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Movie Review: The Vampire’s Tomb

A female specter rises from the grave

The Edward D. Wood Jr. biography Nightmare of Ecstasy describes the original The Vampire’s Tomb as an unrealized film that the famed “bad” movie director was to begin shooting in 1954, but was eventually abandoned for Bride of the Atom instead. There’s also some discrepancy as to whether the footage Wood shot of Bela Lugosi that appears in Plan 9 From Outer Space was originally intended for The Vampire’s Tomb or not.

Regardless of all that, the modern The Vampire’s Tomb is another Woodian pastiche by Andre Perkowski, a project in proper Wood fashion that was filmed several years ago, but only recently assembled. Like his previous Devil Girls, Perkowski works to both spoof and offer a proper homage to Wood’s worst excesses. While Wood’s reputation as the “worst director of all time” is open to debate — and personally I don’t think he’s deserving of the title — what is clear through Perkowski’s riffs is what an atrocious storyteller Wood actually was.

Like with Night of the Ghouls, Wood knew to play to his strengths as a low-budget filmmaker and The Vampire’s Tomb is set up similarly to Ghouls. Most of the action is confined to a single location and the story is a melange of familiar soap opera-ish tropes with just a sprinkling of supernatural themes on top. There are two things that Wood gets crucially wrong, though: First he spends a lot of time up front telling the audience that they are about to be horrifically frightened, then fails to provide anything remotely scary nor does he ever put his heroic characters in any kind of serious jeopardy. Second, his films totally lack any sense of humor, which is somewhat ironic if Nightmare of Ecstasy and Tim Burton’s biopic offer any kind of proper insight into Wood’s personal character then he was something of a fun loving guy, during his younger years at least.

Following a traditional Wood plot, Perkowski can’t avoid the first of his hero’s mistakes. The plot to The Vampire’s Tomb is a total mess. A rich family gathers at a spooky mansion on the edge of a graveyard on a stormy night to hear the reading of the will of a deceased aunt. However, said aunt is allegedly haunting the grounds of the estate. Did the aunt’s husband, a smarmy doctor, actually murder his wife and is now out for revenge? Is the aunt’s corpse actually up and walking around orĀ  is she just the product of her favorite niece’s delusional visions? One note, too: Although the aunt is referred to as a “vampire” several times and that’s the word used in the title, Wood’s creature of the night here is really more like a ghoul.

What makes Perkowski’s approach to the same material a success is by bubbling up giant vats of good-natured humor. The actors in a Perkowski picture all seem to be having a good time as opposed to the leaden performances Wood usually got out of his cast. One of my favorite bits that Perkowski repeats over and over here is shooting scenes with actors who are clearly not in the same room together. This allows them to really ham it up for the camera, yet still be reserved enough to not become overly obnoxious. Despite the film being a total goof, there’s a certain respectfulness being paid to Wood here so that the final enterprise has an aura of campy fun rather than being a mean-spirited exercise.

Visually, Perkowski is also much more playful than Wood ever was, which is partially the result of him being able to use more lightweight cameras and not have to lock down every shot and partially due to the mix of film mediums he uses, such as Super 8, 16mm and video. With the exception of just a few garish video shots, the movie has a slight misty, otherworldly look to it. Some of it, particularly scenes with the wandering ghoul and of the mysterious “Dr. Acula,” has a faded, gauzy look resembling Jack Smith‘s Flaming Creatures. It’s interesting that while Perkowski shot much of his footage in 2000, and some of it more recently, there’s a musty, cobwebby ancient look of it that would make it difficult to pinpoint the time period the film was made if one weren’t already aware of it ahead of time.

Ed Wood films are easy to mock and make fun of, but it’s nice to see Perkowski go in a different direction with his adaptations. Some of the humor is dependent on a certain knowledge of Wood’s films, from the bizarre insertion of a Tor Johnson look-a-like into the story to the Dr. Acula character always hiding behind a big hat and a cape over his face ala the Lugosi replacement in Plan 9 to a ludicrous list of “predictions” by the real Criswell, but much of it seems simply just inspired by the infamous director. The Vampire’s Tomb exists as a fun goof and one hopes that somewhere Edward D. Wood Jr. is smiling down on his young protege Andre Perkowski.

Watch the The Vampire’s Tomb movie trailer: