Curse of the Undead

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Curse of the Undead
CurseOfTheUndead1959.jpg
Directed by Edward Dein
Produced by Joseph Gershenson
Written by Edward Dein
Mildred Dein
Starring Eric Fleming
Michael Pate
Kathleen Crowley
John Hoyt
Bruce Gordon
Jimmy Murphy
Music by Irving Gertz
Cinematography Ellis W. Carter
Edited by George Gittens
Distributed by Universal International Pictures
Release dates May 1959
Running time 79 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Curse of the Undead is a 1959 American vampire/Western film directed by Edward Dein and starring Eric Fleming, Michael Pate, Kathleen Crowley, John Hoyt, Bruce Gordon, and Jimmy Murphy.

Plot[edit]

The Old West, circa 1880. In an unnamed town, young girls are dying of a mysterious wasting disease. Dr John Carter (John Hoyt) and his daughter Dolores (Kathleen Crowley) have been tending to patients for hours on end, but lost one patient an hour ago. Another patient, Cora (Nancy Kilgas), looks like she will pull through after Preacher Dan Young's (Eric Fleming) nightlong vigil; he and the Carters are offered breakfast and coffee by Cora's parents (Alan Reynolds, Amzie Strickland). In the kitchen, however, they hear Cora scream – by the time they get to her room, she is sprawled dead on her bed, her window open. As he kneels to pray, Dan notices two small, bloody holes in Cora’s throat...

Returning to his ranch along with Dolores, Doc Carter finds his son Tim (Jimmy Murphy) extremely upset after the actions of their neighbor Buffer, who has been doing everything possible to get his hands on the Carter property, including damming a stream on the Carter ranch and having his men assault anyone who complains. To restrain his hot-headed son, the Doc drives back into town to have a word with the local sheriff (Edward Binns). The Sheriff’s discussion with Buffer (Bruce Gordon) in the local saloon proves less than successful, however, and a black-clad stranger (Michael Pate) follows Doc Carter’s buckboard. By the time he gets home, the Doc is dead, his throat bloody...

Already grief-stricken over the loss of his father, Tim snaps after learning that a fence has been torn down and cattle are escaping. Convinced Buffer is responsible, Tim plies himself with booze and then goes after Buffer in the saloon; unfortunately Buffer is a much better shot, and Tim is killed.

Alone now, Dolores hangs up "Gun Wanted" posters all over town, offering $100 to anyone who can gun down the "murderer"; the stranger picks one up and heads into the saloon for a talk with Buffer. After the stranger promises that he’ll kill Buffer if he takes the job, one of the rancher's men shoots at the stranger, apparently missing. As the stranger leaves Buffer sacks the man who fired the shot, despite his insisting he hit his target dead center. Buffer scoffs – nobody can survive that...

The stranger, identifying himself as Drake Robey, arrives at the Carter ranch to take the job to kill Buffer. As he does he reacts to a cross made from a thorn set on a button worn by Dan. When asked, Dan says he received it upon his ordination; apparently the thorn came from the site of the Crucifixion. Despite Dan’s protests, Dolores insists on hiring Robey and has him move into the house. That night, Robey sneaks into Dolores’ room and drinks some of her blood.

Next morning Dan goes to ask Dolores to sack Robey, but is surprised to find her looking tired, complaining of cold and very compliant with his wishes. The gunman leaves after refusing payment for the time she had hired him for. Dolores and Dan spend the day going over her father's papers, looking for his will. One of the papers found is a map showing the Carter property had once belonged to a Spanish family, the Robles; the family apparently sold up after suffering "some kind of tragedy". As it’s growing late, Dan takes the paperwork, including a locked safety box, home with him to continue the search and try and put the paperwork in order.

After Dan leaves, Robey comes to see Dolores; claiming his eyesight is going in bright light (especially sunlight), he talks Dolores into accepting him as a night range-rider who can keep an eye on Buffer and his men while the rest of the ranch-hands are sleeping. She offers him the cemetery caretaker’s old cottage to stay in as long as he doesn’t mind being near the dead; Robey is amused at the thought, saying "The dead don’t bother me – it’s the living that causes me trouble."

As Dan looks through the paperwork he knocks over the safety box, cracking it open. In it, he finds a diary written in 1860 by Don Miguel Robles (Edward Colmans), the former owner of the land. According to the diary, Don Robles sent his son Drago to Madrid on business without his new bride Isabella (Jeanna Cross). In Drago's absence, Isabella turned to Drago's brother Roberto (Henry Delgado) for companionship. When Drago returned and discovered their relationship, he killed his brother with a dagger; unable to live with his deed, Drago later committed suicide with the same dagger. Over the next six months the district was plagued by the mysterious deaths of young girls. One night Don Robles heard Isabella scream and came into her room to find a man bent over her – Drago Robles, dead some six months - who fled, leaving Isabella drained of blood. In order to end the curse, Don Robles plunged a silver dagger through Drago’s heart as he lay in his coffin. After confessing his actions to the priest he found out that he needed to use a wooden stake instead to destroy a vampire – but on returning to the coffin he found it empty except for the dagger. Confirming the story is a photograph of Don Drago Robles hidden in the diary – it’s Drake Robey in Spanish clothing...

As Dan reads Don Robles’ diary, Robey/Robles summons a sleeping Dolores to him to feed from, but is interrupted by the sheriff. After hearing the sheriff denounce him to Dolores, Robey follows him back to town and kills him with his bite. As Dan starts back to his house after examining the body, he is pursued by an unseen Robey; in a panic he races for the church, and Robey is caught in the shadow of the church cross and flees. Back in his house Dan is confronted by Robey; the vampire defends his actions, protesting "What I am is not my own choice. You should pity me, not judge me in my torment. Do you think I wanted this?" before attacking Dan, but flees with his photograph and the Rancho Robles map when interrupted by the preacher’s housekeeper.

When Dan tells Dolores about the evening's events, Dolores (unsurprisingly) doesn't believe him. Dan promptly drags her to the family crypt to find Drago Robles’ coffin, which proves to be empty except for a silver dagger – just as the diary had said. When Dan insists they look in every coffin for Robey – including her father and brother – Dolores explodes and throws him out. After Dan leaves to get a court order to do so, Dolores, apparently weakened by blood loss, her anger at Dan’s insisting the coffins be opened, and possibly Robey’s hypnotic influence, collapses. Robey emerges from one of the Carter coffins to feed from Dolores before carrying her back home.

After Dolores awakens, confused at how she got home from the crypt, Robey shows her the Rancho Robles map; the stream Buffer has been damming up is on her property, not Buffer’s. Robey goes into town to show the map to Buffer, who refuses to accept it and shoots Robey. Robey fires back, killing Buffer, and walks away unscathed.

After reporting back to Dolores – claiming his cigar case stopped Buffer’s bullet after she sees a bullet hole in his vest – Robey learns that Dan is heading for the county seat. Banning, California, to get a court order to open the graves. Robey promises to join with Dolores to stop him, not saying that he plans to stop his rival permanently. Warned by Dolores’ housekeeper, Dan makes preparations. Robey heads for town to "talk" Dan out of getting that court order (followed by Dolores), but Dan won't be stopped. They challenge each other to a shoot-out, and Dan fires first, just as Dolores arrives. Robey collapses and disintegrates into dust, leaving only his empty clothes behind. Dan walks over to Robey's clothes and picks up his bullet... which has his thorn cross on it.

Cast[edit]

Themes[edit]

Curse of the Undead deliberately sets itself out as different not only because it is a horror Western, but because it returns to European vampire folklore rather than rely on Universal's mythology or the Hammer version of Dracula which had been released the previous year. Robey is a vampire not because he was the victim of another vampire, but because he committed the mortal sin of suicide - well into the nineteenth century suicides were buried at crossroads to prevent them from returning as vampires.[citation needed] Because of this, none of Robey's victims will be returning from the dead. Also unlike the film iconography of the previous fifty-odd years, Robey is not incinerated by exposure to the daylight; the pre-cinema vampires were perfectly capable of walking in the sunlight. The final method of Robey's destruction is definitely unique, but appropriate for both the myth and the setting. Preacher Dan's thorn cross, supposedly originating from the site of the Crucifixion, is destructive to the vampire both because of its form (a cross) and its source (Calvary); its supernatural powers are made clear by the fact that it survives being shot from a gun (a normal thorn would have been destroyed). Placing the cross on a bullet used in an old-fashioned Western shootout simply makes it part of the setting.

Several elements remain in place, however. Robey is repelled by a cross, and could potentially be destroyed by having a stake driven through his heart. He is also fangless (a development in Hammer's Dracula).

Production[edit]

Curse of the Undead started as a gag idea by husband-and-wife team Edward and Mildred Dein called Eat Me Gently, described by Edward as "a Western horror story about a fag vampire running around the desert eating little boys".[1] Universal-International producer Joseph Gershenson heard about the idea from his wife and quickly phoned Edward Dein: "Hey, smartass. The good stuff you don't give us. I want to make this picture."[2] According to an early studio announcement the film was intended as a satire of the vampire theme set in the Old West,[3] but the final version is fairly serious.

Shooting was finished in only 18 days.[4]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rotting in the Crypt: Vampire Mini-Reviews" in Midnight Marquee #49, Summer 1995, p83
  2. ^ "Rotting in the Crypt: Vampire Mini-Reviews" in Midnight Marquee #49, Summer 1995, p83
  3. ^ "Rotting in the Crypt: Vampire Mini-Reviews" in Midnight Marquee #49, Summer 1995, p83
  4. ^ Curse of the Undead at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]