Spent the afternoon watching this double-bill of vintage UK genre cinema, both of which I have read about over the years but had never actually had the chance to sit down and watch. Blood of the Vampire (1958) was often mistaken for a Hammer production, chiefly because it’s a gothic, colour UK horror film from that period, has a screenplay by veteran Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster, and stars Barbara Shelly, one of Hammer’s favourite leading ladies. Despite it’s title, it’s not your usual vampire yarn, but rather the strange tale of a prison warden in the 1880's (played by Donald Wolfit, who reminded me of a stockier Bela Lugosi) who is executed for being a vampire, but is kept alive through a primitive heart transplant while he experiments on his prisoners until he can discover a cure for his bizarre blood condition. It has a much seedier feel than the Hammer horror films of the day, and is very atmospheric with some nice sets. The angle of the disfigured assistant who falls in love with the photo of a beautiful woman kept in a locket, which has been confiscated from a prisoner (the male lead, played by Australian Vincent Ball), was later used by Anthony Hinds in his screenplay for Hammer’s Scars of Dracula (1970).
The Hellfire Club (1961) features another Sangster screenplay, and is more of a swashbuckling adventure than a horror film or an expose of the notorious British society clubs that started sprouting up in the 1700's and preached a ‘do whatever pleases you’ philosophy that only the rich and influential were able to get away with at the time (the name was later used for several bondage and S&M clubs, including one here in Melbourne in the 1990s). Directed by Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman, The Hellfire Club is a tad long but rather entertaining, with some rousing sword fights (despite the unconvincing choreography), more nice sets and matte work, an almost comedic cameo role from Peter Cushing, the beautiful Adrienne Corri (later in A Clockwork Orange and the 1972 Hammer classic Vampire Circus), and lovely Czechoslovakian actress Kai Fischer.
Unfortunately, the prints of these films contained on Dark Sky’s 2006 DVD do not feature any of the additional nudity or gore that was apparently included in the continental versions of these films (though even as it is, the print of The Hellfire Club featured still contains some rather risque near-nudity scenes for its time). And the anamorphic widescreen print of The Hellfire Club has some dizzying lens distortion at the sides, particularly during any panning shots.
Despite the prints being less than perfect, this was still a solidly entertaining double, and I’m keen to seek out better versions of both films now. The DVD is also nicely presented as an old-fashioned drive-in double feature, complete with vintage intermission snack food ads and trailers for several ‘coming attractions’ (including Del Tenney’s The Horror of Party Beach and Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby, Kill).