Curse of the Undead (1959)

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Curse of the Undead (1959) is a vampire western directed by Edward Dein, and a very entertaining and original one at that. The story begins with Doc Carter (John Hoyt) mystified by the fatal disease affecting only young girls in the area, and marveling at the miraculous recovery of one girl. Celebration over her unexplained improvement is interrupted by a scream and she dies moments later, two bite marks found on her neck. Doc has other problems when he returns home; a dispute over his ranch’s water rights and a hotheaded son Tim (Jimmy Murphy) itching for a fight or a shootout with their nasty land baron neighbour Buffer (Bruce Gordon). Hoyt believes the Sheriff will settle matters, but Buffer and his hyenas easily push the lawman around too.

As the dispute escalates, Doc and son Tim are both killed, leaving Doc’s daughter Dolores Carter (Kathleen Crowley) in charge of the ranch. Her posting of a $100 bounty on the killer lures an infamous gunfighter dressed in black, Drake Robey (Michael Pate). Dolores takes a shine to the charming gunman and lets him stay in the house, which worries her suitor Preacher Dan (Eric Fleming). Hoping to settle matters and get rid of Robey, Dan mediates and removes the bounty by making Buffer pay up lots of gold and promise to behave himself. But, by this point Dolores already has bite marks on her neck and is under Robey’s sway. That’s right, Robey is the vampire. It just so happens that this very land was once owned by the cursed Robles family, which fell apart when Don Drago Robles (aka Drake Robey) killed his brother in a jealous rage and, unable to live with the guilt, committed suicide. After his body disappeared, there followed an epidemic of young girls’ mysterious deaths.

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Now this undead gunman is back in town, back on his old land and madly in love with Dolores. He has little trouble feeding her a story about his impending blindness and light sensitivity, and talking her into keeping him on as night watchman on her ranch. She conveniently puts him up in him a cottage right by the cemetery. Increasingly she relies on him to enforce the new larger land boundaries according to the map found in her father’s lockbox of documents. And who better to stand up to bully Buffer and his men than someone so personally invested and better yet, a gunfighter who can’t be killed? The mutual benefit and the use of vampire lore gives the standard western plot some clever twists, and makes the vampire a sympathetic monster with a good deed to do.

The dialogue is ridiculously overwrought and hysterical in places, especially in the fiery young Tim’s scenes, but it fits just fine and with this fun cast delivering threats and declarations of love and revenge, it’s definitely good cheese. Pate makes a cool, lightning fast and appealing vampire in a performance that reminded me of Christopher Lee. Dan gets his crash course on fearless vampire killing from the Robles patriarch’s diary and realizes he is not just fighting for the Dolores’ affections but called to fight a demon, which takes the usual western good/bad tropes to a higher level. Robey and Dan debate the powers of good versus evil and how they need each other: without the Devil you’d have no profession, says Robey, who has the hubris to demand gratitude for giving Dan something to believe in and fight against. In their battle, the men have a grudging respect and even stand together for a moment when Robey fights Buffer for the new land boundaries. In their last showdown, Dan puts his fate in “his Boss’s” hands, which might be the first real opposition this vampire has faced.

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I realize Dolores is under Robey’s influence but boy is she dense, and slow to accept Dan’s arguments and evidence about Robey’s vampirism and intentions. There’s a nice bit at the mausoleum when Dolores prevents Dan from opening her father’s and brother’s coffins to prove the vampire is sleeping in one of them. She doesn’t pick up the similarities in the Robles/Robey names and you’d think she’d finally grab a clue when she notices the bullet hole right over Robey’s heart that didn’t kill him, but no. It’s left to Dan to save her and the whole town, by changing from the guy running for the safety of the cross “like a jackrabbit with a coyote on its tail” to the Preacher hero who faces down the creature from Hell. There’s very little blood or gore, lots of dust and creepy moonlit shadows, just one very effective and simple special effect at the end, and fun for fans of both genres.

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Thanks to John K for making it possible for me to see this movie

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18 thoughts on “Curse of the Undead (1959)”

    1. Yes and they mix really well, I mean when done properly, why wouldn’t there be supernatural going in any era, thought you don’t see as many Roman Empire horror films 🙂

        1. Those are fun 🙂 I like Jesse vs Dracula, but I enjoyed this one even more. Love the genre mixes when they’re done right.

    1. Thanks, it’s lots of fun. This week I’m watching all of Penny Dreadful so it kind of fit that theme too, with the genre mix.

  1. I love the idea of a vampire in a western, and I’m also a fan of Eric Fleming (aka Gil Favor), so I was very eager to run this one down. I think it’s quite well done (the only negative being the brother), nary a hint of camp. The vampire backstory was well developed and it showed an awareness of actual vampire lore which is sometimes forgotten in other films. Michael Pate always gets high marks for his performance here, which is well deserved, but I think Eric Fleming matches him as the preacher.

    Your “crash course on fearless vampire killing” gave me a chuckle;-) And yes, the final gunfight is great! Interesting to hear Fleming use the word “Boss”, as on Rawhide the other characters refer to *him* by that title. And on another weird digression: remember how Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitty is want to tell people that “they’re dead!” on The Untouchables? Well, in this case he would have been correct to tell his opponent that…. er no, maybe he would have to say “undead?” (lol)

    1. Yes on the Rawhide comments, so sad how Fleming died too young, he’s underrated and I agree he made a great opponent, brought the right strength and presence to it. Also the right gravity to their religious conversations which made it so much more entertaining. Dolores shouldn’t have had such a tough choice, but I know, she was enthralled, silly woman 🙂 So funny what actors and lines call to mind from other shows, it all starts to weave together 🙂 Thanks!

      1. Oh yes, such a tragedy about Fleming. And yes also to his bringing real strength to his character, the part needed someone who could seem absolutely sincere in his convictions (without being stuffy), and also convey a certain amount of bafflement and growing terror, without ultimately being any less the hero (I like how he closes his eyes after he fires… he’s put himself in the hands of his “Boss,” but isn’t exactly complacent as to the outcome of the gun duel. Now that’s a leap of faith!)

        I’d finished a video for this film a few months ago, which I’d planned on uploading this halloween, but I think I’ll upload it now, as your review set me to thinking of it again. It will be the world’s only Curse of the Undead music video (lol). It’s set to Katherine Jenkins’ cover of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life.”

        Bob, dare I say it: there are several copies of this film on youtube at the moment….

        1. Yes, you dare say it, and I will probably have a look. But I really want to OWN a copy of this film, and keep hoping for a nice looking Blu-ray. The beautiful black-and-white compositions are the first thing I recall whenever this film comes up. Guess I should consider getting myself an all-region player.

          1. Oh yes, one wonders what the average townsmen would have thought!? Here’s Tom London and William Fawcett hanging around by the cracker barrel swapping tall tales, and they come out to witness a gunfight with an outcome like none other. For sheer shock value to the average witness, it easily beats Sterling Hayden’s harpoon, which was pretty unusual itself.

            And oh, that video is uploaded now (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O07lxm9DgB0). I’ve put it in my Halloween playlist, along with Night of the Demon, The Innocents, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Uninvited, and The Queen of Spades. More will follow…

            1. excellent thank you! I’ll be checking that out soon 🙂 Night of the Demon is one I think I’ll be revisiting this year, love it and want to do a bunch of fav scaries for Halloween.

  2. I was thrilled when I saw this blog. I thought it meant that this fine little film was finally available on DVD. No such luck, but thanks for making more people aware of it!

    1. ha, sorry to get your hopes up on that one, I have it on an import so it’s out there if you can view those. Lots of fun, you’re right, and hopefully people get interested and can find it somewhere! Thanks for stopping by

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