ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John S Berry is back with another awesome article. You can check out John on Twitter.
This fine film Grave of the Vampire (at least in my opinion) was I think in the leadoff spot years ago for the inaugural Black Friday tradition I have of staying inside like a hermit away from bargain shopping hordes. Besides, I don’t imagine most places having anything I want or need except Vinegar Syndrome or Severin Films.
I was spending the turkey time alone and decided to get out my version of the bible Nightmare USA by Stephen Thrower and check some films off the massive list in the back. Not sure why I selected Grave of the Vampire but since then I think I revisit it about once a year. And if I ever run across a copy in the wild that bad boy is coming home with me to later be pushed off onto someone. It is an odd creepy and charming gem.
Several sites and books have stated that the script is based off a book called The Still Life by David Chase. I was shocked to see yes, the Sopranos creator David Chase. I have never found a copy of the book on line or in the wild. There are rumors that it may just be an urban legend. Imagine that a movie made for $50,000 for drive ins having a myth surrounding it, I’m in.
The movie has one hell of a harsh beginning. The sound design of off breathing and a heartbeat with the visual of reverse fog is truly unsettling. A young lady and her Moe from the 3 Stooges haired fella leave a party to go to their spot, the graveyard (goth kids way ahead of their time). What should have been an oddly sweet moment is violently taken from them.
Grave of the Vampire executes well one of my favorite concepts in horror film, books etc. It lets you, your brain and sprinting imagination fill in the gaps. There are several scenes that are violent, but you don’t see the gore. You may hear it or imagine it which can make it just as bad.
Recently on Twitter I re tweeted about DeNiro being cast incorrectly as the talk show host on Joker. I understand the hint hint wink wink to King of Comedy, but it was just not good casting.
For Grave of the Vampire as good as a casting choice Michael Pataki as Caleb Croft is, William Smith as James Eastman was just as uh… interesting, odd? Re watching, I forgot how odd of a choice it was for built like a brick shit house William Smith was as the hero, I mean he played Conan’s Dad and went toe to toe with Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way You Can.
In pro wrestling they have a term for some guys known as a crowbar. This term for sure applies to William Smith in this film.
“Crowbar: A wrestler that has a reputation for being stiff and difficult to work with. The most classic examples would be the Road Warriors in their early years, as they weren’t anywhere close to fully trained when they started and would simply beat up their opponents.
For the reviews I am doing for Pure Terror set this go around I am trying to stay away from straight recapping (I have even thought about doing haikus about characters). Of the 4 I am writing about I have seen 3. Those 3 I realized are (well at least to me) character studies. Interesting characters or even unique looking characters can take clunky dialog, bad editing etc. off your mind. I imagine if I watched all the movies on the Pure Terror set I would find many characters that would stick with me and have a charm all of their own.
Here are some break downs of some characters, maybe they will peak your interest in the film. Or maybe people will wonder what the hell is wrong with my brain to analyze and come up with theories and ideas about minor characters in a discount set.
- Olga: A poor widow with a good heart who decided to help young lady in need. Sadly, Olga was way ahead of the curve on the danger of pills, proclaiming to the fact they killed her husband. She takes in the poor gal and truly cares about her.
- Lt. Panzer: A good man, a good cop who deserved better. A good detective with a better heart. His hunches were correct and did what a good cop does and follow up on it. His fate actually bothered me and is a disturbing scene mainly because he was such a likeable character.
- Mom who sacrifices so much: Sadly, the character is never named, on the IMDB page she is just listed as The Unwilling Mother. She seemed young and had a whole life in front of her. What I took from this character is her optimism about this wretched situation she was in and how she was going to take care of this baby at any cost. Or maybe she was just in denial…
Dazed and Confused Folks:
- James Eastman: the walking epitome of a big galoot. Add bangs, mumbles and leisure suit and what a dream boat. Frankenstein’s monster sure but son of super suave Caleb Croft… uh no. He really has no charisma and often mumbles and when he yells his biggest line, I was wishing there were subtitles on the disc (hey $7.99 for 50 movies I am not complaining). Not sure how he had the funds or survived hunting Caleb Croft down across the world for revenge.
- Anne Arthur: In a nice swerve she becomes the gal that appeals to James Eastman and not Anita. She is a literature teacher and at times sound English and mentions her English toughness as to why she is at a séance not long after finding her roomie drained of blood, cold as ice Ann.
- Caleb Croft: The role is played super flat (not in a bad way more of a sociopath way) and at times pissy by Michael Pataki. He is cool, calm and confrontational as a professor, but it seems like once his fangs come out or the blood rushes to the front of his pants, he has an impulse control problem. I loved how he carried himself and the visuals of coats and suits he wore.
- Anita Jacoby: She fooled me for sure. I thought she was a good gal but really was a super manipulative but attractive lady. She quickly formed a plan when it came to James and Caleb (although that one backfired). Even in death she is still trying to get what she wants and really you have to admire her moxie. So it is true bad girls are more fun, take that Anne.
- Old Zack: Sweet old drunk he discovered the crime in the graveyard at the beginning. Zach decided no more grave yard sleeping and was heading to the church. Poor old guy just wanted to sleep off a drunk.
- Poor girl smoking while cooking: If she just would have locked her side door to the basement. It was a nice touch that she was scared listening to a radio drama but what was in the basement was even worse than what she was listening to.
- The Librarian: What a tease! Not sure what she was thinking undoing her beautiful red hair and flirting with Caleb. All he wanted was to borrow a book!
Folks that would have been at home on the Ropers spin off sitcom:
- Sam and Carol Moskowitz: Carol reminds me a lot of Greta Gerwig in House of the Devil; a ditzy but beautiful blonde who seems to be in her own world. Her husband Sam has that smarmy 70s way about him, thinking he is a real tough guy. Sam also packs a gun but to be honest better chance he will get pistol whipped by someone with his own gun.
Eastman being a crow bar finally pays off at the end with a big fight scene. I recently showed some friends They Live and of course that fight scene got rave reviews. But the father son fight at the end of Grave is on that level. Hell, I may like it more to be honest.
The fight has things I never knew I needed in a fight scene; double ax handle blows, sports jackets ablaze and some sort of chair Krav Maga. The fight scene has a glass tope and the finish uses the good ole dog collar match. Was this the reason William Smith was cast?
Scream Factory released a Blu-Ray this year. I am not sure how I will feel seeing a suped up and cleaned up version. Part of the charm for me with the film is the scratches and rough look of the film. But they have 2 audio commentaries which make me feel a little less weird and alone knowing at least 3 other people in the world adore this film.
Note: As of finishing this on my lunch break, I realized I might have been to harsh on William Smith. In an odd case of synchronicity Ted Geoghegan who is an amazing filmmaker posted a heart felt post about sending letters because he was inspired to: “look up other classic genre talent and write them thank you letters. I’ll share addresses I find here, and I hope you do the same.”
A few posts into it and this popped up:
William Smith (Conan’s dad in CONAN THE BARBARIAN!) started his career in 1942’s THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN and appeared in everything from INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS and Bill Lustig’s MANIAC COP. He’s now 86.
Write him at: William Smith 29103 Village 29 Camarillo, CA 93012-7106