Although the following Double Feature covered is not among the greatest, I had a very strong interest in where and when it played. Thankfully, my curiosity led to the discovery of some very cool ads that seriously beef up the tale of what is a pairing of an interesting footnote in British Horror and a film made in the Philippines that might have not seen the light of day if it were not for this show. Stories like this make the history of Exploitation very interesting and a delight to research on.
Blood Suckers and Blood Thirst was one of the many Horror double bills that flew through the American Drive In and B-Movie House scene through the Early to Mid 70’s. Originally released by Chevron in 1971, who’s track record included Ann and Eve, I A Woman Part 2, and other imported erotic delights, their attempt to break through into a more mainstream market was a smart move that sadly under-performed. Getting a leading movie with marquee-value names like Peter Cushing was one thing, but when it was reportedly a half-finished flick that first Director Robert Hartford-Davies disowned (after the classic Corruption with Cushing in a serious over the top performance, I can see why!) that was put together with a Black and White film made in the Philippines that may have been fine but possibly better fit for the Late Show, it had all the marks of being a screen filler that sent that plan down to the Dead End part of Avenue B.
Sadly, the double bill was the work of a company that was about to close up shop possibly as Cinecom, the company that diversified beyond it’s theater-owning with both Chevron and the more Family-oriented Childhood Productions, was going into some financial troubles that would force it into Chapter 11 and sell it’s theaters to other companies by Late 73-Early 74 (Youngstown, OH had a number of them that changed ownership, by that time, for example). With Hemisphere already rich at it’s “Blood Bank” with it’s grand 4-film circus, one might see this as an attempt to stir up some competition, but this double bill was only a couple of drips that were left over that are at least with a little merit, if only to students of Exploitation history with a taste for Horror of the Late 60’s. Paragon (Not to be confused with the video company) took over the Distribution of this film, pairing it up with other movies it had in future runs on triple bills…a couple we will see later in the ads.
Although Blood Suckers had a very troubled history being shot as Incense for the Damned in 1969 and later titled Freedom Seeker, there were some strong performances with a weak script based on Simon Raven’s classic story “Doctors Wear Scarlet” thanks to the always-reliable Cushing, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Mower, Johnny Sekka, and Alex Davion along with a few nice looking ladies to move things onward. Centering around the story of an Oxford Don Greek Mythology expert who goes AWOL in Greece who gets caught up in an evil Vampire Drug Orgy group (Mower) and his friends who find him, every box gets marked including a Saucy Sadistic Satanic Babe in Boots named Chriseis who leads the Don down the evil path and the back story of how our expert was the respected son of a foreign secretary who was going to marry a proper girl (Madeline Hinde) who just happens to be the daughter of the Provost of Lancashire College (Cushing). An extra topical alternative kick in this downward spiral is added into the Don’s nature as his friends wondered if he was impotent or even Bi in a couple of scenes.
And there’s long scenes of donkey rides, but kind of excusable considering the scenery.
Although it is one of those films that tries to demonize the then-hot topic of Youth into the Occult on the Road to Death (certainly convincing in an era of Manson and many lesser news stories of the day), there are moments when the mainstream is told to look at itself as well, but once again in this very half and half film it’s not well developed, and it’s possible that the Producer had to cobble it all together for it to play anywhere after the first round of filming reportedly ran out of funds (my guess, possibly due to the cost of the talent and filming in exotic locations).
Director Davies is known to Exploitation fans for the aforementioned Corruption, but mention should be made of The Yellow Teddy Bears (aka Gutter Girls and The Thrill Seekers in the US Exploitation scene), That Kind of Girl (a favorite of the Early 60’s Roadshow circuit bored of the Mom and Dad era films), and Black Gunn.
The Assistant Director was David Bracknell, who was also AD on Lust for a Vampire and Director classics like The Party’s Over and other films including some of some Carry On films who later worked for great movies including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Quest for Fire…wonder if this was off his resume.
In real life, Mower actually went to school in Oxford – Southfield Grammar School, not the University, though.
Usually, most alternative group leaders were pretty dark types in real life, but one look at the hot Vampire in this flick, you can see where that message would have got lost. If you were young and experimenting at the time and caught up in someone looking like this, you too would be interested in dropping out and dropping acid for Satan, or something like that. Say Hell-O to Imogen Hassall!
The Drug Orgy of the group that the Don was a part of was a nice touch, although you can tell that it was something that might have been put together at the last moment. The sacrifice at the end of the scene with the masks that might make one think of Last House on Dead End Street’s great murder scenes was also very effective. Made in 1969, and released in a time when Charles Manson was making the news, this was something that fitted the era perfectly although here it was more attractive.
By the way, the ring is going to be an important part of this story not in the film itself, but when we get to the promotion…and you already know what that means!
The Florida Chapter of Satan’s Children could learn from the LGBT-friendly world of Chriseis!
In a film like this, you have to throw in more mysterious trouble. Cue the old lady guiding the group of thugs around to kill anyone who gets in their way. She serves a role that’s kind of like the old witch in Demon Witch Child without being caught, but not explained fully in the plot.
Johnny Sekka is great as Mower’s student and actually has some decent action scenes which may not win awards for effectiveness, but are still pretty good for what they are – especially the showdown with Hassall which looks like he really enjoyed it (wink, wink)!
Maybe there was a reason why he missed that chance with the Professor’s daughter after all!!!
By the time the story is brought back to Britain, it seemed that all was back to normal until the final reel when Mower goes into Cookie Monster Scene Chewing Mode against Cushing in one of the film’s true memorable moments. Of course, there’s a lot of explaining to do about Vampirism and sex by Edward Woodward (from The Wicker Man) which look like that it was thrown into the script, but the power of the final moments seriously makes the viewer forget that there was any scientific explanation at all. The anti-Academic rant is very convincing and the dramatics and over-acting are great, leading one to believe that Cushing was preparing for his standout role in Twins of Evil when he yells among the commotion.
Although Sekka had his chance, Mower wins the Daughter.
…and we know he’s thirsty.
And we already know what’s at the end with Peter Cushing giving it all in the performance!
As I love to go around looking for ads to see where it played (Kind of like what The Gang of Four might say – “At home, he’s a tourist”!) here’s a gallery of ads to bring you back in time. The exploitation of this film naturally led to performances in Cinecom theaters across The US in it’s first run with a cool gimmick…A Blood Suckers Ring!!! I hope to see one offered on-line soon.
After 1972, Distribution was picked up by Paragon resulting in some cool triple plays!
One of the greatest things about the ads is the use of the “Three See”-style technique used to pull in the audience, used at the top. “It’s way out!” was also a hip phrase at the time, but the extra ring gimmick, possibly inspired by the use of a ring in the film, was cute.
Anderson, Indiana, 5-14-71 with the rings at a Cinecom Theater!
5-16-71, Cincinnati with the rings!
5-12-71, Indianapolis – This Drive In showing added some AIP class to the program showing how it’s done. The eye at the top was a cool touch!
Note the extra eye-grabbing line in the ad which is a lesser-known variation of “Torn from Today’s Headlines!!!”
5-21-71, Danville, Virginia
5-28-71, Burlington, NC – A triple Bill at the 70 with Mad Doctor of Blood Island!
6-6-71, Terre Haute, Indiana at another Cinecom Theater and with the rings!
12-18-71, El Paso with a show including Leonard Kirt’s Death by invitation. Kirt is better known for a series of films released by Distribpix as well as a couple of Horror films that are among the world of Something Weird Video (Curse of the Headless Horseman and Carnival of Blood – both forming it’s own double bill!)
Before I move on, here’s a few lesser playdates that should be noted…more in Part 2!
3-17-72, Youngstown, OH with The Blood of Dracula’s Castle (“Mmmmmmm! Delicious!”)
3-3-72, St. Joseph, MO with Leonard Kirt’s Death by Invitation! This was one of the all-paragon Triple features.