Bloodsuckers directed by Robert Hartford-DavisBloodsuckers directed by Robert Hartford-Davis

Bloodsuckers directed by Robert Hartford-DavisPerhaps I should state at the outset that my only reason for renting out the 1970 British film Bloodsuckers is that it stars two of my very favorite English actors, Peter Cushing and The Avengers‘s Patrick Macnee, appearing in a theatrical picture together for the first and only time. Well, I suppose that helps to explain my double disappointment with this film, a horror outing without a single shiver, and moreover, one in which Cushing and Macnee share not a single scene together. A fairly incomprehensible, ineptly put-together goulash of a film, Bloodsuckers (aka Doctors Wear Scarlet and the title under which I saw it in its current Something Weird DVD presentation, Freedom Seeker, as well as Incense for the Damned) turns out to be something of a labor to sit through, and a picture that will truly be of interest only for the hard-core completists of those two great actors.

In the film, Richard Fountain, an impotent professor of Greek mythology at Oxford University, gets into major-league trouble when he becomes involved with a hard-partying, jet-set cult while on vacation in Greece, and comes under the mind control of a vampiress named Chriseis. (Fountain is played here by Patrick Mower, who three years earlier had portrayed another hapless Brit who falls under the spell of an evil cult in The Devil Rides Out; Chriseis is portrayed by Imogen Hassall, who had appeared with Macnee in the 1967 Avengers episode “Escape In Time.”) To avert an international scandal (Fountain is also the son of the Foreign Secretary), the British government sends its agent Tony Seymore (Alexander Davion) to retrieve Fountain, and he is accompanied by the professor’s fiancée Penelope (Madeline Hinde) and best friend Bob Kirby (Senegalese actor Johnny Sekka, “the British Sidney Poitier,” who had appeared with Macnee in the 1968 Avengers episode “Have Guns – Will Haggle”). Once in Greece, they are aided in their search by the British military attache Derek Longbow (Macnee, here in his first theatrical film since 1957’s Les Girls; he wouldn’t appear in anything outside of television until 1980’s The Sea Wolves), while back at Oxford, provost Dr. Walter Goodrich, Penelope’s father (Cushing, who also appeared in the infinitely superior horror films Scream and Scream Again and The Vampire Lovers that same year … as well as the 1967 Avengers episode “Return of the Cybernauts”), frets and worries. But even after Fountain is ultimately saved from the clutches of the drug-addled vampiric cult and brought back to England, it would seem that his problems are far from over…

Bloodsuckers directed by Robert Hartford-DavisAs Maltin’s Movie Guide so correctly suggests, Bloodsuckers sports many segments in which narrator Seymore spits information at us in machine-gun fashion to fill in the gaps of what was almost certainly cut footage in post-production. The entire film feels choppy and unfinished somehow, and while all the performers try hard to put the conceit over, Julian More’s script sadly lets them down. It is an unfleshed-out mess, dribbling out bits of Greek mythology here, pseudo psychology regarding impotence and susceptibility to vampirism there, in place of a coherent story line. Director Robert Hartford-Davis, whose only other pictures I have seen are the indescribable Gonks Go Beat (1965) and the blaxploitation thriller Black Gunn (1972), does a lousy job at keeping things coherent here, and those previously mentioned cuts and splices surely don’t help. To add to the befuddlement, many scenes are shot way too darkly for home viewing, especially on the SW DVD that I recently watched. In addition, the film seems to pile on weirdness for weirdness’ sake; thus, we are treated to an extended sequence showing the cult popping acid, smoking pot, shooting dope, having sex and sucking blood, under stroboscopic lights and via a zooming camera, as well as an hallucination on Penelope’s part that signifies … well, absolutely nothing. The film dishes out at least three scenes featuring some well-choreographed fisticuffs, but these are unfortunately undermined by the remarkably cheesy action music supplied by Bobby Richards. On the plus side (and I always endeavor to find SOMETHING to like in even the most egregiously drecky of films), Bloodsuckers sports some very nice-looking scenery, both of the Oxford countryside and the Greek islands, and one truly shocking sequence. In this scene, the Macnee character is involved in a literally cliffhanging situation that should stun all longtime fans of the immaculate and imperishable John Steed; a scene, moreover, that is intercut suspensefully with one in which Kirby fights the beautiful Chriseis to the (un)death. But other than this well-done two minutes of screen time, Bloodsuckers — or whatever other title you happen to catch it under — does not offer much. It is a film that will surely disappoint the casual viewer, and even fans, like myself, of its two great male leads.

As for the Something Weird DVD itself, the good news is that Bloodsuckers shares the disc with a 1965 B&W Filipino movie entitled Blood Thirst, a surprisingly effective, noirish horror thriller set on the streets of Manila. Unfortunately, when viewed back to back as a double feature, it becomes even more apparent to the impartial viewer that Bloodsuckers really DOES suck.