Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Curse of the Undead - 1959

Director:                               Edward Dein
Writer:                                 Edward Dein and Mildred Dein
Original Music:                    Irving Gertz
Director of Photography:     Ellis W. Carter
Film Editing:                        George A. Gittens
Art Direction:                       Robert Clatworthy and
                                                Alexander Golitzen
Costume Design:                 Bill Thomas
Set Decoration:                   Russell A. Gausman and
                                                William P. Tapp

Preacher Dan Young            Eric Fleming
Drake Robey/
   Don Drago Robles             Michael Pate
Dolores Carter                      Kathleen Crowley
Dr. John Carter                     John Hoyt
Buffer                                     Bruce Gordon
Tim Carter                             Jimmy Murphy
Dora                                       Helen Kleeb

1.The 1880’s Old West.
2. A small, dusty town.   
3. The good town doctor and his lovely daughter.
4. The bully who is trying to run them off’n their land.
5. The fine, handsome upright preacher who is trying to make peace between them and is also a-courtin’ the doc’s daughter.
6.  A mysterious stranger in black rides into town, he’s a gunman and the fastest draw in the West.
7.  Shots of whiskey in the saloon.
8. The good guy has to challenge the bad guy to shoot it out.  The two meet on the empty street, turn at twenty paces and fire!
9.  One man is left standing.

Sound familiar?  Of course.  Ok, now how about this:  The mysterious stranger in black who rode into town is a vampire.

This is such a fun movie!  It is a great example of late fifties/early sixties Universal B-movie making.  Gone were the days of the important monster movies of the thirties and even the forties—Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, etc.

Starting in the 1940’s most of the scares started to come from outer space or nuclear radiation rather than from within.  There were a few exceptions, notably the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  This movie was another exception; one of the only vampire flicks Universal was making at the time, and it was the first vampire cowboy movie.  Actually, I’m trying to think of a second vampire cowboy movie, maybe “Near Dark” but that wasn’t until 1987.

So pardners, settle back and I’ll tell you the tale.

Doc Carter has been tending to a young gal who is dying of a mysterious wasting disease.  Faithful Preacher Dan Young has also been at her bedside praying all night.  In the morning she seems to be improving.  But gosh darn it!  When everyone leaves the room to have some breakfast, they hear a scream and rush back into the bedroom to find the girl dead and the window shade flapping.

Astute Preacher Dan notices two small bloody marks on the girl's neck.   Hmmmmm……......................... what could it be?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch….local bully Buffer has been pulling down fences between his property and the Carter ranch.  He would like nothing better than to run the Carters off their land and take it over.  The doctor’s son and daughter, Tim and Dolores, have had just about enough of all this and Tim threatens to shoot Buffer.  Doc Carter convinces him to let the law step in and so the doc rides into town to talk to the sheriff.

On his way back home, we see a mysterious man in black follow the doctor.

When the doctor’s buggy pulls up in front of his home, the doc is dead as a doornail.  Tim is now all fired up with no one to stop him.  He goes into town, gets liquored up and challenges Buffer to draw.  Buffer does and Tim dies.

Now Dolores is fightin’ mad.  Her Pa and her brother are both dead and the law has not lifted a finger to help her.  She starts nailing up posters around town offering $100 for a gunman to kill a murderer. 

The man in black (No.  I know what you are thinking.  It’s not Johnny Cash.) sees the poster and is very interested.  He stops in the local saloon for a whiskey, and has a confrontation with Buffer.  He hasn't been officially hired yet, so he doesn't kill Buffer.  Whadda ya think, he works for free??  Are you nuts??
Our mystery man arrives at the Carter ranch.  When Miss Dolores answers the door he introduces himself as Drake Robey and offers his services as a professional gunman.
Dolores with the man in black who is not Johnny Cash
Resolute Preacher Dan, who has a romantic understanding with the lovely Dolores, is opposed to this, but can’t talk her out of it.

Before Drake has a chance to earn his money, dependable Preacher Dan and the sheriff reach an agreement with Buffer for him to leave the Carter ranch in peace.  Buffer knows that the poster was about him and that Drake will be coming after him sooner rather than later.  He has already seen an example of Drake’s work: one of Buffer’s henchmen drew first on Drake, but came out second.  “For a man who was late with his gun, you sure came out on top” Buffer tells Drake.  Wow.  Drake seems to be invincible, even when the other guy shoots first.  Hmmmmm.......

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….Dolores is just plain tired in the morning.  Solicitous Preacher Dan tells her that she looks pale, and she says that she feels cold in spite of the warm room.  Strange, she looked so full of energy the day before.   Hmmmmm...........

When she hears that Buffer has agreed to the peace treaty, she tells Drake that she is sorry but his services are no longer needed, much to righteous Preacher Dan’s relief.

Later, Drake gets Dolores alone and gives her a sob story about his eyesight failing. 

He is all right at night but has trouble in the sunlight, so one of these days he is going to lose one of those gunfights and buy himself a place on Boot Hill.  She swallows this plea for sympathy and gives him a job riding the range at night to safeguard her property.  And oh by the way, why doesn’t he stay in the old caretaker’s cottage by the cemetery?  She has no idea how convenient that will be for Drake.  He has already moved into the mausoleum and has been sleeping in her father’s casket.  I don’t really understand that…wouldn’t it be a little crowded in there?

As you have figured out by now, Drake has been making visits to Dolores while she sleeps and has started to drain her blood.  However, he has developed a vampire crush on her which prevents him from draining her dry.  Dolores has also started to feel strangely drawn to Drake—she walks in her sleep when he calls to her—and it looks like humdrum Preacher Dan may be left back on the trail in the dust pretty soon.

While looking through some estate papers to help Dolores find her father’s will, dogged Preacher Dan discovers an old diary, dated 1860.  It was written by Don Miguel Robles, the Spanish nobleman who was the former owner of the land on which the Carter ranch now sits.  It tells the story of Don Robles’ two sons, Roberto and Drago.  Don Drago, recently married, was sent to Madrid on business and when he returned he found his bride in the arms of Roberto.  He murdered his brother on the spot, and then spent every moment grieving at the tomb.  Unable to live with what he did, Don Drago killed himself.
One night, Don Miguel heard his daughter –in-law scream.  When he entered the room he found his dead son, Drago, feasting on his wife’s blood.

As a suicide, Drago has become an undead spirit, an unholy fiend,  an evil, monstrous demon who drains the lifeblood from the know....a vampire.  Don Robles goes to Drago’s tomb and drives a dagger into his son’s heart.  Unfortunately, he finds out later, he really should have used a wooden stake.  Oh well.  Live and learn.  Now, Drago Robles has become Drake Robey and earns his living (?) as a gun fighter who cannot be killed with bullets.  Ingenious.  Resolute Preacher Dan tries to sell Dolores on all this, but she isn't having any.  Apparently she never heard of a cowboy vampire either.

On the street at night stouthearted Preacher Dan is pursued by Drake and saved only by the shadow of the cross falling on Drake and driving him away.

By the way, Drake finally does takes care of Buffer.

Resourceful Preacher Dan gets an idea.  He challenges Drake to a gunfight, one which Drake is naturally sure he will win.  But wily Preacher Dan has taken his wooden button, supposedly carved from a thorn taken from the site of the crucifixion, and has…somehow… attached it to a bullet.  

Drake does his usual trick of letting his opponent fire first,
but this time he gets a surprise.  Drake falls and his body disintegrates before the now reunited lovers, Dolores and valiant Preacher Dan.

The movie was directed by Ed Dein who, along with his wife Mildred, also wrote the script.  Ed Dein was a freelance screenwriter and later director.  He worked with Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940’s, contributing to the script for “Cat People”.  Besides “Curse of the Undead”, his other scripts for Universal were, “Jungle Woman” 1944, “The Cat Creeps” 1946, and “The Leech Woman” 1960.  According to Dein his original idea, just for a joke, was a film entitled “Eat Me Gently”.  Eventually the general idea became a vampire western with the working title of “The Affairs of a Vampire”, and later with the final title of “Curse of the Undead”.   

The action moves well and the performances are all solid.  The only small acting blip is when one of the cast seems to stumble slightly on a line.  Like all other horror films of the time, it must have been made on a tight schedule, with little time for retakes, however since the actors are all very good at what they do the glitches are negligible.  One of the few real weaknesses in the film is the sets; the saloon set in particular looks bare and cheap.  The outdoor scenes look pretty good, especially well done is the night scene when the preacher is being stalked by Drake.  The set in the family mausoleum is notable for the light and shadow effect on the wall  which makes a spider web kind of pattern which seems to entrap the innocent Dolores.

The music is earnest and, if somewhat overblown at times, effective. The theremin is especially good at letting us know that something mysterious is going on.  Starting in the 1940’s the instrument  became a popular device for setting a mood of eerie suspense.  What would horror movies have done without theremins?

The cast is comprised of familiar B-movie faces, all dependable actors.  Handsome, 6 foot 4 Eric Fleming as Preacher Dan is probably best remembered as trail boss Gil Favor on the old TV series “Rawhide”, which also co-starred a young Clint Eastwood. He had said in interviews that he was an ugly child but that changed later in life.  When he was in WWII service in the South Pacific, a heavy weight fell on his face requiring plastic surgery.  In show business he tried theater before landing the role on "Rawhide" which ran for seven seasons.  Mr. Fleming died very tragically at the age of 41 while filming an adventure movie on the Huallaga River in a remote area of Peru.  He drowned when the canoe he was in turned over.

The charming and very well-liked Kathleen Crowley has had a long career in film and television.  As Betty Jane Crowley she was crowned the 1949 Miss New Jersey.  After some theater she started landing parts on TV and eventually appeared in practically every show in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  In “Curse of the Undead”, as in every role in which I’ve ever seen her, she is never less than authentic.  She is now retired and lives in New Jersey, but has made many fan appearances over the last few years. 
Kathleen Crowley with Jack Kelly (L) and Mike Load in a 1962 episode of  "Maverick"

Prolific and versatile Michael Pate was born in 1920 in Australia.  He appeared in over 50 films and 300 television shows including many westerns, frequently as a Native American.  He wrote plays, screenplays, a textbook on acting, produced, directed—he could do it all.  He died in 2008. 

I'm going to own up to a slight crush on Drake Robey.  He is pretty sexy.  I can't say as I blame Miss Dolores for succumbing to his dark charms.   Mr. Pate draws Robey as a single-minded professional killer, quietly menacing and confident.  He does not have to be cruel or spiteful—he does his job, and does it very well.   A vampire with soulful eyes, Drake can also be very sympathetic and attractive.

Other familiar faces in this movie:  John Hoyt (Doc Carter)—he seemed to be in practically every other movie and TV show made from 1946 through 1985.  He played the role of the doctor on the starship Enterprise in the pilot episode “The Cage” for “Star Trek”, the original series.
John Hoyt (L) with some pointy-eared actor or other (R) on "Star Trek".  Too bad  nothing ever happened with that story,  It might have made a good series.  

Bruce Gordon (Buffer) was memorable mostly for heavy roles.  He played mob enforcer Frank Nitti on the TV series “The Untouchables” in the early 1960’s, opposite Robert Stack as Eliot Ness.

I really enjoy this movie.   Maybe it’s just me, but I like to think that the cast had a certain amount of fun working on this one.  Here is a still with Kathleen Crowley and Michael Pate clowning on the set.

Michael Pate and Kathleen Crowley re-enact a tender moment from the film at a fan convention  in 1996.

It is another one that I have only on VHS, and I continue to try to take very, very good care of my tapes. 

By the way, I did think of another cowboy vampire movie: “Billy the Kid Versus Dracula” in 1966 which starred an embarrassed looking John Carradine as the Count.  There is another cowboy monster flick, “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” also from 1966—must have been a bad year.  However I have not seen either of those movies, but probably would not admit it if I had.

Have a comment about this post?  Please, be my guest.  Indulge yourself below.  I would love to hear from you.  Click on “Comments” below.  Thanks!


  1. Great review of a classic B movie horror flick.

    Curse of the undead was a staple of the B movie/Sci-Fi circuit that ran in the 60's and 70's on your favorite late Friday night channel.

  2. Hey Ken -
    Thanks so much for the kind comment. As I said, I really love this movie. I hope it gets to DVD soon as my tape is getting a little creaky. It is a classic and as a "B movie" is underrated in terms of its quality. I think they were able to do a lot with not much, mostly because of the strong cast. It deserves more attention.
    And if you like the old creature feature flicks, what do you think of the Mummy movies. I wrote about the series here and confessed my illogical love for them.
    Thanks again, hope you come back soon.

  3. This is also one of my guilty pleasures. I, too, had a crush on Drake Robey and enjoyed seeing it recently on our local METV station. Thanks for a great review and some memorable scenes.

  4. Hey Anonymous -
    Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it. Yeah, big time crush on Drake. If he appeared in my bedroom, fangs flappin' and wanting to drain my blood.....I'd think about it. Not saying absolutely that I would let him do it. But I'd think about it.
    Thanks again.