Grave of the Vampire (1974)





Another vampire movie today, one of the (surely) thousands of sadly similar bloodsucker genre films churned out in the 1970s during the height of Ye Olde Vampire Mania (which subsided for a long time until Twilight made it cool again for vampires to bite people and wear eyeshadow). Grave of the Vampire, almost predictably, is neither very good nor very bad, it just is, and I promise that you will completely forget about it within hours of seeing it.

Let's get it on...

We open in 1940, somewhere in New England, where we see two young kids in love sneaking off to make out in a graveyard late at night. The boy has a ring and a proposal for the girl, and they celebrate their engagement with some heavy petting and window-steaming in the back seat of his father's '37 Nash. Romantic at the moment, yes, but later she's going to resent him for proposing in a cemetery (that's just not the sort of thing a woman tells her girlfriends when she's showing off the rock).


Don't they have MakeOut Point here?

As they mack on each other, a nearby crypt opens and a well-dressed dead man emerges (classic vampire movie intro, complete with spooky organ music and pointless dry ice fog). The awoken vampire attacks and kills the boy, using his superhuman strength to yank off a car door and toss the kid around like a sweater-wearing rag doll. He then advances on the girl, who in typical movie fashion, makes no effort to run or defend herself in any way. The monster drags her into a hole and rapes her (!).


Out he comes.

Later, in the hospital, the traumatized girl is visited by a hunky, square-jawed police detective (is this our film's hero?). The detective tells us that the girl identified her attacker as some two-bit hood that died in a subway accident three years ago. His boss, of course, tells him he'll lose his pension if he pursues that sort of George Noory crazytalk. To my surprise, the detective is not the hero, as we see him die in the next scene as he tries to poke around that crypt at night.


The detective with the girl.

Now, as we all know, when a man and a woman like each other they hug and then the stork brings a baby to the door nine months later, so it's no shocker that the girl is pregnant with the vampire's love-child. Sadly, the doctor wants her to get an abortion as the fetus is a "dead thing" inside of her (how he can tell this when she's only a few days pregnant is beyond me). The girl freaks out and checks herself out of the hospital, she's not going to have no doctor mess with her baby (she's sure it's her now-murdered boyfriend's, but we know better).


The doctor's office is pretty bare, though he is quite patriotic (and that's a framed, over-matted picture of Eisenhower there on the left).

Fast-forward nine months to the birth as she pops out a boy at home (bloody details not seen, and thankfully so) . The baby is ashen in color and won't drink her milk, but the desperate girl discovers by accident that the baby will take human blood (dumdumdum!). So, being the good mom, she feeds him blood (her own mostly) and he grows up big and strong (though "different" than the other kids). After 30 or so years, however, the mom dies and he's on his own (and yes, I assume she stopped feeding him her own blood at some point, probably when the kid was old enough to chase down, kill, and drain prostitutes and homeless bums on his own).


The bonds of motherhood are indeed strong.

And now it's 1974 and our sickly pale baby has grown up to be a hulking, floppy-haired, beefsteak stud. He's currently going under the alias James Eastman (for some reason) and he's been traveling around the nation for years after his mother's death, pursuing the vampire who sired him (he has some unresolved daddy issues). James is played by the boringly-named William Smith, a barely-passable c-grade actor known to me from 1973's Graveyard Tramps, where he was just as smarmy and vacuous as he is here.


James (that's about as expressive as he gets).

As it turns out, his vampire father is currently a professor at a New England college somewhere (there are no geographical references anywhere in this movie). The undead killer is living by the name of Lockwood now, and he's a teacher in folklore and mythology (of course he is...). With his high forehead, poofy hair, pale skin, and steely eyes, Lockwood could pass for one of the Cullens, but that was "the look" for modern vampires back in the '70s. We learn later that Lockwood has been "alive" since at least the 17th century, and his wife was burned at Salem for being a witch.


Lockwood.

James poses as a student and signs up for his class, where he meets Lockwood for the first time. James gets an in-class conversation going about vampires, attempting to goad Lockwood into tipping his hand, but the wiley old bloodsucker is too smart for that. Big class, are there really that many people interested in taking a liberal arts evening extension class on folklore? And I assume he's only teaching night classes because he can't go out in the sun (oh, he's one of those vampires...).


Must be an easy elective.

It's never explained why was this vampire was in that crypt for three years before emerging back in 1940. Was he actually "dead" for those three years? I didn't think you could kill a vampire with anything but holy water and stakes, so maybe he was living in that crypt for all that time, coming out to feed occasionally? If so, then why did he eventually give up the bachelor life of squatting in a cold stone tomb to buy a big mansion in the suburbs and work at a college? Was it just to have ready-access to nubile young victims? Young blood is tastier than old blood? I want to know!


Vampires use mousse?

Ok, a vampire's gotta eat, so we see Lockwood out one night looking for snacks. He kills one young girl on campus and then later goes to a neighboring town to attack and kill an inordinately hot redhead librarian (rarely find those four words in the same sentence). So, let's think about this for a second. We've seen Lockwood kill/drain at least two people in just a week's time (internal dialogue refs). Let's be generous and say that he needs to "feed" four times a month, and he's been "out of the crypt" so to speak since 1940 and it's now 1974. So, in the last 34 years he's killed at least 1,632 people, and probably many, many more. Don't you think someone would have noticed all the missing people by now? Is he the only active vampire in the area? Imagine the unexplained death toll if there were, say, a dozen equally-hungry vampires alive in America at the same time (almost 20k dead a year, moving vampires right up there with car crashes and over-masturbation as the leading causes of death for young people).


Redheads have yummy blood.

Anyway, taking time out from his revenge-quest, James goes to a house party with Anita, a girl he just met in the folklore class (he's the type of guy that random hot girls invite to parties, lucky bastard). It's a pretty lame party, if I may say so, there's warm imported beer, there's stale guava dip, and two of the whitest black people in America groove weakly to some instrumental Yardbirds. James is a stoic block of ice and he just can't loosen up, surely emotionally stunted from a childhood of not being able to play with other kids because he had to drink blood and all that.


Git down on it!

Anita seems to have a thing for cold and distant older men and gives it a go with James anyway. They do share an interest in vampires and black witchcraft, though Anita seems a bit too perky about bloodsucking undead fiends for James' tastes (because, you know, he is one) and any chance at romance between them is shot down pretty early. On a campus full of young fratboy studs, Anita surely can do better than this brooding, 30something hunk of plywood whose toes staunchly refuse to tap along to the funky beat from her 8-track player.


Anita chats up James.

However, while Anita has zero chance with James, her roommate Anne is another story. Anne is a much older (James' age) woman, an English professor at the school, who for some completely inexplicable reason can't afford her own place and has to share a rinky-dink apartment with some bubby, alcoholic, oversexed co-ed (tell me one college that would even allow tenured professors to live with students).


Anne (meh).

Anne cooks spaghetti over at James' place and they get to know each other. She notices that he likes to eat raw meat, but that's ok with her, she's not the judgmental type. As the clock is ticking on this movie, love sweet love rears its swoony head pretty quickly, and before you know it James and Anne are nekkid and mauling each other like two muskrats during mating season. During the post-coital snuggle, James fights the primal urge to bite Anne's neck, showing us that, while he's been able to control it so far, the vampiric DNA inside him is still strong.


So, since he's a vampire like Lockwood, if he gets Anne pregnant, will the baby be like him? Does it skip a generation?

From across town, Lockwood somehow "senses" that James is giving Anne an injection of penis-illin and is enraged (he's had his creepy undead eye on Anne for some time). He comes to her apartment at 3am, but finds only Anita home. As it turns out, Anita is happy that Lockwood is here as she was meaning to confront him anyway. She unwisely calls him out as a vampire (alone, in a room with vampire, not smart) but she's not trying to ruin him, she's trying to be his vampire bride! "I want you to make me a vampire.", she says breathlessly. Now, men are men, no matter if they are vampires or not, and Lockwood isn't interested in settling down in a long-term relationship. "The relationship would become a bit stale, don't you think?", he says, hinting that after a few centuries the sex would become oh-so boring. Anita responds that she'd be willing to keep it spicy and do the weird stuff if she were his bride. "I love you!" she implores and forces a kiss on him.


Lockwood looks for a loophole to get himself out of this marital trap.

Lockwood, however, sees only his own commitment issues and kills Anita with a knife slash to the throat and then drains her blood. Wait, sumabitch, this is Twilight! Except without the emo music! Oh, how I wish that Edward the Sparkly Vampire would have just throat-cut that whiney little hoodie chick Bella when he first met her, would have saved us all three more movies full of her pensive lip-chewing gazes and her sycophant obsession with dead things.


Raahhh!!!

The next morning, Anne goes back home, undresses in the dark (cop out), and takes a shower. She finds the dead Anita in there with her (in what must surely be the largest shower stall ever installed in any apartment) and freaks out. Lockwood is still in the apartment, as well, but he's scared off when Anne starts wailing.


Poor Anita, you just have to wait for the right time to confess your love.

The movie comes off rails now. Some time passes (though less than a few months as that's as long as the semester class is) and we see that Lockwood is having an after-class extra-credit sťance at his house. It has to be late at night, remember, because Lockwood melts in the sun (or turns sparkly, whichever). How hard is it to never go out in sun? Wouldn't it be pretty hard to have a normal life or hold down a job? In so many of these movies the vampire is independently wealthy or has an elite profession, living in some huge Gothic mansion and riding around in a chauffeured car, but where do they get all the money? How can Lockwood even be a professor at a college? Sure, he's only teaching night classes, but how did he get the job to begin with if he can only go out at night? Or can he go out when it's cloudy? Did he do all his interviewing on stormy days? And who does his shopping? Does his tailor have evening hours? Why do I even care?


Lockwood's mansion, though note the palm trees in the background, not really native to New England, eh?

Anyway, it's a couples' night out at the sťance, with Anne and James, along with two other couples. Anne is pretty blasť here, apparently having her roommate brutally killed and finding her body in her shower and then nearly being killed herself was no big thing. And considering that James knows that Lockwood is a vampire, and has to know that he killed Anita and tried to kill Anne, his agreeing to come to this man's house seems pretty stupid. And was he "invited in", isn't that part of the established vampire mythology?


The students assemble.

Anne is picked to be the medium as she's the most pliable to suggestion and she's the only one who chose to dress up like Betsy Ross ("You make a groovy medium.", one of the others tells her). Lockwood is rocking his high-color satin cape now, and uses his best Bela Lugosi voice to entrance his guests into the "proper frame of mind". This is all really as dumb as it sounds, and this movie is full of these really asinine and pointless moments. The script was supposedly written by David Chase, he of The Sopranos and the shelf full of Emmy statues, but the director is also credited with a "script treatment". That's Hollywood-speak for a complete re-write, but the original scriptwriter's name is retained to keep the WGA from unleashing Holy Legal Fire. So, while in her trance, Anne channels her dead roommate Anita, who calls out Lockwood as a killer vampire. "Cast Anita out!" Lockwood commands her before she can incriminate him further, and it works. Anne passes out and James takes her upstairs to rest.


Anne possessed (either that or she's thinking about a shirtless Matt Damon again...).

Meanwhile, Lockwood locks the doors and admits to the other students that he's a vampire and that he's going to kill them all. The slaughter commences, with Lockwood brushing aside the guys' ineffective attacks and then finishing off the girls, who, of course, just stand there and let him kill them without so much as lifting a finger in self-defense (psht, women...).


Random blonde chick becomes an after-dinner treat.

James bursts in too late to stop the carnage, but in time to have a dramatic reunion with his father. "I'm your son, your son conceived in a grave!", he screams at Lockwood, who doesn't really seem worried about having to pay back child support now. It's then a fight to the death (re-death?) between father and son. James loosens his tie as Lockwood starts hissing and gloves are tossed down. While Lockwood's distended canines are indeed impressive, it's distracting how be keeps blinking, as for some reason I firmly believe that vampires shouldn't blink (or pee, or burp, or vomit, or have acne). Lockwood starts it off by setting James on fire! Watch as the stuntman keeps his face away from the camera as he performs a pretty effective stop-drop-and-roll demonstration (Pam, this would make such a more amusing OSHA safety film, no?). [Editor Pam: Yes, it would. Workers need instructions on the hazards of vampires and how to deal with them, it's something few people know about.]


Fight!

Both fighters have super-strength and The Rage, so neither can really gain an advantage. Their duel is a seriously brutal slugfest with the two actors really going at it balls-out with great gusto. Guys are thrown through windows, kicked down staircases, slammed against walls, drug down hallways with chains, faces are punched, eyes are gouged, and feelings are surely deeply hurt. I love these oldschool one-on-ones, free of the CGI and slo-mo and heavy metal music that you get nowadays, just two underpaid actors trying to (nearly) kill each other on camera to earn a paycheck. In the end, James gets a broken table leg and jabs his father through the heart. As the stake goes into his chest, the irredeemable Lockwood's final words to his son are, "Be damned!", which is real nice.


Serves you right, that redhead librarian chick was hot, you know how rare those are?

With his father dead by his own hands, James then transforms into a full-fledged vampire, becoming what he's always hated (huh, never read that in Stoker). Oh, so does this explain how the vampire aging thing works? Before "turning" did James grow like a normal man, even though he's had vampire genes in his system? Are there "stages" to vampire development, can you become one just by killing another vampire? Does it have to be your father? And now that he is one, does this mean James' biological clock stops, so to speak, just like Lockwood's and Edward's, and he can never grow older? Anyway, I'm bored with this. The movie ends as James is walking slowly up the stairs towards the camera, fangs long and eyes wide, in the single most effective shot of the entire movie (sucks that it comes in the last half-minute). The closing card reads, "The End. Or is it?", and part of me wishes it wasn't.


Ohh, spooky.


The End.

Written in February 2010 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.



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