For most of his life, Evan Dossey generally avoided horror films. The genre made him profoundly uncomfortable. This meant he had enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Over the years, he has asked family and friends which essential horror movies he needs to see and spent the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those folks — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
Bob Bloom is a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association who reviews movies, 4K UHD, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (ReelBob.com), The Film Yap and other print and online publications. You can email him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter (@ReelBobBloom) or Facebook (/ReelBobBloom), or find his reviews online at Rotten Tomatoes.
After the success of Universal Pictures’ Dracula in 1931, other studios — the majority of them low-budget independent filmmakers — jumped on the bandwagon to try making a living off filmgoers’ fascination with the undead.
Some attempts were decent — Majestic’s The Vampire Bat and Invincible’s Condemned to Live, to name a couple. Bela Lugosi himself also played a hammy actor pretending to be a vampire in MGM’s strange Mark of the Vampire in 1935 and a Dracula-like vampire in Columbia’s The Return of the Vampire in 1943. Republic’s The Vampire Ghost, made in 1945, was set in Africa with John Abbott portraying a bloodsucker named Webb Fallon — not much bite with such a moniker. And of course, you also had the various offspring of the original bloodsucker in Universal’s sequels, Dracula’s Daughter in 1936 and Son of Dracula in 1943.
By the 1950s, though, vampires were changing with the times and mixing with other genres or horror aspects. In 1957’s The Vampire, a kindly small-town doctor mistakenly ingests pills made from vampire-bat blood and transforms into a murderous creature. That same year, Blood of Dracula found a sinister science teacher at a girls’ boarding school using hypnosis and a special amulet to transform a troubled young student into a vampire. You get the idea.
An original premise was offered in Curse of the Undead, a 1959 low-budget Universal feature combining vampirism and the Old West. The film looks as if producers had very little money to spend on sets, as it’s set in one of those nondescript Western towns — this one dealing with an epidemic of strangely vampiric deaths among young girls that town physician Dr. John Carter (John Hoyt) and his daughter, Delores (Kathleen Crowley) — who have been nursing the girls — cannot explain.
Undead also features the traditional Western trope of feuding ranchers, with the Carters fighting a neighbor named Buffer (a mean-faced Bruce Gordon), whose henchmen dam a stream on Carter’s property. Carter complains to the sheriff (Edward Binns), whose hands are tied after he has a talk with and issues a warning to Buffer. When Dr. Carter is murdered, a grief-stricken Delores solicits the help of a hired gun and offers $100 to anyone who can kill the murderer. This is much to the chagrin of the man who loves Delores, town preacher Dan (Eric Fleming, who starred as Gil Favor on TV’s Rawhide, where he gradually was overshadowed by Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Yates). Regardless, a black-clad stranger named Drake Robey (whom we saw following Dr. Carter before his death) accepts the job.
Michael Pate was an Australian actor who played numerous Native American characters and heavies in Western TV series and features like John Wayne’s Hondo and McLintock! Among his 174 acting credits on the Internet Movie Database is his role here as Robey. It’s obvious Robey is the vampire. Sure enough, he moves into the Carter house and begins drinking Delores’s blood at night. She grows tired and pale and complains of being cold.
What Undead lacks in mystery, it makes up for with Robey’s intriguing backstory and motives. It’s tethered to a subplot that involves the original owners of the Carter property, who sold the land after a family tragedy involving a love triangle complete with companionship (1950s’ movie jargon for sex), murder and suicide. As Dan learns more about Robey’s past, he works to intervene even as Robey genuinely wants to assist Delores in her beef with Buffer.
At 79 minutes, Undead is both a solid Western and vampire film — using tropes from the former (including several shootouts) while avoiding many from the other; Robey neither burns in daylight nor transforms into a bat or wolf. Plus, he is a sympathetic vampire as indicated by all that is revealed about his past. While it does not offer many scares, it is delightfully spooky and a solid example of mixing disparate genres — much better than such low-budget fare as Billy the Kid vs. Dracula or Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.