Cinema/TV, Dracula, Film Notes

Your Daily Dracula – The Body Beneath (1970)

My notes on The Body Beneath (1970)

‘Filmed in the graveyards of England,’ boasts the poster for this Andy Milligan runaway production.  Rather more pointedly, the dialogue states ‘London is a police state midnight.’

It opens with three blue-faced vampire women creeping about Highgate Cemetery — though Milligan unaccountably fails to get shots of some of the place’s most striking features — and proceeds to spin a story out of leftovers from Dracula (with perhaps a nod to Dance of the Vampires).  Stoker’s Carfax Abbey is relocated to Hampstead, so as to be near the cemetery, and Dracula is replaced by the Reverend Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed), an immortal whose family dates back to 98 BC (one is called Caesar, another Elizabeth).  These vampires have been living in the cemetery for twenty-one centuries (‘You know, of course, that the Fords have been buried in Highgate Cemetary since 98 BC.’) – though historians should note that Highgate Cemetry was actually consecrated in 1839 and deliberately designed to seem old.  The Reverend schemes to ensnare several of his mortal descendants (‘If you behave yourself for a period of six months, shall we say, then perhaps we shall give you immortality’), so their blood can be used to revivify the enfeebled breed — by injecting or drinking the stuff or by co-opting women’s wombs to breed more Fords.

Most of the movie follows a pair of trapped young lovers: Susan Ford (Jackie Skarvellis) is imprisoned and bled, while her stalwart boyfriend (Richmond Ross) tries to rescue her.  In a typical sentimental/horrid subplot, hunchbacked minion Spool (Berwick Kaler) goes soft on Susan and suffers for it.  Milliganesque nastiness includes much stabbing with knitting needles, as used on the eyes of a treacherous maid or to dispose of the heroine (who revives instantly as a vampire in a Yorgaish finish).

Reed’s whiny, Eric Idle-look villain is surprisingly interesting, with spells of bed-ridden weakness and costume that runs to high church vestments rather than the usual cloak.  However, the Reverend’s big scene — as he addresses the rest of the brood on the necessity to relocate to the younger, healthier environment of America — is botched by blurry camerawork presumably designed to osbcure the duff make-up jobs on the other vampires and amateur sound recording for which there is no excuse.  The villain does get some of Milligan’s trademark misanthropic rants …  ‘What is America? What is it made of? Pimps, prostitutes, religious fanatics, thrown out of England but a few short centuries ago. They’re the scum of the Earth!’

A few odd moments are genuinely weird — the blue-faced girls have a pantomime look, but some of their harpyish creeping works well, and Kaler’s dollop of pathetic flashback (he got to be a hunchback because his bad brother pushed him under a bus) is surprisingly heartfelt (if conventionally scored).  Milligan quotes not only from Stoker (the three girls, Carfax Abbey, the need to relocate to a fresher society) but from Universal’s Dracula, with Ford dashing away a cigarette case when he isn’t reflected in it.  The few sex scenes are needless padding.  Contrary to most sources, the Colin Gordon who plays ‘Graham Ford’ is not the bespectacled British character actor best known as one of the many ‘Number Twos’ on The Prisoner.


One thought on “Your Daily Dracula – The Body Beneath (1970)

  1. I love that blonde hair and blue skin look. Seriously! Also, British natural light at dawn filming, specially on ’70s film stock does something to me, magical. The Children of the Night are innocent things, the day brings the machine back (even in lockdown, now). Twilight and dawn, who doesn’t love those times and places within and without us where both sides tentativelt coexist, stumbling into or out of wakefulness, groggy Van Helsings on their way to work passing sleepy vamps off to bed. They’ve both clocked off so there is nothing at stake. I’m going to try to start a Vampire Film Society, with the ultimate goal a renovated old picturehouse, blood red carpets, seats, curtains (or they will be, heh heh)

    Posted by wmsagittarius | February 10, 2021, 3:38 am

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