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