Cinema Sunday: Curse of the Undead (1959)

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Title: Curse of the Undead

Distributor: Universal-International

Writers: Edward Dein, Mildred Dein

Director: Edward Dein

Producer: Joseph Gershenson

Starring: Eric Fleming, Michael Pate, Kathleen Crowley, John Hoyt

Released: May 1959

MPAA: UR

 

As promised, I’m delivering on my vampire/western movie review now! This classic was when  studios like Hammer were on the rise, and Universal was on the slide. Back in the 1930’s-40’s, Universal was king of the hill, but by the late 1950’s, they had definitely started to run out of ideas, and their stars were aging. But, this little gem was one that let people know they were still around!

This film is great for so many reasons, but also a grim reminder of the sad, tragic life of actor, Eric Fleming. If you read-up on his life, you’ll understand. Many people have written some good pieces on him, and you can find one of them by clicking here. The man did go on to star in the hit T.V. western series, Rawhide, alongside of people like Clint Eastwood. Another star of this film was also a western T.V.  staple, in Kathleen Crowley. She starred opposite James garner on Maverick. Well, enough about the cast for now, let’s get right to the movie!

 

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The film begins with a man and a woman riding a wagon. They stop at a home, and head inside. It’s the town doctor, Dr. John Carter (John Hoyt), and his daughter, Dolores (Kathleen Crowley). He’s there to visit a girl that has fallen ill, as have a few others in town recently. The town minister, Preacher Dan (Eric Fleming – image below), is also there, praying for the girl. She seems to have taken a turn for the better, and Dr. Carter doesn’t have a clue about why that is or what is plaguing her. As they all leave the room and head downstairs for a meal, they aren’t there for very long,and then a bone-chilling scream rings out from the upstairs bedroom where the sick girl is sleeping. As they walk in, they see that she is dead. The parents cry out in pain, and the doctor and Preacher Dan are left to figure out what’s going on. neither has any answers, but Preacher Dan notices some puncture marks on the girl’s neck, and wonders…

 

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As Dr. Carter and his daughter near their home, his son, Tim (Jimmy Murphy), shows up, and flips out. He’s been beaten up pretty badly by a local goon that has caused trouble for the Carter’s named Buffer, and is livid. Dr. Carter calms him down a bit, and heads off to talk to the sheriff about the situation. After Dr. Carter arrives in town, he talks with Sheriff (Edward Binns – image below), and the sheriff assures him that he’ll talk to Buffer about the problem. We then see a black-clad stranger on a horse, watching the two men go their separate ways. The sheriff heads into the saloon to confront Buffer (Bruce Gordon – image below) and his men. He tells Buffer to stop harassing the Carter’s, and then pulls out his revolver when Buffer gets jumpy.

 

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Meanwhile, Dr. Carter pulls in at his house, but as his family comes out to meet him, he falls out of the wagon. They rush him inside, but he’s dead. Tim flips out, but gets slapped down by Preacher Dan. The next time we see them is at the funeral, and we also see the black-clad stranger, watching in the shadows. He locks the gate, and then creeps into the coffin where Dr. Carter’s corpse has been laid to rest! After hearing there has been more shenanigans from Buffer (presumably), Tim goes into town to face him. Within minutes of Tim getting drunk, Buffer comes into the saloon, and the two have a gunfight. Tim ends up on the wrong end of that confrontation, and ends up six feet under.

 

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The following day, we see Dolores putting up posters all over town, advertising for a gunman to avenge her family losses. The sheriff tears them down, but Dolores won’t be stopped. We then see the slack-clad stranger, and he picks up one of the posters, and heads into the saloon. He tells Buffer and his men that he’s going to take the job, and that he always sees a job through to completion. One of Buffer’s men tries to shoot him, but after he shoots first, the stranger returns fire, and shoots the guy’s pistol right out of his hand!

 

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Over at the Cater ranch, Preacher Dan is trying to put the moves on Dolores, but then a knock at the door interrupts that idea. The stranger has arrived, and introduces himself as Drake Roby (Michael Pate). He and Preacher Dan have a bit of a verbal confrontation, but Dolores tells Dan that she’s going to hire him no matter what he says. She even agrees to let him stay at the house, too! Preacher Dan is furious, for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is because he likes Dolores. Later that night, while Dolores is sleeping, she gets a visit from Drake, and her puts the bite on her. In town, the sheriff, Preacher Dan, and Buffer are trying to figure out what this guy is all about. They formulate a plan to keep Buffer out of Drake’s cross-hairs, and to get Drake away from Dolores.

 

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Will Preacher Dan and the sheriff be able to find out Drake’s secret, and put a stop to his reign of terror or will Drake vamp the entire town?!?

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I heard about this film on a podcast, and it sounded great. I was not disappointed when I saw it for the first time or the second. It has some scenes that really let you know how simple, but also how wide open things were back then (1880’s). The actors in this one were already seasoned, especially in the western genre. It does seem more like a western than a vampire flick, but don’t let that fool you, this film is solid. Michael Pate, Eric Fleming, and Kathleen Crowley, all give wonderful performances. The role of Tim (Jimmy Murphy), is a little over-the-top, but nothing too distracting.

It’s definitely true that this film is better in black and white. It gives it that feel you need to be convinced of the era the film is supposed to be taking place in, for sure. The sets are all good, and really seem like an old western town that isn’t quite up to the times just yet. The music is about what you’d expect for this era of films. Nothing flashy, just standard bells and whistles. There is this creepy music that plays every time Drake appears, and that is a little different than usual.

Give this one a shot, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll like it. It’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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