([Young] Hannah, Queen of the Vampires;
Vampire Woman; La Tumba de la Isla Maldita)
But I have to admit: inside this terrible little movie is a mediocre movie, struggling to get out.
I understand that director Ray Danton, better known as the star of Super Agent Secret..., er, Super Secret Dra.. ummm, some spy movie that became a popular episode of MST3K, pieced this movie together from a Spanish horror flick called La tumba de la isla maldita/Tomb of the Cursed Island. It's possible that at least some of the movie's lapses are the fault of the editing, because there are some moments of decent filmmaking in it, moments that really made me sit up and take notice. The film's biggest problem is that it reveals its true villain even before the opening credits, a decision which undercuts the movie's later attempts at suspense. It would have been better to save the entire first ten minutes of the film for a flashback toward the end. In fact, the action of the movie seems to play out as though the audience was unaware of the prologue, and this leads me to wonder if the Spanish original wasn't structured much differently from Danton's cut.
Those disastrous opening minutes first show us Mark Damon, in a black robe, chanting bad Latin in a crypt with a marble tomb. Then come the credits, and afterwards we see a man dressed in animal skins scrabbling up a hill in near-total darkness. He looks as though he just stumbled in from the set of Dr. Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks.
Suddenly, we cut from the Wild Man to a man in modern dress, carrying a pistol, walking cautiously through a building full of ancient artworks. We will later find out that this is Professor Bolton, an archaeologist. What kind of archaeology he's doing at night, in a castle, with a gun, I'm sure I don't know. Perhaps the gun is a good idea, though, because he suddenly finds himself standing beneath the dripping carcass of a slaughtered black goat. Before he can quite pull himself together from the shock, he is surprised by the Wild Man, who pushes him down a hidden hole.
Here I noticed one of the movie's many inadvertent Good Points: usually in movies like this, characters walking through dark buildings will be carrying 50,000 Watt Directional CandlesTM, or suspiciously bright lanterns that somehow manage to behave like flashlights. Not this time. Bolton's lantern is incredibly puny, and is not enhanced by any special lighting effects. I was strangely grateful for this, though it made the action much harder to see. However, the lantern gets some magic properties when Bolton falls into the pit... not only doesn't it break, it manages to stay lit.
At the bottom of the hole is a hidden stairway. Bolton follows strange shadows up -- er, excuse me: down the stairway. Here's another bad lighting effect that actually enhances the feeling of unease: the stairway is lit and shot to resemble a flight of stairs going up, but when Bolton appears in the frame, we get the Escher-y shock of watching him go down the stairs. Bolton discovers the tomb we saw briefly before the credits, dominated by a huge marble sarcophagus. As he stoops to investigate, he is attacked from behind by Mark Damon and garrotted with a rope. Damon and the Wild Man place the Professor's corpse beneath the scaffolding which supports the huge coffin. Then they knock away the supports of the scaffolding, and several tons of marble collapse onto the poor man's body.
So much for the prologue. The next bit is very strong, though it leads nowhere; and in my opinion it should have been the real start of the film. Prof. Bolton's son, Chris, arrives on the small Turkish island from America. He arrives on a small, precarious-looking boat, and is dropped off onto an inhospitable shore. He stops for a long moment, watching the little boat disappear. He feels utterly alone, and we share his feeling. Around him are some fishermen, and an old blind sailor mounfully playing the concertina. Chris pathetically attempts to greet them in English and ask directions. They ignore him. Just as the situation is becoming intolerable, a man drives up on a horse-cart and calls him by name. It's Mark Damon -- I suppose I should call him Peter now, since that turns out to be his character's name.
Peter's arrival is something of an anticlimax. We already know what he's been up to. If we didn't, we might trust him the way Chris does. Then there might be some suspense in the movie, as cracks gradually begin to appear in Peter's reasonable facade. As it is, we know Peter's friendly concern is an act, so the best and subtlest parts of Mark Damon's performance are wasted.
Peter, it turns out, is a failed writer who had been assisting the Professor in his work. The Professor had had the idea of luring local workers to the "cursed" island by providing them with opportunities they didn't normally have, like a well-equipped workshop and a local school. Peter, apparently more skilled with his hands than with a typewriter, keeps the workshop, while Peter's sister Mary is the school teacher. Now, they are the only outsiders left on the island The Professor had gradually earned the trust of this suspicious and backward community with his wisdom, but now that he's dead, the locals watch his newly-arrived son with scorn.
Peter takes Chris to the crypt, where the Professor was killed. And here we have a wonderful, horrible moment that would have been even better if we weren't prepared for it: after all this time, the Professor's body is still there, under the coffin! The whole edifice was too heavy to move. Though it's never stated how long he's been there, we can guess (with a shudder): since no one knew of the existence of the tomb, days would have passed before the Professor was found; then time would have passed as they notified Chris and tried to movie the sarcophagus. They would have needed to go to the mainland to send a message to Chris, provided they even knew where to look. Chris would probably have taken a day or two to get the word, then another day or two to book passage to such a remote area. And imagine: no one told him his father was still there!!
The locals refuse to help Chris rescue his father's remains, because they know who's buried in the sarcophagus. It's Hannah, wife of the 13th-century French crusader-king Louis VII...
[NOTE -- either they got the date wrong, or they're off by 2 Louis-es. Louis VII went on the Second Crusade in 1148 with his then-wife, Eleanor of Acquitaine. Eleanor, far from being a vampire, ended up as the wife of England's Henry II, and mother of Kings Richard I Lion-Heart and John. Perhaps they meant Louis IX, who went on the Sixth Crusade in 1248, and died in North Africa in 1270?]
Louis had intended to marry Hannah in the Holy Land, but Hannah and her retinue were stranded on the Island of Vampires. Louis' men destroyed all the vampires; but, according to legend, Louis himself was still too captivated by Hannah's beauty to have her killed. Instead he sealed her in her marble tomb, leaving on the coffin an inscription in curiously modern French. The fishermen now insist that if the tomb is disturbed, Hannah will rise and hunt for blood.
Chris is disgusted. However, that night he has a peculiar experience: investigating a noise, he is suddenly confronted by his father's corpse, dangling from the ceiling! The Wild Man laughs at him from a window. Chris pursues him, but loses him. Returning to the house with Peter, Chris is unable to find any trace of his father... who is, who must be, still buried beneath four tons of marble (not only do we never find out how the body got unstuck, it's also never explained how the body disappears again -- since we see the Wild Man run away, and Peter arrives on the scene far too quickly to have disposed of the corpse. Perhaps Jess Franco needed a Hanging Father for A Virgin Among the Living Dead, and stopped by to borrow it).
The next day, Peter does an admirable job of convincing the fishermen that they owe it to the Professor's memory to give him a decent burial. If we didn't know better, we'd think Peter was a pretty good guy... However, when they finally do begin to take apart the sarcophagus, they find Hannah inside -- as fresh as the day she was buried.
This is naturally a big shock for our rational hero Chris. He's the stock Unbeliever-Who-Shall-See-The-Error-Of-His-Ways. Previously, the script has given him one of the most incongruous lines ever spoken by an UWSSTEOHW: "My father believed in science! His faith [in it] was absolute!"
Of course, Hannah is a real vampire, and she's ready to awaken after 700 years of confinement. There's a very good moment as she draws her first, greedy breath after all those centuries. She turns into a green mist and floats out of her coffin, whereupon she changes into a wolf (all right, it's more like a doggy, but we'll call it a wolf). Her first victim in her lupine form is the dog of Abdul Hamid, the blind sailor.
Hannah's an interesting vampire: she's portrayed as a scavenger, hunting the young, the weak and the despairing. In her animal form, she's only able to prey on other animals. Even though she's supposed to be beautiful, she's closer to the monstrous leech-like creature of folklore than the powerful, sexy image of, say, Christopher Lee as Dracula.
Naturally, the blind man is the only one who can "see", as he insists on pointing out. "Put away your college books!" he sneers at Chris. The more this character says, the less impressive he becomes. Standing in silence, playing his concertina, he was imposing and mysterious. When he speaks, he sounds like somebody doing a bad Theodore Bikel impression. He's always saying things like, "You'll believe in vampires when Hannah sinks her teeth into you!", or "You'll think it's a joke, when the cold hands reach for your neck!", or "Go ahead, go to California; abandon your father and his tradition, and sing your lousy songs..." Er, wait a minute: that's more like Lawrence Olivier to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. But you get the idea.
In fact, all the locals become laughable stereotypes once they open their mouths. Early in the film, we were convinced that they were hostile and uncommunicative. Their silence made the island both forbidding and believeable. Once they start to speak, it becomes clear that they all speak perfect Hollywood English, and most of the convincing atmosphere of the movie disappears.
Anyway, standard vampire-movie stuff happens: The Wild Man attempts to abduct Mary, but Chris rescues her. In the struggle with the Wild Man, Chris tears off the bandage that conceals half the W.M.'s face. Underneath -- horrors! -- his face is all bloody and raw! The Wild Man's deformity is never explained, because it doesn't need to be: lots of movie vampires have hideously disfigured sidekicks. He's standard issue.
After Chris rescues her, Mary begins to see Chris in a different light... and before long they're a non-dairy item. Peter walks in on them during a kiss. What follows should have been the strongest scene in the movie, and would have been if we didn't already know that Peter was nuts. When he sees his sister in Chris' embrace, he's boiling mad, but he manages to convince the infatuated couple that his reaction is merely enthusiasm. He suggests to Chris that this is the perfect time to get Mary off the godforsaken island. This has the effect on Mary he hoped it would have: she doesn't want to go. "But who will take care of you?" she asks Peter.
This gives Peter the opportunity to vent some of his true feelings, while pretending that he's talking about Mary. He describes his crushing disappointment as he realized that he was, and would always be, a failure as a writer. He talks about his breakdown, his self-destructive retreat into drugs and alcohol. Then Mary came to him, and nursed him back to health. Now she's upset, says Peter, because he doesn't need her any more. He's healthy again. He's fine.
But he's not fine. We already know how not fine he is. But what a revelation this moment would be if we hadn't already seen Peter chanting and murdering in his black robes! As it turns out, Peter is the one responsible for Hannah's resurrection. Unable to open the heavy sarcophagus by himself, and knowing the locals would never help him do it, he managed to lure his unsuspecting friend Prof. Bolton into the tomb and kill him. He knew that Chris' insistence on retrieving his father's remains would help him realize his ambition of removing the lid. But he hadn't counted on Mary falling in love -- and that's a bitter blow, because in addition to wanting eternal life as a vampire, Peter has formed an incestuous obsession with his sister!
If you've ever seen a vampire movie, you can guess what follows. The blind man and his young friend are murdered by the Wild Man and a robed figure we know is Peter. Chris goes to watch over the crypt, but begins to be hypnotized by Hannah's supernatural powers... we can tell because he starts to rub his forehead, and then the picture goes in and out of focus. Under Hannah's influence, Chris removes a bit of the garlic and dogbane which the blind guy had festooned on the coffin to trap her. Suddenly, Hannah's coffin is empty!
Hannah rises stiffly from her tomb and goes on a rather ineffectual rampage. Peter kidnaps Mary, intending to offer both her and himself to Hannah as vampire initiates (this is the point at which I'd have inserted the prologue as a flashback). Chris shows up in the nick of time, nobly offering to help his "friend" get psychiatric help. But Peter attacks him anyway, and injures himself in the process.
Peter's injury is obviously helpful to the plot, in that it prevents him from chasing Chris and Mary, and sets him up for his Just Desserts. There's also the suggestion, though, that it's the blood from Peter's wound that ultimately attracts Hannah to him. All Peter's chanting and posturing doesn't seem to have made much difference to Hannah; but given her (inferred) preference for weak victims, the wounded Peter seems a perfect target.
Just as Hannah begins to put the bite on Peter, the fishermen burst in with crosses and stakes, and frighten her away before she's finished. Peter, still alive and understandably frustrated, cries out after her -- and the fishermen thrust a stake into his heart. Hey, it never hurts to be too careful!
As the final confrontation nears, Chris tussles with Hannah. As both of them stand atop a cliff, Chris throws a lantern at the vampire, who bursts into flame and falls. Her charred remains lie at the foot of the cliff. Terrified and wary, the fishermen crowd around -- and the horrid corpse comes back to life.
Hannah, during these final minutes, makes some sounds for the first time in the movie. She doesn't speak: she howls, terrible ululating screams that are in keeping with her animal-like nature. However, as the fishermen crowd in to destroy her, there is a brief, touching moment that really belongs in a better movie. Hannah's threatening screams stop for a moment. The vampire, who was once spared because of her beauty, is now a raw ruin. Suddenly, she stops and begins to sob. There is nothing left for her, and her despair is so abject that the crowd stands still around her. There's an awful, stunned pause. Then, Hannah gathers herself for one last, futile attack, and the fishermen destroy her.
The very end of the film is predictable, but spooky. It involves two children from Mary's school: a grubby little boy; and a little girl, whom we thought had escaped from Hannah's clutches. The end credits are superimposed over a series of hauntingly unexplained stills: the girl standing impassively on a rock, while the boy, an unreadable expression frozen on his face, dances wildly around her.
A word on the cast:
And on that note, I think we've said enough about Crypt of the Living Dead. For complete information on the film, and on its predecessor, La tumba de la isla maldita, check out the movie's listing on the IMDB.