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By the 60s and early 70s, horror movie audiences were ready to break from tradition. The success of films like ‘Psycho’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Night of The Living Dead’ proved that audiences were ready to move away from 1950s atomic monster films aimed at kids to films exploring more unsettling violent and sexual material.
This meant an upgrade for vampires as well, shifting from classic notions of characters like Dracula to films exploring new angles and concepts of the mythos. Let’s look at some notable fang-tastic films from the era.
TA sci-fi twist on a supernatural myth, ‘Queen of Blood’ focuses on a group of Astronauts (played by actors including John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, Dennis Hopper and Judi Meredith) investigating a spaceship crash on Mars.
While the ship is uninhabited, they find a second spacecraft, discovering a green-skinned woman (Florence Marly) inside.
They decide to take her back to Earth to be studied. But they regret their decision when they discover she is hungry for human blood after she murders one of the crew.
Can the remaining crew survive the interstellar bloodbath before reaching Earth or will this space vampire threaten human civilization?
‘The Queen of Blood’ is a low-budget romp, but it has some surprisingly effective scares. And Like Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of The Vampires’, it appears to be an influence on Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic, ‘Alien.’
A year before he directed the haunting classic, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, Polanski helmed a far more lighthearted horror tale. The filmmaker co-stars as Alfred, assistant to vampire hunter, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran), who stops overnight at an ominous Transylvanian Inn.
Soon, they realize a bloodsucking beast is in their midst after Sarah (Sharon Tate), the lovely Innkeeper’s daughter, is abducted by evil vampire Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne).
They begin a rescue mission, breaking into his castle, but are soon discovered. Krolock seems indifferent to their presence, even inviting them to stay the night. But why is he being so accommodating, and what has he done with Sarah?
‘Fearless’ is Polanski’s silliest film, full of funny sight gags and over-the-top camp humor with a memorable role from the late Sharon Tate.
‘Yorga’ provided a contemporary (at the time) update on the vampire mythos, where Donna (Donna Anders) invites over Count Yorga (Robert Quarry), a Bulgarian said to possess mystical powers, for an unsuccessful séance to contact Donna’s deceased mother.
After the uneventful get-together, partygoers Erica (Judith Lang) and Paul (Michael Murphy) are attacked on their way home.
Noticing bite marks on her neck, a blood specialist concludes that a vampire attacked Erica, and that Yorga is the culprit, and a plan is hatched to end his reign of terror, leading to a dramatic finale (inspired by ‘Fearless Vampire Killers’).
‘Yorga’ offered fresh blood (pun intended) on the vampire genre, with more explicit sex and gore than horror films at the time, which started the trend of loosened restrictions in genre fare.
Based on the popular television soap opera, ‘Dark Shadows’, ‘House of Dark Shadows’ features Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), an ancient vampire desperate to cure his cursed affliction after falling for Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), whom he believes is his reincarnated lover, Josette.
Until then, he must feast on the living, and his body count puts a target on his back, tainting his plans for redemption and love.
‘Dark Shadows’ takes elements of the camp soap opera in a more atmospheric direction, attaining the creepy heights of a Hammer Horror film production. It was also far more graphic then its television counterpart, with particularly grisly violence for the time.
In this British oddity, a serial killer with a hunger for drinking human blood is terrorizing London, with Detective Bellaver (Alfred Marks) hot on his trail.
Bellaver’s pursuit is slowed by meddling interlopers, including the head of British intelligence (Christopher Lee), a mysterious Easter European fascist leader (Peter Cushing) and Dr. Browning (Vincent Price), a scientist a little too enthusiastic about his work with cadavers.
Is it merely happenstance, or does one or more have direct involvement in the murders?
‘Scream Again’ is one odd film, mixing the vampire, conspiracy, and science fiction genres into a bewildering film. Underrated at the time, it has grown in cult status, noted for its 15-minute chase sequence through the English suburbs.
As the 60s ended, horror films would go even further in pushing decency standards in sex and violence, including films like ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ and ‘Martin.’ But none would have come to fruition without these 1960s predecessors leading the way.
It was the combination of traditional Hollywood cinema cross-pollinating with European filmmakers and indie exploitation that allowed for the genre growth we still enjoy today.
So, that concludes my selections of good vampire films from 1965-1970. But now I turn it over to you: what 60s vampire films hold a special stake/place in your undead heart? Be sure to tell me in the comments.
And you may also enjoy my list of Good Vampire Movies from 1960-1965 and 5 Movies Like Nosferatu, in addition the honorable mentions below:
Honorable Mentions: ‘Jonathan’, ‘Scars of Dracula’, ‘Dr. Terrors House of Horrors’, ‘Devils of Darkness’, ‘Cave of the Living Dead’, ‘Blood Bath’, ‘Billy The Kid vs. Dracula’ Blood of the Vampires’, The Hand of Night’.
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