Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the Peter Cushing movie THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968), now appearing in the latest edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.
And remember, if you like this column, you’ll also like the book, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, available now as an EBook from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.comand also as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
Peter Cushing considered THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) to be his worst movie.
It’s difficult to disagree with him.
The film suffers from a ludicrous plot, weak direction, and a blah script. How ridiculous is its plot, you ask? Well, it’s about a woman who can transform herself into a giant moth creature—- yes, you heard right. A moth creature.
Could they have picked a more benign threat? A moth? Seriously? Why not a mosquito? Or a cockroach? But no, they chose a moth. It reminds me of a Monty Python sketch: A giant moth? What’s it going to do? Flap its wings at you?
So, there’s this giant moth creature that needs to drink human blood to survive. Specifically, it’s a Death’s Head moth, and for sure, this is the most ominous thing about it, its name.
With this creature on the loose, people are dropping like flies— heh heh. It’s up to Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) to solve the case. There are very few clues, but one of the victims was a student of a local professor, Professor Mallinger (Robert Flemying) who is an expert on insects, and so Quennell begins his investigation by questioning the professor.
More victims are discovered— oh, the terror of it all!— and curiously, all of the victims are male. The clues keep bringing Quennell back to Professor Mallinger. It turns out that the professor has created a moth monster who can transform back and forth between human form and moth form. In human form, it’s a beautiful woman, Clare (Wanda Ventham), who the professor passes off as his daughter.
Clare prefers to seduce her victims before killing them, which is why all of the victims are male.
Eventually, Quennell discovers the professor’s secret, but not before his own daughter Meg (Vanessa Howard) finds herself in harm’s way from the murderous moth beast! Can you stand the suspense?
The better question is can you stand this movie?
The number one problem with THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR is its plot. Besides the fact that it’s about a woman who turns into a bloodthirsty moth, it’s never explained to any degree of satisfaction why the good professor created the monstrosity in the first place. Did he love moths so much he just had to have his own, and in human size to boot? Was he that lonely that he just needed a friend? It’s as if the screenwriter decided to write a story about a monster but forgot to include the reason why such a monster would exist.
It’s also not scary. Not a good thing for a horror movie.
Peter Bryan wrote the screenplay, and he also wrote the screenplay for two of Hammer’s better movies, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) and THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), both starring Peter Cushing. Those films, the scripts in particular, were great. That’s not the case here. Not only is the story weak, but the dialogue is also substandard.
THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR was directed by Vernon Sewell, which brings us to the second problem with this movie: poor direction. Many of the scenes are awkwardly constructed, with quick cutaways at key points in the story, such as the murder scenes and action sequences. All of the murders occur off-camera.
Part of this, I’m sure, is because the moth monster looked ridiculous. One reviewer wrote that it looked like a Halloween costume in a school parade, and I would have to agree with that assessment.
Sewell also does a poor job with his actors here. When even Peter Cushing looks lost and without focus in scenes, you know things are bad.
It’s one of the more uneven performances I’ve seen Peter Cushing deliver. His Inspector Quennell is difficult to read. At times, he’s cocky, suave, and relaxed, as if he’s completely comfortable with himself, but at other times he appears irritable and restless, as if he’s not so confident. The worst part is we never learn just what makes him a great police inspector, or if he even is a great police inspector. We don’t get to see him do much, other than ask people lots of questions. Cushing shined as Sherlock Holmes, so it’s not like he would struggle playing a detective. The fault here lies with Sewell’s direction.
The rest of the cast is average at best. I did enjoy Glynn Edwards as Sgt. Allan, the Inspector’s right hand man, and he gives the best performance in the movie. Robert Flemying overacts as Professor Mallinger and is painful to watch, and Wanda Ventham is about as wooden as you can get as the moth creature Clare.
THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR was a Tigon production, a company that tried to build itself as the new Hammer and Amicus, but it ultimately failed in its efforts. With a movie like THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR, it’s easy to understand why the studio wasn’t successful.
Not even Peter Cushing can save THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR, and that about says it all.
But hey, if giant moths are your thing, and you’ve seen every single MOTHRA movie ever made and still crave more tales of moths, then maybe you’ll really enjoy THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR.
For the rest of us, though, watching THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR is about as enjoyable as finding a closet full of mothballs.