Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Deathmaster (1972)

Presumably inspired by the public’s post-Manson fascination with messianic cult leaders, this ineffective but offbeat vampire flick stars Robert Quarry, late of the Count Yorga pictures, as a bloodsucker who beguiles a group of hippies by posing as a peace-and-love mystic. Wearing long hair, a goatee, flowing robes, and glittering medallions, Khorda (Quarry) appeals to his charges with smoothly intoned nonsense (e.g., “Life’s extension is nothing more than an approach to immortality”). Meanwhile, his wide-eyed fans spew dialogue littered with counterculture slang (e.g., “Hey, man, don’t split on us—we groove on what you’re saying”). All of this unfolds inside an old mansion nestled in the canyons above Los Angeles, which the hippies occupy as a commune. It takes forever to things to start happening—Quarry doesn’t bare his fangs until the 30-minute mark—and the characters opposing the vampire are unimpressive. One is a greasy biker whose mama falls under the count’s influence. Another is a meek local shopkeeper played by John Fiedler, better known as the voice of Piglet in various Winnie the Pooh cartoons and as emasculated therapy patient Mr. Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show. And then there’s Pico (Bill Ewing), the Native American commune member who, for no discernible reason, practices kung fu. Like the Yorga movies, The Deathmaster represents a queasy attempt at blending the atmospheric style of UK horror pictures with the trashier textures of American exploitation movies. As with the Yorga pictures, however, the crossbreeding doesn’t work—The Deathmaster is too idiotic to match the ersatz sophistication of a Hammer Films production, and it’s too restrained to work as a proper drive-in distraction. Much of the problem lies with Quarry’s performance, since he’s a smug actor with European affectations but without the natural poise of a Peter Cushing or a Vincent Price. Yet most of the blame must fall, naturally, on the filmmakers, who fail to generate sufficient narrative material to sustain even this picture’s meager 84 minutes.

The Deathmaster: LAME

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