When writer and director David Chase discusses his life’s accomplishments, I’m sure he talks mostly about The Sopranos. Maybe he occasionally touches on The Rockford Files or Kolchak: The Night Stalker. But I suspect he rarely, if ever, talks about his first movie screenplay, for 1972’s Grave of the Vampire.
This is an odd movie. In keeping with one of my theories concerning low-budget productions, this plot is weirder than a vampire movie a major studio would crank out at the time. At least, I’m pretty sure a studio like Universal wouldn’t have a vampire rape a woman, impregnating her. I didn’t say it was a good idea, only a novel one.
The baby grows up to become William Smith. This appears to be the first vampire picture he appeared in, though he would dip a toe in the genre again repeatedly over his long career, appearing in such doubtlessly classy fare as The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula.
Smith is functional here, but not much more than that. He’s a beefy guy—looks like he could be a pro wrestler. Unfortunately, his performance is largely of the caliber I have come to expect from wrestlers who act. His line readings are largely flat and smirky, except for the occasional explosion of rage at moments of high melodrama. For example, imagine a wrestler bellowing, “I’m your son, Lockwood!”
For you see, Smith is a half-vampire with daddy issues. Living on blood and uncooked meat, he has tracked dear ol’ dad (Michael Pataki) to a university where he teaches a night class on folklore (I guess you gotta go with what you know). Smith is immediately pursued by two fellow students (Anita Jacoby and Ann Arthur) who happen to be roommates. And faster than you can say “threesome”, he is bedding Arthur while Jacoby tries to blackmail Pataki into turning her into a vampire. Wait…what?
That development is representative of some of the unexpected twists offered in Grave of the Vampire. The movie isn’t above average (even for low-budget fare) but it does throw the audience some curveballs. Whether I would recommend a viewing varies wildly depending upon whom I am addressing, but I couldn’t help but be charmed somewhat by a film with a line as bizarre as “Why can’t dead people eat cake? They’re just like us, only crossed over to the other side.”
Dir: John Hayes
Starring William Smith, Michael Pataki, Lyn Peters
Watched on Shout Factory blu-ray