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Monday, September 5, 2011

Blood Beast Terror

Tigon Productions seems to have been striving to play in Hammer Studios' market of monster-horror films, but on a shoestring budget. Blood Beast Terror (BBT) is the British title. It was marketed in America as Vampire-Beast Craves Blood. There is a scant amount of sci-fi to the plot, but for the most part BBT is classic (cliche) a horror-monster-crime hybrid. Peter Cushing stars as Inspector Quennell, who tries to solve a string of grisly murders, eventually centering on a rogue scientist and his creation.

Quick Plot Synopsis
BBT opens with some shots of victorian explorer Mr. Britewell in Africa gathering samples. Cut to England. A cabbie hears a man scream. When he finds the bloody victim, he is attacked by some big winged thing. Inspector Quennell (Cushing) visits a professor Mallinger, giving a lecture on insects. Quennell wants to ask about a student of Mallinger's, a pre-plot victim. No clues. Policemen bring the cabbie-found victim to the doctor for help, but the doctor secretly dispatches him. Mallinger's pretty daughter Clare distracts everyone. The cabbie raves insanely about giant wings. Britewell arrives with boxes of collected chrysalids from Africa for Mallinger, who is up to some breeding experiments with "deaths head" moths. Around the prior crime scene, are found large scales. Mallinger says he has no clue what they are. Clare flirts with Britewell, and after an amateur play presentation, takes him on a walk in the dark. Britewell is attacked by a "giant moth". When Britewell is found dead, Mallinger denies knowing who he is. When police figure out that this was a lie, Mallinger and Clare have already fled. The butler is found dead in a closet, and a locked room has several skeletons in it. Train station porters give Quennell a clue to where Mallinger may have gone. Quennell and his daughter Meg go on a vacation to the same town, pretending to be a banker and his daughter. While staying at the inn, Meg and another guest's son, William hit it off. William is an amateur entomologist. Meanwhile, in the country manor nearby, Clare takes a hungry liking to the gardener, Clem. She flirts with him. They go for a walk. She turns into the giant moth and kills Clem. Mallinger has been growing a man-sized cocoon in the stoney basement, so as to create a male were-moth for Clare's mate. But, it needs human blood. Clare absconds with Meg. After a transfusion and some post-hypnotic suggestion, Meg is released. Clem's body is found in the river with the same wounds as those in London. Quennell and sergeant Allen head for the manor, as does zombie-walking Meg for another dose. Mallinger changes his mind about breeding the male were-moth and burns it. Clare turns were-moth and kills Mallinger. She flees. Meg finds the dead Mallinger, screams and runs. She trips and drops her oil lamp, staring a fire. Quennell and the sergeant arrive in time to save her. Outside, Clare is walking with William and goes all were-moth on him. Quennell and Allen interrupt. Quennell starts a fire, which, of course, Clare-moth cannot resist. She flies close and catches on fire. As she dies, she turns briefly back into her beautiful woman-self, then turns to smoking ash. Quennell and Allen agree that no one will believe them. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Mostly, Peter Cushing's superior acting save this film. The victorian era setting adds a bit of Sherlock Holmes air which is a nice break from future-dystopia films. In fact, the overall effect is that BBT is hybrid of Sherlock Holmes Meets The Wasp Woman.

Cold War Angle
There is no Cold War in BBT. It is the old Frankenstein myth recast. Misguided scientist tampers with nature, creates a monster, which kills him.

WereBeast -- At the heart of it, BBT is a blend of the classic werewolf mythos with dashes of Frankenstein. People turning into insects was far from new by 1968. By then, we had all three Fly films and Wasp Woman ('59) with which this film shares some underlying psychology. (predatory women).

Bad Bug? -- The "Death's Head" moth developed some superstitious air about it, but only because of the vaguely skull-like markings on its thorax. But that's about it. It's not carnivorous (like a wolf), nor aggressive and painful (like a wasp). It lives a life like most moths -- not very frightening. From the film, one would think the moths were nastier than killer bees.

Good Girl / Bad Girl -- Another standard element in many B movies is the casting of two women in opposite lights. A really "bad" female character is usually balanced by a "good" one. This could be a faint literary version Yin-Yang more than caution about feminism. Clare is not only the murderous were-moth, but she uses the suggestion of sex to trap her prey. We see her with some serious thigh showing in her play costume. She also flashes some considerable cleavage -- a fact advertised on both American and British posters. Clare is the harlot. To balance out Clare, the plot gives us Meg. She is young and pretty in a plain sort of way. Note that she wears dresses with high necks and has the air of innocence in her mannerisms. She is the good and chaste woman.

Got Plot Holes? -- Much of BBT relies on prior monster-horror films for its existence. Having seen so many of them, audiences could more easily just accept things without them being explained or making much sense. Why was Mallinger creating huge were-moths in the first place? Did he create Clare? Her title of "daughter" appeared to be a cover more than a fact. How had he managed to create a beautiful young woman? Nice trick. What was he going to do with a breeding pair of them? Unlike so many were-monster stories, Clare-moth is able to transform herself whenever she wished. How'd that work? And what happened to her floofy victorian dresses when she was in moth mode? What was the point of the butler with the disfigured face who liked to taunt the pet eagle? And then there's the story shortcut regarding the abduction of Meg. On minute she's riding with Clare in the buggy, the next, she's naked, unconscious and strapped to Mellinger's lab table. I suppose it didn't matter too much.

Foreshadowed Conclusion -- When gardener Clem lights his puny pile of leaves on fire, it makes no sense. Why bother? Except that then Clare has to walk past it so she can say she didn't like fire. This pretty well tips off her doom. Since everyone "knows" that moths are attracted to flames (which they aren't really), BBT gives us a fairly lame demise for the monster. She flies too close, catches on fire and burns. How handy. And, like most good were-monsters, she turns briefly back into a human as she dies, as if to underscore there were-part for a modicum of sympathy.

Bottom line? BBT is a fairly predictable blend of familiar characters and tropes which yield an rather underwhelming monster story. Peter Cushing is good, but he cannot carry the story alone. If you think you'd like to see Sherlock Holmes battle the Werewolf / Wasp Woman, BBT might have some entertainment value. Sci-fi fans who expect a bit more science (i.e. sense), may find BBT slow and annoying.

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