"Grave of the Vampire" (1972/74)
      [Posted by: Nolan B. Canova, April 7, 2012, 7:31 am ]

Two and a Half Stars

Studio: Entertainment Pyramid/Millenium     
Starring: Michael Pataki, William Smith
Directed by: John Hayes
Rated: PG
Running Time: 93 mins

Synopsis: Vampire Caleb Croft rapes a young woman who subsequently bears his unholy illegitimate male offspring. Upon reaching adulthood, the son embarks on a search for his father.

Nolan B. Canova
Sometime in the mid-1940s (judging by the look of the cars on set) a young couple, Paul and Leslie, go to make-out in a secluded place not far from a graveyard (always a smart move). One of the above-ground crypts named "Croft" in said location starts to open and out slithers our antagonist, who was electrocuted for murder three years before. Finding the couple necking in the car nearby, Caleb Croft (Michael Pataki) makes short work of disposing of the male half of the couple. The female, however, he has other plans for. Finding an open grave hole, he takes the young woman inside and rapes her. His cravings satisfied for the moment, he tears off to find refuge, leaving Leslie behind to fend for herself.

Fast-forward to later in the doctor's office where Leslie is told the good news and the bad news: the good news is that she's pregnant (which she assumes to be Paul's child). The bad news, the doctor wants Leslie to have an abortion because, "the thing growing inside of you isn't alive. Your body is nourishing it with your blood and oxygen, but when it leaves your womb, it will be dead." Leslie is having none of this and tells the doctor to screw off because she's having the baby anyway. Leslie and friend/caretaker/midwife Olga vamoose.

Meanwhile a detective (with a noticeably '70s haircut) is investigating the graveyard murder. Poking around, he opens Croft's now-empty tomb (not sure what attracted him to it) and is attacked by Croft from out of nowhere and killed. Croft snacks on his jugular and is off.

The baby is born successfully, but will not drink milk. By accident, Leslie finds the child thrives off blood, so she pokes a hole near her breast to make a fake teat for the child. Gruesome stuff, indeed. The child continues to feed off her blood in one manner or another until he's grown.

At her funeral in the present day (well, early 70s), the now-grown son (William Smith), having been told of his lineage and the graveyard attack, vows to find his father and find justice--or revenge.

Enrolling at college, James Eastman (as he goes by now) finds himself in a class on the occult headed by Professor Adrian Lockwood who viewers will notice bears an uncanny resemblance to Caleb Croft, and of course, there's a reason for that. As Eastman and his friends soon discover, there's even more to the menacing Professor than a dual identity, and a history that may date back to the 17th century. As events build, the stage is set for a final showdown between father and son.

The early-to-mid 1970s was something of a transitional period when it came to vampire-themed TV shows and movies. It marked the last days of the traditional "aristocratic-nobleman-turned-demon-who-lives-in-a-castle-or-mansion" and began the more modern day versions which echews many of those hallowed marks in favor of urban-dweller-in-contemporary settings (sort of an even cross between Count Yorga, Vampire and, say, The Night Stalker).

Despite its rock-bottom budget (filmed for $50,000 in just 11 days), and released in 1972 (or '74, depending on your source, and re-released as Seed of Terror), this chestnut is fairly representative of the state of low-budget vampire flicks of the day, but with an original script and buckets of atmosphere making up for its comparatively slow movement and limited action scenes. The photography is passable, the film kind of grainy, and except for the two leads, the actors are generally interchangeable (particularly the women).

Still, the over-the-top scene-chewing by Pataki and Smith, the slow-but-steady build-up of suspense throughout, and a surprisingly good battle following a seance at the climax make Grave of the Vampire a decent night's viewing on a stormy night when you're in the mood for some deliciously retro, low-budget schlock!

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