Thursday 26 February 2015

Hannah, Queen of the Vampires [1973]

HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES is a Spanish / American horror film that was directed by Julio Salvador and originally released in Spain in June 1973 under the title La tumba de la isla maldita. It is also known as Crypt of the Living Dead.  It stars Andrew Prine, Mark Damon and Patty Shepard. Prine is Chris Bolton an engineer who arrives on a remote Turkish island to bury his father, an archaeologist, who died while investigating a recently discovered tomb.  There he meets an old friend Peter (Damon) who is researching a novel and Peter's sister Mary (Shepard) who is teaching at the island's rudimentary school.  Through these, and the surly locals, he learns of the island's mythology and superstitions which eventually lead him to suspect that his father's death may somehow be linked.

As far as I can make out this is for some reason a pretty obscure film.  Despite being a big fan of Cinema Delirium favourite Andrew Prine I had never heard of it until I wrote about Patty Shepard in La noche de Walpurgis here.  I tracked it down and watched it a couple of days ago and can't see any obvious reason for its obscurity.  In fact it's rather good, sustaining an atmosphere of fear and mystery while creating a credible and consistent background legend.

The opening recalls the peerless THE WICKER MAN [1973] with Chris getting a very frosty reception as he arrives on the unnamed island.  Indeed it's some considerable way into the film before any of the locals even acknowledge him much less speak to him.  Chris represents the voice of reason amid the superstitious locals and is therefore shocked to learn that his father, a man of science, had started to believe some of the tales shortly before his death.  These are familiar themes of course - the fish out of water and the sceptic surrounded by true believers - and generally speaking, as in the case of THE WICKER MAN, it's not until the climax that the central character comes to recognise the power of superstition.

Chris Bolton arrives

In this film though the locals' superstition is underpinned by a specifically Christian faith.  The vampires can be held at bay by the trusty crucifix but that proves to be of limited use.  It's interesting that vampire movies are generally framed as good versus evil, the holy versus the unholy, and yet Dracula and his cohorts still run amok no matter how many crosses are brandished at them.

Yes it's true that in most cases good triumphs over evil but the body count is usually in Dracula's favour. Why then is faith, Christian faith, regarded as such an effective weapon and indeed defence? Is it better or worse than any other religion?  Does Dracula in fact represent not evil but non-Christian faith?  It would be interesting to know how this conflict is depicted in films from predominantly non-Christian countries.

Back, hellspawn!

Anyway, I digress.  I understand that while Salvador directed the lion's share of the film some additional footage, amounting to about 10 minutes, was shot by Ray Danton to beef up the English-language version. Inserting new footage to an existing film doesn't usually work; off the top of my head I instantly think of John Russo's execrable additions to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for his "30th anniversary addition".  Obviously one would have to see both before and after versions to judge which was the more effective but it's fair to say that Danton did a pretty good job because I certainly couldn't tell where the new stuff was added.

Ray Danton in Si muore solo una Volta [1967]

Ray Danton had a decent if unspectacular 25-year career as an actor - notably, in the Cinema Delirium sense, as the title character in Jess Franco's decent spy caper LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE [1967].  Once the leading parts dried up he had a desultory 10 years in US television which I imagine prompted him to effect a transition into directing.  His first feature was the horror flick DEATHMASTER [1972] starring Count Yorga himself Robert Quarry.  It's not bad actually although it didn't lead to much more film work: he helmed PSYCHIC KILLER [1975] a film which I recall from the horror movie books I had as a kid and which I've not yet got round to seeing. But that was that his film career and he spent the last 15 years of his professional life directing episodes of various TV shows.

Andrew Prine as Chris Bolton

Andrew Prine, as I say, is a favourite of mine and he has a very long career mainly in genre films. Patty Shepard was to Spanish horror as Barbara Steele was to Italian but for some reason is not as well known.  Perhaps it's because the perception is that Italian horror is better than Spanish.  I'd probably have to agree with that: in the main they look a lot better and managed to attract a better class of English-speaking star to their productions.  Some of that can perhaps be put down to the oppressive nature of the right-wing dictatorship Spain laboured under until the mid-1970s.

Patty Shepard as Mary

Mark Damon, like Ray Danton, is an interesting guy who switched careers, in his case from acting to producing.  As near as dammit he stopped acting around the time this film came out and after a slow start really got his foot in the door and ended up producing a lot of high profile films.  He's still working is Damon and if imdb is to be believed currently has a couple of films in production.  Good on him, he's 82 this year.

Mark Damon as Peter

One note about the crew: the special effects are the work of Antonio Molina who also worked in the same capacity on the previously reviewed THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN aka La noche de Walpurgis, which probably explains why the vampire women in both films look so similar.

Teresa Gimpera as Hannah, Queen of the Vampires

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