Paul Landres’s “The Vampire” (1957) sinks its fangs into a very different dramatic vein

By on April 19, 2019

Director Paul Landres once said he’d wanted to do something “very different in the vampire vein” which is why his 1957 low-budget b-movie The Vampire — also known as The Mark of the Vampire, now streaming on Night Flight Plus — sinks its fangs into an entirely different type of dramatic story, one which shuns traditional vampire movie tropes.

In other words, don’t expect to see this vampire wearing a black cape, living in a Transylvanian castle, sleeping in a coffin, fearing crosses and garlic, or being killed by sunlight or by a stake driven into his heart, etc.

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The pathos-laden plot of The Vampire begins with eccentric chemist “Dr. Matt Campbell” (Wood Romoff) being found by a delivery boy — after he’s collapsed at his desk in his home laboratory — who then rides his bike over to the town’s local doctor, “Dr. Paul Beecher” (John Beal), to let him know what he’s witnessed.

Campbell dies, but not before he hands Beecher a bottle of pills he’s developed in his lab. We learn later the pills are “supposed to induce the primitive instincts by draining the blood from the brain temporarily.”

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That night, Beecher asks his daughter “Betsy” (Lydia Reed) to bring him his tablets for severe migraine headaches, which he keeps in his lab coat, but just as you might expect, she brings him the pills that Campbell had given him instead.

The next day, Beecher awakens from his blackout — with only a vague, nightmare-like memory of the night before — to find that one of his patients, “Marion Wilkins” (Ann Staunton), has two puncture wounds in her neck. She shrieks when she sees him, and dies soon afterwards.

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Everyone involved — Dr. Beecher, his nurse “Carol Butler” (comely Coleen Gray), the local sheriff and Beecher’s friend “Buck Donnelly” (Kenneth Tobey), mortician “Willy Warner” (Paul Brinegar), university psychologist “Will Beaumont” (Dabbs Greer) and weirdo sunglasses-wearing sidekick “Henry Wilson” (James H. Griffith), among others — wants to know just what the hell is going on.

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Beecher eventually find notes left behind which reveal that ingesting Campell’s habit-forming pills — made from the blood of vampire bats — will regress the patient to a more primitive state, transforming them into a hairy, blood-sucking half-human werewolf-like vampire (strangely, only after 11:00 pm).

Don’t worry, those of you squeamish types out there, as most of the gruesome violence in The Vampire actually occurs off-screen, just like a lot of ’50s horror flicks.

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Gramercy Pictures’ The Vampire arrived in theaters in July 1957, not too long after Universal Pictures had stopped producing their classic horror films.

Universal’s 1931 American pre-Code vampire-horror film Dracula, directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as “Count Dracula,” is probably still the best-known of all the films based on Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name.

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Unfortunately, The Vampire — despite being a tautly linear and extremely well-made black & white late ’50s b-movie — was overshadowed a year later by the release of Hammer Films’ Dracula, the 1958 British-made classic and the first in the series of Hammer Horror titles starring Christopher Lee as the blood-thirsty Count.

Landres would also direct two more horror films for Gramercy Pictures, The Return of Dracula (also from a screenplay by Pat Fiedler) and the sci-fi/horror saga The Flame Barrier, but he considered The Vampire his personal favorite of the three.

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Read more about The Vampire below.

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Paul Landres

Paul Landres first began working in the film & TV industry at Universal Pictures as an editor on “The Cisco Kid” (1950-1956), “The Lone Ranger” (1949-1957), “Sky King” (1951-1959), and other turgid low-budget dramas, westerns and genre serials.

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He transitioned to working behind the camera as a director for the first time in the early 1950s, directing episodes of popular TV shows like “The Rifleman” (1958-1963) “77 Sunset Strip” (1958-1964) and “Hawaiian Eye.”

He also occasionally lensed low-budget features like Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957), Frontier Gun (1958), and Lone Texan (1959).

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Landres had a reputation for working quickly and bringing in his projects on time and under budget. The Vampire was made in six days for just $150,000, shot in and around the Hollywood area.

He preferred to shoot on real locations as much as possible, instead of staging everything on pre-fab studio sets. His last directing job before retiring in 1972 was an episode of “Adam-12.”

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The screenplay for The Vampire — originally given the more poetic but probably less-commercial sounding title It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn — was written by Pat Fiedler, who once said this about her script:

“I used the device of putting the ordinary person into a situation of extreme jeopardy. Of course, [Alfred] Hitchcock used this device to great advantage in all of his films. There is something so terrifying about the average person finding himself in a situation of extreme terror and incomprehension of the strange forces moving about him. I think there were a lot of influences in The Vampire of Jeckyll and Hyde…”

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Ms. Fiedler: “The script seemed to flow easily and my own fascination in medicine could be found in many parts of the screenplay. Particularly, the small-town doctor confronted with the growing realization and terror of his own guilt and the horrifying thought that his daughter is likely to become his next victim.”

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Fiedler and Landres also worked together on 1958’s The Return of Dracula, and Fiedler wrote the screenplay for The Monster That Challenged the World, which was distributed via Gramercy/Universal on a creepy double-bill with The Vampire in 1957.

Watch The Vampire on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.