Mediocre cowboys + mediocre vampires = Curse of the Undead (1959)
While grasping at straws in the 50s, Universal produced this vampire tale. The studio had only one monster success in The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954, but the rest of the monster family were pretty much retired by now. Curse of the Undead was the last one in the monster series, where Universal dedicated itself to producing yearly flicks for their cast of monsters.
This movie combines a mediocre western story with a mediocre vampire story, and I’m not even sure why I watched it, except to see Universal draw the curtain on the era of monsters. By now, Hammer was producing versions of Dracula in technicolor that outclassed Universal in terms of production and had some great performers too, including Christopher Lee, not that they’re great movies by any means.
The film stars…nobody I know. It has a few actors that were later on TV’s “Rawhide” and “Gunsmoke”, like Eric Fleming and John Voyt, but nobody of any minimal renown. The thing about using cowboys is that they seem to all run together, making the characters seem very similar, unless there is something definite to set them apart. This movie really doesn’t do that, except in the most superficial way. The hero of the story is a priest, which is not surprising, I guess. It’s pretty bad.
This movie is shot like a television episode. The camera zooms in when dialogue is delivered and the angles definitely remind me of 60’s television. Perhaps they were trying to emulate westerns people have already seen, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but creates a very ordinary environment. There is a family room shot like on every sitcom on Earth and another where the characters sit around a dinner table talking.
The main characters of this movie are Doc Carter and his family. His son is nuts, hard to control, and everybody else in town seems out to get Doc Carter, so it’s not too surprising that the older Doc ends up dead about 10 minutes into the movie. His son also goes belly up a few minutes later, as he mouths off to his arrogant neighbor, Buffer. Yikes, the death count is two already and they haven’t even added any vampires yet.
A stranger comes to town and he shows his interest in being a gun-for-hire, but he also happens to be a vampire. He is played by Michael Pate and his performance is god-awful. Just terrible dialogue. Terrible. He’s undead, so he can easily take a bullet and still win a gunfight, according to this movie. The movie doesn’t use any of the established vampire rules as in other Universal movies, and it looks like they just chose whatever they wanted, then threw out the rest of the lore. Worst of all, this vampire can walk around during the day.
Vampire Cowboy #1 = You have the right to do anything you want. If you can do it.
Generic Bad Guy #5: I’m warnin you! You’re startin somethin you won’t be able to finish.
Vampire Cowboy #1 = Could be. Only time will tell which one of us speaks the truth.
You might mistake the vampire gunfighter for a hero, since he guns down the arrogant bastard of the town, but he really is a selfish jerk. The preacher can’t make people see that though and gets upset. Meanwhile, the vampire gunfighter helps himself to one of the ladies for blooooood. Uh oh. Better call the preacher. He reads the man’s diary, which is a convenient way of finding out someone is a vampire. That’s kinda contrived.
Anyway, once the preacher finds out about the vampire gunfighters true past, it is a religious confrontation like no other. The priest makes it his own personal quest to stop the vampire gunfighter from…being a vampire I guess, because he isn’t doing any gunfighting, that’s for sure. The preacher tries to defend the arrogant jerks in town and finds a gun. uh oh!
In the end, the preacher blesses a bullet and shoots the vampire dead. All in all, the setup for this movie is as gimmicky as it gets, but it is unusual and original nonetheless. The dialogue was pretty bad and the directing was awful, but most of the actors do a decent enough job despite this crap guy who should have stayed in television. I’m not sure who this movie appeals to, but it’s not your western fans and it’s not your vampire fans because of all the missing vampire tropes. It certainly isn’t for your everyday movie goer either, so only the historian or a B-Movie lover might get some true enjoyment out of this one. All in all, this movie marks the end of the glory days of the monster at Universal, and that era goes out with a slow, embarrassing whimper.