Riding through the countryside, a Victorian coachman hears a grisly scream in the night and stumbles across a bloody corpse. He hears the sound of flapping wings and catches sight of something monstrous fleeing the scene. Following a spate of similar murders, dogged police Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) consults entomologist Professor Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) about the strange, moth-like scales found near each victim. The latest victim arrives in a police wagon outside the professor’s house, still feebly alive. But while Quennell is distracted and Mallinger’s flirty daughter, Clare (Wanda Ventham), entertains his students, the professor discretely smothers the dying man. He also denies knowing anything about those moth scales. Clearly Professor Mallinger is a man with a secret to hide.
How about a giant bloodsucking moth-woman lurking in his basement? The late, great Peter Cushing supposedly cited The Blood Beast Terror as his worst film. Given Cushing was often gentlemanly about even the shoddiest production he starred in, one wonders what it was about this Tigon effort that particularly irked him. It certainly ranks among the weakest British horror films made around this time. Tigon were an ambitious low-budget exploitation outfit that produced a handful of innovative horror movies, e.g. Repulsion (1965), The Sorcerers (1967) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (1969). However, more often than not, studio boss Tony Tenser found working with visionaries like Roman Polanski and Michael Reeves rather troublesome and seemingly preferred the kind of generic Hammer imitations cranked out by journeyman Vernon Sewell. Sewell was perhaps best known for buying the rights to a spooky play called The Medium and remaking it several times throughout the next forty years. The movies he made for Tigon – Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) and Burke and Hare (1971) – typically squander promising ideas thanks to his bland direction and The Blood Beast Terror is no exception.
The plot is essentially a retread of past Hammer chillers: The Gorgon (1964) and The Reptile (1966). In both films feminine sexuality mutates into something monstrous and threatening. A key innovative aspect of this concept is that rather than beautiful young women, the victims are typically handsome young men. Unlike the Hammer films, Blood Beast Terror offers little in the way of thematic depth. Despite a wild premise, it plods along with nary a shock, shudder or frisson of outrageous camp. There is one, almost throwaway charming moment where Cushing peeps through a window to observe the students’ tacky Frankenstein-like play, with wry amusement.
As one expects from a British horror film of this vintage, the production values are handsome and the performances are largely solid. However, with the exception of Cushing’s fastidious policeman and two other notables, the characters are pompous nitwits that fail to engage our sympathies. Comedy stalwart Roy Hudd injects some welcome levity as the jolly mortician who tucks into his supper beside a row of fresh bodies. Vanessa Howard, the sexy schoolgirl from Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1969), plays Quennell’s cheerfully childlike daughter Meg, whom he rather foolishly brings along on his undercover investigation. Inevitably, Meg is hypnotized into donating blood for the beast before the ludicrous climax that ssumes a monster able to think, talk and pose as a human being would somehow fall for the oldest moth-killing trick in the book!