May 7, 2012

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

"People are mysteriously disappearing near a remote Cornish village, where a scientist is experimenting with reviving the dead."

Since it was 18 years ago today that I first named my video review column in "The Demeter" magazine after a movie which I had never actually seen at the time, I decided to watch a remastered version of "Doctor Blood's Coffin".

There are two things which I have to get out of the way before I begin my review. The most important of these is to tell you that, in spite of the name, "Doctor Blood's Coffin" isn't a vampire movie. Yes, I did feel rather silly when I found out. I was writing my first published reviews for a Dracula magazine back in the day but nobody else realised my mistake either.

The second thing is that when I first watched "Doctor Blood's Coffin" on television in the late '90s, I thought it was horribly dated and boring. I didn't even make it to the end. Like a lot of younger reviewers nowadays, I only wanted the latest thing and had yet to develop any real taste or discernment.

"Doctor Blood's Coffin" has one of those somewhat embarrassing titles which would make you believe that it was yet another of those "cheesy" (I loathe the use of that word, by the way), over-the-top, campy horrors which today's hipsters like to get off on because they think it's "so bad, it's good". Fortunately, for me, although some of the acting is a little bit clumsy, the film is way more intelligent than the crapfest which it could have been.

The big draw here for movie lovers of the time is Kieron Moore who plays one of the two "Dr Blood" characters in the story. As Peter Blood, he is the younger, handsome, research scientist son of Ian Hunter's Robert Blood.

Kieron Moore was a very recognisable face during the '50s and '60s although his acting style was always rather more shouty than subdued. If you think of him as a constantly smoking prototype of Brian Blessed but without the beard and with an Irish accent which sounds German then you won't go far wrong.

The other even bigger draw for horror fans in particular is the late Hazel Court who plays Nurse Linda Parker. Hazel Court was one of the most beautiful of Hammer's horror actresses and was previously known for her role alongside Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957). It's ironic (and probably no coincidence) that "Doctor Blood's Coffin" is, basically, another Frankenstein subgenre story.

One thing which I find fascinating (and here I'm going to get a bit spoilery even though the trailer gives it away) is how "Doctor Blood's Coffin" deals with the subject of human heart transplants six years before the first successful one was achieved by Christiaan Barnard in 1967.

There's a lot of outright moral condemnation of the whole organ donor thing here especially as Peter Blood comes across as quite a psychopathic bad guy and none of the donors are willing. There's even a big argument between Dr Blood and his nurse later in the film which doesn't present his case in a very good light at all although both sides of the case are treated somewhat childishly and it's hard to tell who was more insane.

The style of the film is very Hammer-esque but is nothing to do with them. The location filming really was done in Cornwall rather than the Bray Studios version as in "The Reptile" (1966). What horror directors had against Cornwall, I have no idea. It's hardly the most desolate place on the planet. The trope goes back to "The Uninvited" (1944) and is a bit like how New York city people think that anything upstate is all farms.

Another thing which stands out for me is the love the cameraman must have had for the old cars. I'm not entirely sure but I think at least one of them is a Hilman. There's definitely a Wolseley and a Ford Zodiac in here too. You can see them on the IMCDb (yes, an "Internet Movie Cars Database" really exists). As I grew up in the '70s and most of these cars were still going strong back then, it's a nice nostalgic moment.

Of course, what you really want to know about is whether or not "Doctor Blood's Coffin" is gory or scary. Well, it's definitely gory in a couple of places and, if you are the right age, the last ten minutes could be quite scary. I think it's more of an intriguing serial killer kind of thriller until the story really jumps the shark at the end. It would probably have been a minor classic if it hadn't gone so bizarrely into the absurd.

I don't want to give a major spoiler about the ending, but I will say that it isn't how anyone with a brain would expect this film to end. Of course, the producers were counting on that shock factor to get bums on seats in the cinema, but it's too unrealistic and doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

If it wasn't for the last ten minutes, "Doctor Blood's Coffin" would get at least a 7 out of 10 rating. The trouble is that those last ten minutes put the movie in a whole other category, and so it only gets a 6 out of 10 from me.

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