When Science Makes Monsters

CAUTION: CONTAINS “SPOILERS.”

I have earlier written about Paul Landres’ very traditional vampire opus “The Return of Dracula,” now I want to discuss his other vampire opus–1957’s “The Vampire.” Working with the same script writer Pat Fielder, he tried putting a new twist on things by offering audiences a vampire created by science gone awry and with a Jekyll & Hyde vibe thrown in for good measure. John Beal played a respected small-town physician whose problems begin when he’s summoned to treat a dying university researcher who had been studying animal aggression. The researcher forces a bottle of pills on him, but dies before he can explain their purpose. Beal makes the mistake of putting them in his coat pocket and later on, his own adolescent daughter erroneously gives him one, believing it to be his migraine medicine. Before long, Beal is transforming into a hairy fanged interloper given to nocturnal attacks on his own patients. There is also an element of the “monkey-on-my-back” scenario here as Beal finds himself compelled to keep on popping those pills, even when he comes to realization that he is nocturnal fiend terrorizing his small town.

This was a new twist, but not a brand-new twist because Fred F. Sears, a genre man usually specializing in crime pictures and westerners, had in the previous year directed “The Werewolf,” in which Steven Ritch’s mild-mannered salesman suffers a minor car accident and finds himself in the hands of a pair of semi-mad scientists doing work on animal regression. An injection of their wonder-drug turns salesman into werewolf–no full moon or gypsy curses needed. Another typical small-town American guy becomes a creature straight out of tales from the Old Country.

This notion of formerly Gothic monsters now being cooked up in backroom labs was so alluring that even upstart American-International Pictures picked up on it with Gene Fowler Jr, giving us moody delinquent Michael Landon, given to eating his hamburgers raw, transformed into a teenaged werewolf via drugs and hypnosis in “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,”and Herbert L. Strock following it up with troubled teen Sandra Harrison menacing a girl’s school as a teenaged vampire after her Chemistry teacher has noted her propensity for violence in “Blood of Dracula”–both appearing in that banner year 1957.

I find it interesting how many of these scientist-types are studying the phenomena of unchecked aggression and/or regression during the supposedly happy days of the 1950s. Interesting too, the part that wonder-drugs, in syringe or in pill form plays in bringing about these less-than-happy transformations!

 

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