Blood of Dracula/Blood Is My Heritage/Blood of the Demon (1957) **½
With a title like that, you probably thought this was another Dracula movie. Well I guess that shows how much you know, doesn’t it? Actually, what we have here is another entry in American International Pictures’ late-50’s monsters-and-teenagers binge, made in the wake of I Was a Teenage Werewolf. And this particular movie has an interesting twist that separates it from its better-known cousins; alone among this crop of films, Blood of Dracula/Blood Is My Heritage/Blood of the Demon is told from a girl’s point of view.
That girl is Nancy Perkins (Sandra Harrison). When we first lay eyes on her, she is being driven to her new boarding school, the Thornedyke School for Girls, by her father (Thomas Browne Henry, from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and The Beginning of the End) and his new wife (Gog’s Jean Dean). Nancy doesn’t much like the idea, and she likes her new stepmother even less. In fact, she suddenly lunges over the front seat to grab the steering wheel, and tries to jerk the car off the road into a deep ravine in protest of the whole situation. What can I say— she’s a troubled kid. Anyway, Nancy’s introduction to the school and its namesake headmistress (Mary Adams, from Diary of a Madman) goes smoothly, at least while her father is around to see it. But when five of her dorm-mates sneak into her room and start rifling through her stuff (hazings were a lot less involved in those days, weren’t they?), we get another little peek at Nancy’s dark side. Things really turn ugly when one of the girls finds Nancy’s framed portrait of her boyfriend, Glen (Michael Hall), and starts ribbing her about it— it’s like somebody suddenly reached over and threw a switch labeled “catfight!” The commotion brings the cranky old dorm mother rushing to Nancy’s room, and the other girls sneak away as fast as they can, leaving the new girl to face Madame Grumpus alone.
The fact that Nancy doesn’t rat out her obnoxious dorm-mates changes their feelings toward her a bit. The next day at breakfast, Myra, the leader of the pack (Gail Ganley, from Not of this Earth and Don’t Knock the Rock), offers to initiate Nancy into her secret sorority, the Birds of Paradise. Membership benefits include invitations to all the best parties; inclusion in any schemes for exciting trouble; rotating romantic access to Eddie (Anatomy of a Psycho’s Don Devlin), the school’s teenage handyman and the only boy on campus; and, most importantly, freedom from the pointless, petty harassment that the Birds of Paradise delight in heaping upon all non-members. Nancy doesn’t exactly turn Myra down, but her lukewarm and faintly contemptuous response makes it clear that Myra isn’t going to be able to control her the way she does the other Birds.
The Birds of Paradise, as it turns out, are not Myra’s only extracurricular activity. She’s also a teaching assistant for Miss Branding, Thornedyke’s science instructor (Louise Lewis, from I Was a Teenage Werewolf and The Vampire), and the relationship between the girl and her teacher seems to be one of full-scale mentorship. Myra is the only person in the whole school who knows anything about Branding’s secret experiments, whereby she hopes to prove that the human mind contains a power far more destructive than any product of human science. Branding’s reasons for pursuing this project are complex, and more than a little warped. She wants to convince the scientific world that her work is a more promising foundation for weapons research than nuclear physics, so that she can get herself put in charge of some sort of psychic Manhattan Project. When the leaders of the world fully grasp the destructive force that she has put at their disposal, they will realize that war has become a prospect too horrible to contemplate, and thus Branding’s work will paradoxically become the key to world peace. Myra herself, alas, will have comparatively little role in Branding’s project, because what she needs in an experimental subject is a girl of unusually fiery temperament, a sort of female version of I Was a Teenage Werewolf’s Tony Rivers. But as it happens, Myra thinks she knows someone who’ll fit Miss Branding’s bill perfectly.
Yep. We’re talking about Nancy. After testing the brevity of Nancy’s fuse by conspiring to have one of the other Birds of Paradise mistakenly dab acid on the back of her hand in science class (and what do you know— it’s damned short), Branding starts spending an awful lot of time with the new girl. Like Dr. Brandon in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Branding convinces Nancy to let herself be hypnotized, and with a little assistance from an antique amulet the teacher picked up in the Carpathians, she gets results comparable to Dr. Brandon’s, too. Nancy begins turning into a vampire-like creature by night, drinking the blood of everyone who crosses her by day.
Soon enough, her nocturnal prowling attracts the attention of the police. Lieutenant Dunlap, the head of the investigation (Malcolm Atterbury, from The Birds and How to Make a Monster), and his chief medical examiner are baffled by the killings. The doctor can’t figure out how the dead girls lost so much blood when their only apparent injuries are pairs of tiny puncture wounds on their necks, while Dunlap can’t understand why anyone would want to kill any of the victims in the first place— everyone he talks to claims the girls had no enemies. But the real complications begin when the story of the Thornedyke slayings breaks out into the regional news. Within days, the board of trustees is talking about closing down the school, and Nancy’s boyfriend has come to Thornedyke to make sure she’s okay. By this point, Nancy has figured out that she most assuredly is not, and that, whatever is wrong with her, it’s all Miss Branding’s doing. And when she finds herself wanting to kill her own boyfriend for his blood, she goes straight to her mad scientist teacher looking for some answers, and ready to kick some ass if she doesn’t get them.
If the level of obscurity to which it has since sunk is any indication, Blood of Dracula wasn’t nearly as successful as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, or Invasion of the Saucer Men, and if I had to venture a guess as to why, I’d say it probably had something to do with the title. Horror of Dracula and its successors wouldn’t be coming along to make the count respectable again as a modern horror icon for another year, and in 1957, the old Universal horror films were generally seen as sort of stodgy and quaint. AIP would surely have garnered much more attention for this movie had they called it I Was a Teenage Vampire instead, especially when you consider that neither Dracula nor even his blood is in any way involved in its story. It’s really too bad, because Blood of Dracula is a pretty entertaining little film, quite a bit more satisfying than I Was a Teenage Werewolf, even if it doesn’t rise to anything like the heights reached by I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. The best thing about it is the feminine focus of its story, which makes for an engaging change of pace from the other AIP teens-and-monsters flicks. The nasty politics of relationships among teenage girls has served as an extremely fertile seeding ground for horror films and fiction during the last 30 years, but in the late 1950’s, it was almost completely unexplored territory. Obviously, Blood of Dracula is no Carrie, but it certainly points in that direction, and does so fairly effectively.
On the downside, this movie is hampered by extremely bad acting from most of the cast, and the vampire makeup Sandra Harrison wears is absolutely ludicrous. The details of the plot also owe perhaps a bit too much to I Was a Teenage Werewolf; not only is Nancy Perkins really little more than Tony Rivers in drag, the motives of the two mad scientists— and even their names— are a little too similar for comfort. To some extent, this is compensated for by the fact that many of the most conspicuously retreaded scenes work much better this time around (the one in which Nancy finally turns on Miss Branding is only the most obvious example), but producer Herman Cohen really ought to have allowed screenwriter Ralph Thorton a little more time to recharge his creative batteries between films.