- Entertainment and Media
Curse of the Undead (1959)
A curious hybrid of the Horror/Western genres. Mysterious gunslinger Drake Robey (Michael Pate) is actually a long dead vampire, made so through the actions of his own suicide. As Don Drago Robles he had committed the act of fratricide. Cutting down his brother like Cain, when his wife was found in the arms of his sibling. Unable to live with himself after this act, Robles takes his own life with a silver dagger thrust through his heart.
The story begins In a small western town as a deadly epidemic seems to be affecting only the young girls. Wreaths are advertised on the front of every second door and Dr carter (John Hoyt) admits to being baffled by the case after finding no cure in his medical books. But, Preacher Dan, played with an intense piety by Rawhide’s Eric Fleming, spots two pin pricks on the throat of the latest victim. Meanwhile, Dr Carter has his own troubles as he is being harassed by the local Land Baron, Buffer, a blustering Bruce Gordon. Lurking in the background is a black-clad enigmatic gunfighter who sees everything. He follows Dr Carter who later expires from the same unusual epidemic. This causes the doctor’s son, Tim (Jimmy Murphy), to coax Buffer into a gunfight. Buffer is reluctant at first, but is baited by the hotheaded young man. Guns blaze and the boy is killed.
Going against the sheriff’s wishes, Dolores Carter (Kathleen Crawley), advertises for a gunfighter to bring her father and brother’s murderer to justice - Gun Wanted! $100 For the Death of a Murderer. The mysterious gunfighter takes her up on her offer much to Preacher Dan’s chagrin. This man proves to be lightning fast and wounds both of Buffer’s henchmen with a warning that he will be back to finish the job if hired by the girl. It is worth noting that one henchman is actually Edwin Parker, famed Universal stuntman and stand-in for many of the Studio’s monsters. But Preacher Dan is able to talk Dolores out of the insanity of hiring a gunfighter, but she still keeps the mysterious stranger around as a midnight rancher in case of further attacks by Buffer. In the dark watches of the night, however, we see the stranger as he makes his way to Kathleen’s bedside and begins to bite her in the throat and suck her blood. Drago De Robles is identified as the gunfighter, Drake Robey, through a secret document unearthed by Preacher Dan and a lengthy monologue accompanies his origin in flashback:
Apart from explaining that the Carter home is part of a Spanish Land Grant belonging to the Robles family and the document identifying the gunfighter’s undead origins, there are no real explanations concerning the vampire’s motive. He appears simply to haunt his old neighbourhood. Western bad guy, Michael Pate, has no fangs, a cat like gait and a gliding walk - this would be ‘adopted’ by Chris Sarandon in the vampire movie homage, Fright Night (1985) - and looks impressive in his B-movie black, sitting astride a horse and hovering over his victims as an angel of death. There is even the hint of homosexual necrophilia as the vampire shares coffin time with the corpse of Dr Carter. One very eerie sequence has him shadowing the
hero and being caught in the shadow of the Church cross like the Baron Meinster in Brides of Dracula (1960). He is finally gunned down by preacher Dan who, after learning of Robles real calling, has the presence of mind to attach a cross to his bullet. Interestingly this film states, quite categorically, that vampires cannot be harmed by silver as Robey/Robles is pinned to his coffin with a silver dagger but escapes leaving the knife embedded in his resting place and he is one of the few cinematic vampires to succumb to the curse through suicide.
Curse of the Undead is an interesting curiosity that runs for 79 minutes. It misses the classic label except perhaps for being the first vampire western and plays more like a TV movie, accentuated by the fact that Fleming and Gordon both created unforgettable TV heroes and villains, Fleming as Gil Favor and Gordon as the sidekick of Al Capone, Frank Nitti, in the fictionalized series The Untouchables. The eerie musical score by Irving Gertz sounds more like a composition for a science fiction movie. It can’t even be recognized as a cult movie though I am sure that this will be ascribed to it by hard core fans of the genre.