This is really something of a curio- it has the look and feel of Hammer, featuring a Jimmy Sangster script and Barbara Shelley in the cast, but it isn’t a Hammer at all. I can only imagine it was a quick cash-in, maybe, following the success of Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein the year before, with Hammer imminently bringing its own Vampire horror to the screen in 1958’s Dracula (since both films came out in 1958, I can’t imagine that Blood of the Vampire was a cash-in on Dracula‘s huge success, but you never know, films got made fast and cheap in those days).
Indeed, now that I think about it, the title is rather misleading, because the villain of the film is a scientist in the vein (sic) of Frankenstein rather than a blood-sucking vampire -there’s certainly no fangs on offer here, which suggests it was indeed based upon The Curse of Frankenstein‘s success with just a canny allusion in the title to a certain vampire movie. Its actually something that proves rather disorientating, and pleasantly so, as it leads the film to subvert expectations. Donald Wolfit, a kind of ‘Bela Lugosi that can act’, is great as the mad scientist Callistratus whose experiments have caused him to become a sort of living vampire, his character a peculiar combination of very polite and ruthless in his quest for a cure (hints there of The Invisible Man, too). The film is done few favours with Callistratus’ henchman hunchback Carl (Victor Maddern buried under poor make-up), a character that threatens to plunge the film into farce although I suppose it suggests Sangster was perhaps affectionately nodding towards Universal’s b&w horrors past. I suppose considering that the film is caught between Universals old b&w classic horrors of a then-few decades before and the hugely ‘modern’ rock-and-roll horrors about to come from Hammer, it strikes an oddly cute kind of horror atmosphere.
On the whole its a pretty good film, making a great Friday Night Fright flick- the cast are much better than the script or film really deserves (Shelley in particular is clearly above this sort of nonsense, but both Wolfit and Vincent Ball who plays John Pierre, the nominal protagonist of the film, are very good). It does a very fine job of mimicking Hammer’s gothic horrors (one could be forgiven for thinking it was indeed a Hammer), with pretty solid production qualities suggesting the film had some ambitions- minus one unintentionally hilarious miniature shot that seems to have been taken at a tourist model village (certainly the matte painting shots are no worse than Hammer’s were at the time, and some interior matte’s interestingly extend some sets). I gather the print I watched on Talking Pictures was a UK copy, as the film was subjected to considerable BBFC cuts on its release that never seem to have been restored over here (the US has a slightly stronger cut, which itself apparently lacks some shots still deemed too shocking), but even so the film is pretty strong in places considering how old it is and the draconian censorship codes of the time. A film such as this is never going to get a restoration and I’m sure any cut sequences/shots are long since destroyed, but the film was kind of fun in a lazy, undemanding old-fashioned shocks kind of way, and any Hammer fans unfamiliar with it, like myself, might get a kick out of it.