AFED #49: Curse of the Undead (US, 1959); Dir. Edward Dein; The Cabinet of Caligari (US, 1962); Dir. Roger Kay

Another Friday night at the Gothique Society and this time a double bill of American films. Given the growing backlog of unwritten or unfinished reviews on this blog I'll have to keep it brief.

First up was Curse of the Undead; an example of a rarely spotted sub genre: the vampire western. Australian actor Michael Pate stars as Drake Robey, a mysterious gunslinger whose arrival in a small town in the Old West coincides with a spate of mysterious killings.

After some misgivings he wins the support of pretty maiden Dolores Carter (Kathleen Crowley), who's inherited the family farmstead after the death of her father and recruits the stranger as a ranch hand. Robey isn't quite so well received by Dolores's beau Dan (Eric Fleming), the local preacher, who conveniently uncovers a diary that may hold the secret to the gunslinger's true nature.

Given how certain facets of vampire lore had become a staple of film horror, it's notable that Curse of the Undead returns to the folkloric roots of these monsters. Robey is revealed to have committed suicide in his previous life and thereby been condemned to his present state, one which he intimates to Dan causes him no little angst. Religion plays an important role in the story, and the preacher finally dispenses with his nemesis not with a stake to the hear, but by shooting him with a bullet with a cross carved in it.

It's a tidy little film and Pate steals the plaudits as a more nuanced vampire than the norm.

The second film was harder going, being far longer than necessary for such a slight story. Despite its title The Cabinet of Caligari bears little relation to the seminal Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari other than featuring a character with the same name and an Expressionism inspired fantasy sequence late in the film.

Glynis Johns, who'd matured very attractively since her appearance in The Halfway House some seventeen years earlier (AFED #41), gives a solid and occasionally daring performance as a woman who finds herself trapped in the residence of a mysterious German named Caligari (Daniel O'Herlihy), when she seeks assistance following a blowout. While Johns seeks allies amongst her fellow residents in this weird abode, she's intermittently subjected to Caligari's belligerent questioning about her personal life.

Vaguely reminiscent of L'Année dernière à Marienbad and anticipating the enigmatic ethos of The Prisoner a few years later, it's reflective of the post-Psycho vogue for dimestore psychiatry, a companion such works as Sam Fuller's fabulous Shock Corridor and even The Manchurian Candidate with a similar off-kilter visual approach. Psycho's original novelist Robert Bloch even penned the screenplay, the final twist of which is unlikely to come as surprise anybody experienced with these kind of films. Let's just say it might well have inspired Scorsese's Shutter Island.

Not a bad effort but takes far too long to get anywhere.


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