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Monday, August 21, 2017

Curse of the Undead (1959)



This is an interesting movie from the ‘50s that combined two of the most popular genres of the time, horror and westerns. The movie opens with a doctor and preacher tending to an ill woman. From the dialogue, we find out that a strange wasting disease has been targeting the citizens in the town, but that the current patient appears to be on the mend. Then there is a scream and they rush in to find the woman dead. The preacher notices two small puncture wounds on her neck. We the audience know what that means, but the characters don’t.

Now that the horror is hinted at the movie establishes the Western part of the plot. The same doctor that was tending to the doomed woman is also in a property dispute with a neighbor, a bully named Buffer. He has damned up a river in an effort to choke force him to sell his land off. When the doctor shows up dead his son and daughter are convinced that Buffer is responsible. Though the preacher notices the same marks on his neck. The doctor’s daughter, Dolores, offers money for a gunman to get some payback on Buffer. This brings a mysterious gunslinger into town that may or may not be a vampire. Okay he is! Not only does he want to take care of Buffer, but he has intentions towards the lovely Dolores as well. This leads to an eventual showdown between the vampire gunslinger and the preacher. Does good prevail and is Dolores saved from the vampire?

This is a Western so yeah, the good guys win! That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed Curse of the Undead. The movie is just short of an hour and twenty minutes so the pacing is brisk. It takes little time establishing the basic setup of the vampire, named Drake, taking advantage of the situation for his own ends. At the same time the background of the Drake is revealed cleverly thru the use of a hidden diary. That backstory is interesting and makes the villainous gunslinger a tiny bit sympathetic. He made a terrible mistake, compounded it with his own suicide, and was cursed because of it. Then again, he is killing people right and left so he has to be stopped. Make no mistake this was a B picture and wasn’t given the biggest budget or best talent, but the script and direction is top notch. You don’t often see this amount of effort in these movies so when I do it is appreciated.

The big showdown. Reminds me of Vampire Sundown.
One thing I do want to warn people about. Much of what most viewers expect out of vampires was a cinematic invention. The vampire in Curse of the Undead ignores that and refers back to the original folklore. Drake wasn’t bitten by a vampire but became one because he committed a mortal sin, committing suicide. Those he kills don’t return as vampires. He is cursed to walk the earth, they aren’t. The most noticeable departure is that he can walk in the sun, he doesn’t like it but it doesn’t destroy him. Don’t expect the traditional movie vampire rules to apply here. I only mention this because I’ve noticed it bothers a lot of viewers.

I grew up watching old monster movies and westerns. I had never seen Curse of the Undead before. I really like this movie and can promise it will go into my regular viewing rotation. While old black and white horror isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time you need to check this one out.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

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