Also known as Hannah, Queen of the Vampires, 1973’s Crypt of the Living Dead has a solid beginning and relatively demented finale, but the middle of the movie (and its coda) are lackluster, making it difficult for even vampire lovers to make it through the whole thing without winking out at least twice. After a couple of viewings, however, I figured out the underlying theme of the movie, and I have to admit I was a little impressed, even though I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Crypt of the Living Dead.
What I have discovered is that director Julio Salvador and screenplay writer Ricardo Ferrer are fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Vampire fans know well that Stoker kept his vampire in the shadows for much of the novel, thus ensuring that his menace grew through his reputation as a larger-than-death creature. The same is true for Hannah (Teresa Gimpera), who for most of the film uses her minions to do her dirty work. It is not until the film’s climax that Hannah begins to influence events herself, and it is here that the movie comes to life.
Crypt of the Living Dead opens with Peter (Mark Damon) asking for eternal life as he hovers over a massive sarcophagus made of stone. In the shadows is another man (Ihsan Genik), who has been keeping an eye out for an intruder. This intruder turns out to be Professor Bolton (Mariano Rey), who is armed but suddenly finds himself trapped under the coffin. The Wild Man (as Genik is billed) successfully removes the barriers holding up the coffin, slamming it onto Bolton’s chest.
The professor’s death brings his son Chris (Andrew Prine) to the secluded island, where he is considered an unwelcome stranger. The only person who greets him warmly is Peter, who says that he is a novelist working on a new historical novel. Peter introduces Chris to his sister, Mary (Patty Sheppard, who has a passing resemblance to the great Barbara Steele), the island’s sole teacher.
Insistent that he wishes to bury his father, Chris secures the help of some of the island’s reluctant fishermen to help lift the casket. In doing so, the men unleash the vampire Hannah, who centuries earlier had arrived on the island as the spouse of Louis VII before being bitten by a vampire. The fishermen warn Chris of the vampire curse, but the engineer remains skeptical.
Weak for lack of blood, Hannah is able to transform into mist and also into a wolf. She secures her first kills as a wolf, gaining the blood necessary to begin her rejuvenation. In the meantime, she uses the Wild Man to kill several of the fishermen to ensure the vampire’s safety. While this is happening, Chris finds himself falling for Mary, to the relief of Peter, who is secretly working for Hannah.
When Hannah at last materializes, she goes after a little girl (reminds me of what Lucy does in Dracula). In the meantime, a demented Peter attempts to sacrifice his sister to the vampire in exchange for eternal life, but he is thwarted by Chris. Hannah then attacks Chis while in wolf form. With the help of the fishermen, Chris manages to overcome the attack, lighting Hannah on fire while she is human form. The burned corpse rises again, unleashing hideous banshee-like screams, until she is finally dispatched in vampire fashion.
The film’s coda has the little girl (the one Hannah visited) and a little boy coming together. It turns out the little girl has been bitten and is now a vampire. Her first morsel: the little boy, of course. As the film closes, she bares her fangs, the hunger now deep within her.
Much too talky for the bulk of the film, Crypt of the Living Dead is a guilty pleasure for me, primarily because it tries to evoke the menace found in Stoker’s Dracula. Even though the film fails to do this well because its middle simply drags for too long, the final battle sequence is effective and worth watching.
Direction is lackluster, although the cinematography is effective. The locations are fantastic, although the sets are on the cheap. Acting is solid enough, with everyone turning in a solid performance. Interestingly enough, it’s the supporting cast that does really well, with the one-eyed fisherman really capturing my attention during his dialogue sequences. Special effects are sparse but effective. The burned version of Hannah is hideous.