Ever wonder if vampires can procreate? Well, a year before Blade made his initial appearance in the comic book The Tomb of Dracula, in 1972 John Hayes (director of fare such as Garden of the Dead and Jailbait Babysitter) unleashed Grave of the Vampire, which gave a definitive “yes” to this question. Strange, trashy, and gross (if you think about the plot a bit too much), Grave of the Vampire is one of the weirder entries in vampire film, one that will leave many fans needing a shower when all is done.
The movie opens with a couple making out in car in a nearby cemetery. While they are getting frisky, the vampire Croft (Michael Pataki of Zoltan: Hound of Dracula) at last wakens from a prolonged slumber. Croft is not just a vampire—during the 1930s, he was a reputed rapist and murderer who was electrocuted for his vicious crimes. Now possessing the supernatural characteristics of a vampire, Croft attacks the couple, killing the male (played by Jay Scott) and raping the woman, one Leslie Hollander (Kitty Vallacher).
Although Leslie survives the encounter, she soon learns that she is carrying Croft’s child, a baby boy who because he refuses to drink breast milk begins to die. Leslie is resilient, however, and discovers that the child is a “living vampire” and thus must drink blood, which she provides. The child grows into manhood, subsequently draining and inadvertently killing his mother. This compulsion repulses the young man, named James Eastman (the prolific William Smith, the Marlboro Man). The guilt of being a vampire (a possible first in vampirism that may have set the pattern for the modern incarnation of the brooding vampire) leads Eastman to hunt down and kill his father, who has taken up residency at a college and now teaches under the guise of Professor Lockwood.
Eastman enrolls in a night course that Lockwood is teaching and finds himself with the “in” crowd, including groovy girls Ann Arthur (Lyn Peters) and Anita Jacoby (Diane Holden). The final reel of the movie has Eastman, the girls, and several other minor characters attend a séance lorded by none other than Professor Lockwood. It is in Lockwood’s mansion that Eastman has a final showdown with his malicious father, with the other humans serving either as lunch or dinner.
The strongest elements of Grave of the Vampire are the ideas peppered throughout. The idea of a “living vampire,” Croft’s vampirism resulting from an evil life (this goes back deep into vampire folklore), and the son taking revenge upon the father all work very well. It is the execution of these elements that is clumsy, although the filmmakers only had $50,000 or so to work with.
However, there are flaws in the writing. Several subplots go nowhere and in fact hinder the film. For example, the characters of Olga (Lieux Dressler) and Lieutenant Panzer (Eric Mason) are intriguing but have no payoff. Then there’s the character of Anita, who at one point begs Croft to turn her into a vampire. This sequence comes out of nowhere and adds nothing to the plot, other than a vampire wannabe-groupie.
Performances range from the startlingly creepy and effective (Pataki is excellent throughout) to the wooden (William Smith). The dance happening is so hilarious it must be seen. (“Gee, I’m really sorry about all of this, we just called some people and played some records and now we’ve got this thing happening.”) The ending is also a downer, with the clichéd “The End . . . or is It” tagline hoping to secure a sequel.
Those who are interested in watching a weird vampire flick will easily dig Grave of the Vampire. Fans of hardcore horror will also find it worthwhile, but those with weak constitutions should avoid it.
Grave of the Vampire can be purchased as a standalone item or as part of a collection, such as Classic Drive-In Series Horror.