Wednesday, August 24, 2016

HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (1973) a.k.a. CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD


Vinegar Syndrome comes through again with a Blu-Ray double feature release that combines a 1970's Euro-Trash vampire movie and a really obscure 1970's British-made stab at a creepy plantation gothic. I wish more video companies would follow this template for films of this type and vintage giving a new audience a chance to see these often overlooked bits of genre history. Sometimes you find a hidden gem. Sometimes.

Hiding behind the title Crypt of the Living Dead is the public domain video standard Hannah, Queen of the Vampires. Until now I had managed to never see this feature because every time I tried the print available was nearly unwatchable. Luckily VS seems to have improved wonderfully on past transfers! Mechanical engineer Chris Bolton (genre regular Andrew Prine) travels to a Turkish locale know to its inhabitants as "Vampire Island" in response to his archaeologist father's death. When he arrives to take care of his father's remains he is taken to the body which is still lying crushed under the heavy stone coffin that supposedly killed him in an - accident! Of course, we know his death was no accident because the film showed us in a prologue that it was actually Mark Damon's character Peter that strangled the man and then deliberately crushed his body to hide the crime. It appears that Peter has completely bought into the island legend and mythical history about the tomb being that of Hannah, the wife of the 13th-century French King Louis VII. The tale insists that the tomb that 'fell' onto the archeologist actually belongs to this Queen and that she was a vampire!


The legend states that Louis was too captivated by the vampire monster's beauty to have her killed so he had her sealed alive in a stone tomb - possibly this one. Chris dismisses this silly superstition and sets about building a contraption to raise the coffin off of his dead father. Peter helps the grief stricken man in his efforts enlisting some locals for muscle but these islanders baulk when it becomes clear that this thing might be the legendary tomb of the vampire queen. Things get worse when they remove the lid to make the task easier and discover a perfectly preserved woman inside! Oh, my. Of course, this is Hannah played by the lovely Spanish actress Teresa Gimpera, and she soon wakes from her several hundred years long snooze to wreak havoc on the islander with the help of a hideous, beastly 'wild man' servant (Ihshan Gedik) who gets his kicks playing around with decapitated heads. This section of the film is done with some nice style and a good handle on how to use a low budget wisely. We see Hannah transforming into a green mist, floating out of her coffin and changing into a wolf as part of her horrific attacks. 


Adding to the complications Chris gets romantically involved with Peter's sister Mary (the wonderful Patty Shepard) who teaches school on the island. By this time Peter is completely under Hannah's influence, helping her in her activities and Chris wants to get his lady love off the island and away from her increasingly crazed brother. The story then becomes a contest between the engineer and Peter for the life of Mary leading to a dark finale.


Hannah, Queen of the Vampires is often derided as a cut-rate vampire film but now that I've finally seen it I have to slightly disagree. No, it is not a great genre film but it has several points in its favor as a better than 'bad' effort. First, it's island locations (shot in Turkey) are very nice, adding immeasurable to the atmosphere and creepy factor. Also, the actors take the proceedings seriously giving the often sub-par dialog more gravitas than it should have. Another good point is that the film's score is unexpectedly quite good adding a lot to the dark proceedings and never feeling out of place. Also, the vampiric sequences are well done and memorable making the supernatural horror elements feel more effective than I expected them to be with Hannah herself posing a striking figure as the silent vampire Queen preying on poor islanders. The film has some missteps with the most serious being that Peter's evil nature should not have been revealed at the beginning of the movie so that more suspense could be generated as things ramp up.

Vinegar Syndrome's Blu presents the U.S. theatrical version of the film restored in 2k from a newly-discovered 35mm negative and it looks very good for such a neglected title. The film looks its age but the colors are vivid with good detail even in darker scenes. The soundtrack is the mono English version fans are familiar with but probably sounding much better than past releases. I doubt this film has ever looked or sounded better on video and this is the best way to evaluate it or reevaluate it if your impressions of it were colored by bad transfers from the past. 

Part two of this double feature up next! 


3 comments:

Nick Rentz said...

I've only seen the b&w copies that Mill Creek has put out. It's going to be a bit weird seeing it in color. I think the movie works quite well in black and white.... except the night scenes. Being in b&w made the carnage seem even more violent. I prefer this movie to the second feature, House of the Living Dead. Hey, did Andrew Prine in this remind you of John Holmes?

Brian Lindsey said...

The VS Blu-ray was my first time seeing this film, too... I think your take on it is spot-on, Rod. Not a great movie, but an agreeable genre offering with some points of interest.

Rod Barnett said...

Thank you Brian. I was a little surprised by the good qualities of the film after years of bashing.

Nick - No! I rarely think of John Holmes if I can help it! :-) And the second feature is pretty much a turd.