A Cowboy Vampire Emerges on the Universal Studios Backlot!
DIRECTED BY EDWARD DEIN/1959
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: OCTOBER 6, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Universal horror. 1950’s Western. Two great tastes that taste great together…? Eat them gently, film fans…
1959’s low-budget oddity Curse of the Undead is not by any means the first-time vampires stalked the American frontier- but it is, no doubt, in the running for most wooden. Not “wooden” as in the stakes typically used to kill vampires. This is “wooden” as in, stiff as a bored. Er, I mean “board”.
Shot on the ubiquitous Western town on the Universal-International lot, the one standout in this 79-minute snooze might be actor Michael Pate, who plays the villainous bloodsucker. Pate has a modicum of charisma, which helps him to register with the viewer, period. Unfortunately, his character merely bears the appearance of a stern-faced, black-clad cowboy. The “undead” of the title, having died by suicide not too many years prior to when the story takes place, remains a lethal quick-draw and can pass for human without strain. Per writer-director Edward Dein’s screenplay, it’s only every once in a while, that we’re reminded that he is in fact a supernatural vampire. Don’t look too hard for fangs.
Between his shooting victims and his neck-bitten fatalities, Pate’s undead gunfighter racks up quite a body count of the film’s supporting players. This tragically impacts the female lead (Kathleen Crowley), who opts to pivot to the satanic charms of Pate, and away from her upright fiancé, Preacher Dan (yes, that is the actual name of the heroic male lead; played by Eric Fleming of TV’s Rawhide). Preacher Dan, despite being quick with a self-righteous sermonette and representing the moral majority in this quickly dwindling town, finds himself by the end to be God’s only man against the evil that must be defeated. Lord help us all.
It must be said, though, that for all of Curse of the Undead’s latter day appeal to today’s version of Protestantism (distrust of medical science, and all), it also strikes a strangely gay chord. The outright propensity of male-on-male vampire bite attacks coupled with threats of “shooting the pants off” of an opponent and whatnot can’t help but add up.
This is where film historian Tom Weaver rides to the rescue. Weaver delivers an audio commentary in which he goes all out, having recruited a number of others to reenact audio from interviews he did many years ago with Dein and various cast members. He also reins in a film music expert (whose name escapes me, sorry) to elaborate on the film’s not-great electric violin-heavy score. Weaver’s own delivery is as energized as it is informative- and often quite hilarious. All of this effort for a commentary for a movie that he pretty clearly doesn’t even like all that much. Bravo, Mr. Weaver, for bringing such wonderful added value to this Blu-ray.
Anyhow, Weaver amusingly seizes on the latent homosexual undercurrent before settling the matter with a recreated clip of Dein’s own words about it. Apparently, the whole of Curse of the Undead stems from a gag screenplay that the director wrote, a gay vampire-Western called “Eat Me Gently”. For more on this (and there is more!), be sure to visit the commentary track. The Blu-ray also offers is also a video slideshow of vintage Curse of the Undead promotional material.
As for the movie itself, it looks and sounds just fine in all of its no-frills black and white glory. But, for a movie that its own writer-director conceived with no initial intention of actually making, then hailing from the ailing days of Universal-International, Curse of the Undead earns its place in the mausoleum of forgotten horror. There’s a lumbering stiffness in the fabric of this movie, a last gasp of a studio’s golden era that was not aware that it was already dead.