her attacker, he covertly slips in a picture of Croft, a slightly odd thing for a law enforcement officer to do seeing as how, to the rationally-minded, the only connection Croft seems to have had to the incident was getting his long-dead corpse stolen. But Leslie reacts exactly as Panzer expected, becoming very upset, and confirming in his mind that something supernatural is afoot.

Leslie’s doctor informs her that she’s pregnant, and that he believes it best that the pregnancy be aborted. He says that what is growing inside of her is merely a parasite, and that it will be born dead, although not before sucking all of the life out of her. Leslie, believing the baby to be Paul’s, utterly refuses, and is backed up by the woman with whom she has been sharing a hospital room, Olga (Dressler). Olga has a real problem with doctors, one she’s been trying to indoctrinate Leslie with, and the abortion talk finally does the trick.

Olga takes Leslie away from the hospital and becomes her midwife. The baby is born alive, but, apparently, with an oddly gray complexion. When he refuses to take milk, Olga suddenly decides maybe doctors do have a useful role to play in society after all, and suggests that they call one. But Leslie is steadfast, and, after accidentally pricking her finger one day while trying to feed the baby and noticing that he seems to dig the droplets of blood, there’s no longer a problem, at least not one that can be solved with any degree of sanity. She continues to feed him with blood extracted from her breast.

Skip ahead many years and the baby is a baby no more. James, as he has been named, has grown into a quite large young man bearing a remarkable resemblance to William Smith. James has been brought up with the knowledge of where he truly comes from, and indeed has had to spend his formative years watching his mother labor under the stress of raising a child who isn’t quite human. She dies, prematurely aged, and he swears to seek out his father and put an end to him and his taste for coeds. This quest leads him to travel from university to university, finally landing at one institution and enrolling in a graduate course in folklore and superstition, taught by a Dr. Lockwood, who happens to look a lot like dear old Dad.

If this movie were made today, much would likely be made of young James’ curse of being of half-vampire blood, and he would stand around looking pained a lot to the sound of some lame-ass nu metal. And, of course, he’d be played by some young pretty boy from the WB…sorry, I mean the CW, whatever that means. But this movie was made in an era BR (Before Rice), so we get a story by turns creepy, icky, and absurd told with an air of general somnolence, which might make for a unique viewing experience, though not necessarily one to be recommended. I found this kind of interesting, but I imagine many, especially those who don’t share my fascination with relics of the ‘70s, would be bored aside from the occasional bursts of energy. There are also small bits of odd humor to be found – courtesy, quite likely, of co-writer Chase, future scribe for such touchstones as The Rockford Files and The Night Stalker, not to mention the creator of The Sopranos – such as Lockwood’s talk of “goober dust,” his indignation at the teasing librarian, the fact that one of the effects people is listed as “Jack Cheap,” and the inexplicability of the end title being in French.

Go back to Plate O' Shrimp

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