By Doug Gibson
This is an interesting 1945 vampire tale, only 59 minutes, from Republic Pictures. It's semi-obscure and few retailers carry it (I've been waiting years to catch it on Turner Classic Movies) but it's just interesting enough to have a chapter in McFarland's "Son of Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film" and Frank Dello Stritto gives it a couple of pages in his collection of essays "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore."
Plot involves saloonkeeper Webb Fallon, a haggard-looking white man with impeccable manners, who runs a small saloon in an African port. There have been vampire attacks on the natives, and they are getting restless. They speak the language of drums, and the drums spell Fallon (John Abbott) as their chief suspect.
They are right of course. Fallon is a vampire, centuries old and very tired. He bemoans his fate but also accepts it with chilling simplicity. When he sets his sights on the pretty fiance of a young Englishman, it looks as if nothing can stop him.
What makes The Vampire's Ghost so interesting is that it deviates from the standard vampire plot made famous by Bela Lugosi. Vampire Fallon can move around in the light and sleeps in a bed with native soil from his grave by the bed.
As mentioned, he's sympathetic early but Webb is able to give his vampire a sort of polite heartlessness that underscores the undead sociopath that lies beneath his gentleman English exterior. In one scene, Fallon ruthlessly and quickly dispatches a boat captain and saloon dancer who have cheated him at cards. He also plays with the boyfriend (Charles Grodin) who knows that Fallon wants his fiance (Peggy Stewart). Fallon the vampire seems detached, as if he is repeating a game he has played many times before. He relies on sapping the inner strength of his potential victims. The languid, remote location of his life (Africa) underscores his soft deadly power.
If you can find this film, it's worth a buy, particularly if you enjoy the changing genres of vampire film. Surprisingly, in its own quiet way, The Vampire's Ghost predates Twilight. It's an example of well a fiilm can be made on a tiny budget. This would be an excellent addition to UEN's Sci-Fi Friday roster. Watch the movie online here.
Notes: The Vampires Ghost was written by Leigh Brackett, who wrote Star Wars 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Roy Barcroft, who played the doomed boat captain, later played a sheriff in the 60s cult film Billy the Kid versus Dracula. The Vampire's Ghost, directed by Lesley Selander, was released on May 21, 1945. In the early 1970s, it played on the TV movie show Creature Features paired with House of Frankenstein. Another good blog review: http://houseinrlyeh.blogspot.com/2009/02/in-short-vampire-ghost-1945.htm