Review of “Curse of the Undead” (1959)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s pizza and bad movie, an unusual mixture of western and horror. Basil and garlic pizza didn’t seem to faze the bad guy who did wear the required black.

Plot:

In an unspecified area of the former Spanish territory of the Old West, perhaps around 1880, several young girls have come down with a mysterious illness neither Doc Carter’s (John Hoyt) medicine nor Preacher Dan’s (Eric Fleming) prayers seem to be much help against. After losing yet another young patient tragically, Doc and his daughter Dolores (Kathleen Crowley) get in his buckboard and drive home. His son Tim (Jimmy Murphy) has been beaten and starts waving a gun around. He’s embarrassed and angry. The men of neighbor and all-around bad dude, Buffer (Bruce Gordon), have illegally dammed the river, robbing them of water. When the boy tried to tear down the dam, he was beaten. His hat has four bullet holes in it. Doc decides to have a talk with Sheriff Bill (Edward Binns).

The Sheriff’s talk with Buffer in the local watering hole produces lukewarm promises.

On his way home from the Sheriff’s office, Doc is followed by a stranger dressed in black. The viewer never sees the two meet, but Doc arrives home deceased. Son Tim, already upset about his own abuse at the hands of Buffer and his men, is certain Buffer was behind his father’s death. Barely has Doc been laid to rest when a ranch hand reports that a fence has been torn down. About eighty head of cattle are missing. Hoof prints indicate ten men did the deed. Despite good advice to the contrary, Tim forces a confrontation with Buffer. He does not survive the encounter.

Convinced the law will not help her, Dolores puts up posters, asking for a gunslinger to help find a murderer. As quickly as she puts them up, the Sheriff takes them down. But the stranger in black (Michael Pate) picks one up. He takes it into the saloon to think the deal over. Buffer (who doesn’t seem to have a home despite all the land he owns) asks him whether he’s thinking about taking the job. He admits he’s the subject of the poster. In an effort to dissuade him, one henchman ends up with a bullet to his gun hand. After the stranger walks out, boss and henchmen argue about who shot first. Buffer tells the man to collect his pay and go—tough boss.

Thoughts:

This is said to be the first western/vampire mix. Interestingly, it stays reasonably true to both genres. It’s firmly within the western, depicting a dispute over water and boundaries, the lady of the ranch left alone having to fight for herself, the conflict between the bully rancher and the rancher the viewer sympathizes with, and the gunslinger in black. It even ends with the requisite gunfight in the middle of town, while townsfolk scatter—but with a twist.

The vampire lore is a little mixed. Drake cringes at the sight of a cross but can walk in daylight, though he prefers night. He can eat and drink (…wine, presumably, but much prefers whiskey). A wooden stake through the heart is fatal. He likes to sleep in coffins, even if they belong to someone else. Yeah, creepy.

The Theremin-heavy opening music lets the viewer know this isn’t a run-of-the-mill western. The Theremin seems to return when the black-clad stranger is onscreen.

Overall, I found the dialogue bland, but there were some genuine gems.

While Tim is sitting in the saloon getting drunk waiting for Buffer to show, the bartender (Jay Adler) tells him, “Boy, you poured enough out of the bottle to give you man-sized trouble.”

Preacher Dan tries to talk Dolores out of hiring a gunslinger by telling her, “All this talk about killing and revenge is as sinful as praying to the devil himself.”

“If the devil can stop some of this pain in me,” she replies, “then I’ll even pray to him.”

There’s a knock at the door. It’s the stranger in black with a copy of Dolores’s poster. He introduces himself as Drake Robey. Hmmm… yes, a likely name.

Upon learning there’s a real killer after him, Buffer goes to Sheriff Bill for protection. He and Preacher Dan come up with a plan they think will convince Dolores to call off the hired gun but decide to wait till morning. When Buffer objects, Sheriff Bill tells him, “I’ll tuck you into bed, and one of your men can hold your hand.”

At one point, Dolores offers to let Drake stay in an old caretaker’s cottage by the cemetery, unless he’d rather not.

“The dead don’t bother me,” he tells her. “It’s the living who give me trouble.”

In a heated exchange with Preacher Dan after the clergyman has learned Drake’s identity and called him evil, Drake tells him, “Without the devil, you have no profession.”

While the movie was odd in many ways, and the Theremin got on my nerves, it was also a lot of fun. In a blending of genres that tend to be overly dramatic and played straight, this left room for a chuckle or two without becoming camp. I liked it. It turned out to be a great Saturday pizza and bad movie movie.

I could not find a free streaming version of this movie.




Title: Curse of the Undead (1959)

Directed by
Edward Dein

Writing Credits
Edward Dein…(written by) and
Mildred Dein…(written by)

Cast (in credits order)
Eric Fleming…Preacher Dan
Michael Pate…Drake Robey
Kathleen Crowley…Dolores Carter
John Hoyt…Dr. Carter
Bruce Gordon…Buffer

Released: May 1959
Length: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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