For many, many years, all I knew of the 1967 British horror film The Vulture
was one magnificent still in a book about horror movies. It depicted a skeleton sat in front of some kind of control panel. Details of the film were scant: a plot synopsis in Alan Frank's Horror Movie Handbook
, involving a scientist transforming himself into a half-man, half vulture creature in order to avenge an ancestor's death made it sound like a cross between The Fly
, whilst the cast list looked decidedly bizarre, including Broderick Crawford and Akim Tamiroff. I tried to find out more over the years, but most reference works didn't even mention it. Those that did were dismissive of the film, affording it only brief mentions. Moreover, it never seemed to turn up on TV - no matter how many hoary old B-pictures BBC2 dredged up to keep their Saturday night horror double bills going, The Vulture
was never among them. However, a couple of weeks ago I finally got the chance to watch the entire movie.
Sadly, it couldn't live up that still. The Vulture
turns out to be typical of the low-budget horror films being put out by a variety of independent producers during the sixties, looking to cash in on the success of Hammer Films. Many of these were produced to order to make up the lower half of a double bill and I'm sure this was the case here, although I've never been able to find any details as to what it went out with when first released. Unfortunately, like a lot of these latter-day B-movies, The Vulture
's ambitions outstrip its resources. It's running time is padded out with lengthy dialogue scenes in which dull characters recite dull plot expositions as if by rote. Nobody expresses surprise at the bizarre ideas about teleportation being spouted by the middle-aged scientist hero - or the fact that he is able to extrapolate such theories on the basis of having heard a report that a local woman had seen a half man, half bird creature emerging from a grave in the local churchyard. This is a B-movie world where the local mad scientist can build a nuclear reactor in his basement without raising suspicion, (or requiring planning permission). Consequently, despite only running 91 minutes, the film feels interminable.
When the monster does appear, (and we have to wait until around the half way mark for this), all we see are a pair of giant talons coming down on the shoulders of its victim, before they are pulled off skywards, their remains to eventually be found in a giant cliff top nest. Finally, in the closing minutes, we finally glimpse the creature - Akim Tamiroff in a bird suit, flapping his 'wings' around as he menaces the heroine at the film's (anti) climax. Even then, the camera stays in as close as possible to try disguise the ridiculousness of the monster. The plot, such as it is, involves Tamiroff using nuclear power to teleport himself into his ancestor's grave (where he was buried alive with his pet vulture) to retrieve some coins, but getting his molecules mixed up with the vulture in the process. He then periodically uses his nuclear-powered teleportation device to transform into the man/vulture hybrid to take revenge on the descendants of the family who persecuted his ancestor.
The film isn't entirely without interest. It's the last film of veteran British film and TV director Lawrence Huntingdon, (he died a couple of years after completing it). The Cornish locations are nicely photographed, (although it is a Cornwall populated by lots of Americans claiming to be Canadian, probably on account of the fact that it was partly financed with US and Canadian money), and, like many of the British B-movie horrors of the era, provides a fascinating glimpse of sixties Britain in all its non-swinging and un-psychedelic glory. It all looks slightly run down and seedy, an impression enhanced by the muted colours and low light levels, (in common with many of these movies, it seems to have been shot in late Autumn or Winter). It also pulls something of a shock by killing off the biggest name star - Broderick Crawford - halfway through its running length. Clearly, the film wasn't well-regarded even at the time of its release: in the US only a black and white print was distributed, with the colour version only being seen on TV some years later. Oh, and that still which fascinated me? Well, the scene it is taken from comes near the end of the movie, when the hero finds his way into the villain's nuclear reactor fitted basement, where he finds Tamiroff's assistant's skeletonised body sitting at the controls. Quite why this has happened is never explained - presumably we're meant to assume that he suffered an overdose of radiation which, as we all know, turns you into a skeleton. Well, it was the sixties...
Labels: Forgotten Films