The Body Beneath (1970)
'Filmed in the graveyards of England,' boasts the poster for this Andy Milligan runaway production. It opens with three blue-faced vampire women creeping about Highgate Cemetery - though Milligan unaccountably fails to get shots of some of the place's most striking features - and proceeds to spin a story out of leftovers from Dracula (with perhaps a nod to Dance of the Vampires). Stoker's Carfax Abbey is relocated to Hampstead, so as to be near the cemetery, and Dracula is replaced by the Reverend Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed), an immortal whose family dates back to 98 BC (one is called Caesar, another Elizabeth). These vampires have been living in the cemetery for twenty-one centuries - though historians should note that Highgate Cemetery was actually consecrated in 1839 and deliberately designed to seem old. The Reverend schemes to ensnare several of his mortal descendents, so their blood can be used to revivify the enfeebled breed - by injecting or drinking the stuff or by co-opting women's wombs to breed more Fords. Most of the movie follows a pair of trapped young lovers: Susan Ford (Jackie Skarvellis) is imprisoned and bled, while her stalwart boyfriend (Richmond Ross) tries to rescue her. In a typical sentimental / horrid subplot, hunchbacked minion Spool (Berwick Kaler) goes soft on Susan and suffers for it. Milliganesque nastiness includes much stabbing with knitting needles, as used on the eyes of a treacherous maid or to dispose of the heroine (who revives instantly as a vampire in a Yorgaish finish).
Reed's whiny, Eric Idle-look villain is surprisingly interesting, with
spells of bed-ridden weakness and costume that runs to high church vestments
rather than the usual cloak. However, the Reverend's big scene - as
he addresses the rest of the brood on the necessity to relocate to the
younger, healthier environment of America - is botched by blurry camerawork
presumably designed to obscure the duff make-up jobs on the other vampires
and amateur sound recording for which there is no excuse. A few odd
moments are genuinely weird - the blue-faced girls have a pantomime
look, but some of their harpyish creeping works well, and Kaler's dollop
of pathetic flashback (he got to be a hunchback because his bad brother
pushed him under a bus) is surprisingly heartfelt (if conventionally
scored). Milligan quotes not only from Stoker (the three girls, Carfax
Abbey, the need to relocate to a fresher society) but from Universal's
Dracula, with Ford dashing away a cigarette case when
he isn't reflected in it. The few sex scenes are needless padding. Contrary
to most sources, the Colin Gordon who plays 'Graham Ford' is not the
bespectacled British character actor best known as one of the many 'Number
Twos' on The Prisoner.
First published in this form here.
All text on this page © Kim Newman