Peter Cushing described it as the worst film he ever made, and he had just appeared in that remarkable and quite insane catalogue of British cinematic lunacy CORRUPTION. Leslie Halliwell described it in his Film Guide as ‘totally idiotic cheapjack horror fare’, if my memory serves me right. So is THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR, Tigon’s 1967 horror picture about Wanda Ventham turning into a giant bloodsucking death’s head moth any good?
Not really, no.
No-one loves the British horror films of the 1960s and 1970s more than I do. I even have love for CORRUPTION, and Robert Hartford-Davis’ dodgy sleaze-filled follow-up THE FIEND, but even I have to admit that THE VAMPIRE BEAST CRAVES BLOOD (the US title for this film - it’s not very good either, is it?) really is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
In a prologue composed of stock footage of a variety of jungle animals from various continents, we see some young chap being paddled down a tributary of the Thames before excitedly discovering what will later turn out to be moth cocoons. From there we get such an abrupt cut to the main credits that one almost wonders whether any of this footage was actually shot for the film in question or given to Tony Tenser as some random abandoned project that he could try and put together a film around.
Young men are turning up drained of blood in the Victorian English countryside. Professor Mallinger (Robert Flemyng), local moth expert, medical expert, and expert on eagles (we find out later) is quick to proclaim the victims dead, even if sometimes they need a little bit of help from him to get them there. Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing, looking as if he’s making up all his own lines in this one) is on the case, wondering why giant moth wing scales have been found at the murder scenes and why Mallinger’s butler regularly tortures the house’s resident pet eagle, but then so do we - it’s never really explained.
Professor Mallinger is actually busy creating a giant vampire moth mate for his giant vampire moth daughter (Wanda Ventham). Quite how he made her into this rather unconvincing creature in the first place is never explained, certainly not by him, as he has a change of heart and ends up dead while setting his latest embryonic creation on fire. Wanda succumbs to the flames of a bonfire and that’s about it.
As a horror film THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR isn’t terribly good, and as 1960s BritHorror it’s remarkably grotty, being only one step above Laurence Huntingdon’s awful THE VULTURE. The camerawork is amongst the most static I’ve seen, Robert Flemyng occasionally gets annoyed and looks at the camera, and pretty Vanessa Howard doesn’t get to do much more than fall down a flight of stairs to start the requisite climactic fire. Definitely only for all the completists out there, who can at least be relieved that it isn’t THE VULTURE, of which more another time. I would have put this in the 'Trapped in the Room With It' section but Peter Cushing makes it just ever so slightly more bearable than that.