The Blood Beast Terror (1968) / Burke and Hare (1971) – By James L. Neibaur

KINO-Lorber adds further to its strong catalog of classic and indie releases with two low budget British gothic-horror movies by director Vernon Sewell released separately on DVD and blu ray.

Vernon Sewell is perhaps the most creative of British filmmakers who specialized in B movies. His long career (he lived to the age of 97 and worked in films for 40 years) saw him helming everything from drama to sexploitation. His horror films might be his most interesting as well as most maddeningly overlooked. British horror is so represented by the refined classics from the Hammer studios, little is known in the states about Sewell’s campy, low budget work. Sewell managed to respond creatively to these budgetary limitations in the same manner as Roger Corman did with American horror and science-fiction.

The Blood Beast Terror (released in the United States under the delightful title The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood) benefits from the great Peter Cushing in the lead as a Scotland Yard detective investigating a series of murders where young men are being found with their throats ripped open and drained of all blood. Burke and Hare, which was Sewell’s final film, is about two men who rob graves in order to supply a University with cadavers.

The Blood Beast Terror is filled with delightfully suspenseful imagery, especially once the narrative has been established. One particular scene where a man is playfully searching through the dark woods for his girl in a game of hide and seek, is remarkable in its editing and use of darkness for the desired effect. The man’s gurgling throat as he is attacked is an inspired use of sound.

Burke and Hare has great sets and it is interesting how Sewell shifts from the expanse of the outdoor scenes and the cramped quarters of the grave robbers. The gothic nature of the narrative lends itself well to suspense, while this film is more handsomely mounted than The Blood Beast Terror. The fact that it is the film that concluded Sewell’s long career also makes it significant.

While each film has highlights to recommend it, The Blood Beast Terror is the better of the two. Burke and Hare has some protracted sequences in a brothel that distract from the narrative rather than enhance it. The Blood Beast Terror benefits from the presence and professionalism of Peter Cushing. Each film maintains a cheeky sense of fun to its proceedings, sometimes flirting with parody (the song for Burke and Hare’s credits has to be heard to be believed).

The quality of each film, both mastered from their 35mm negative, is stunning, especially on blu ray which is how this writer screened each movie. For fans of British horror, the addition of either or both of these Vernon Sewell efforts to your collection is recommended.