The Vulture (1967)


UK/Canada. 1967.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Lawrence Huntington, Photography (some versions b&w, some colour) – Stephen Dade, Music – Eric Spear, Makeup – Geoffrey Rodway, Art Direction – Duncan Sutherland. Production Company – Homeric Films Ltd./Iliad Films Ltd./Film Financing Co. Ltd


Robert Hutton (Dr Eric Lutens), Akim Tamiroff (Professor Hans Koniglich), Broderick Crawford (Brian Stroud), Diane Clare (Trudy Lutens), Gordon Sterne (Edward Stroud), Edward Caddick (Melcher the Sexton), Philip Friend (The Vicar), Keith McConnell (Superintendent Wendell), Annette Carell (Ellen West)


In the small town of Tolferro, Cornwall, a woman walks home through the graveyard and is shocked as the grave of Francis Real erupts open. Afterwards, she reports seeing a bird creature fly out of the coffin. According to local legend, Real was a dark sorcerer in the 17th Century. After cursing the Stroud family line for killing his beloved vulture, Real was buried alive in a grave alongside the vulture and a treasure of gold coins. Brian Stroud, the modern heir of the Stroud name, dismisses the story. They are joined by American nuclear scientist Eric Lutens who is married to Stroud’s niece Trudy. After examining the scene, Lutens determines that someone has used advanced nuclear transmutation to teleport into the grave. In so doing, their molecules have become mixed up with the carcass of Real’s vulture. Lutens believes that this is an heir of Real who is now transforming into the vulture creature to fulfil the curse uttered by their ancestor.

I had previously thought that The Blood Beast Terror (1968), in which a scientist causes his daughter to turn into a giant moth, was the most conceptually bizarre film to emerge from the otherwise worthwhile Anglo-horror cycle of the 1950s through the 1970s. After seeing The Vulture, I may end up having to revise my opinion on that one.

The Vulture is a completely demented film. The problem is that it seems to be trying to be a little bit of everything. It is trying very much to be part of the Anglo-horror cycle that was at its height during the 1960s, even though the film is part-financed from Canada and imports several minor American actors (Broderick Crawford, Robert Hutton, who maintained a career in a number of B genre movies, and Orson Welles associate Akim Tamiroff). The plot about a scientist engaged in teleportation experiments and becoming genetically mixed up with an animal/insect has been lifted from The Fly (1958). The theme of the curse placed on a family line by a 16th/17th Century sorcerer and being enacted by some present day ancestor or resurrected witch was one used by a great many films after the Italian Black Sunday (1960).

The Vulture is such a conceptual hodgepodge – an effort trying to be an Anglo-Horror film, a plot about a scientist engaged in teleportation experiments that are causing him to transform into a giant bird, a sorcerer’s ancestral curse plot – that the results are utterly bizarre. Just consider the laughable plotting contortions that the film engages in – a scientist (who seems more an historian than a physicist) creates a teleportation device in his basement. He uses it to teleport himself into the coffin of his ancestor, although has apparently never dug up the coffin to examine the exit point of his teleportation. (If I was being teleported into somewhere like a coffin, I would sure as heck want to know the dimensions of the object and what was inside first in case this might result in unforeseen accidents – such as that the coffin was too short and some body parts ended up being cut off or else that I ended up materialised into and sharing the same space as the corpse that you might perfectly naturally assume would be in a coffin). As per The Fly, he rematerialises having transformed into a vulture creature (although, unlike The Fly, the transformation would appear to be fairly selective as sometimes Akim Tamiroff appears normal, other times as a bird creature); while the teleportation experiment also appears to have activated the words of the curse that still seem to be just floating around in the ether after three hundred years.

The Vulture was largely a one-man production for Lawrence Huntingdon, a British director mostly of quota quickies in the thriller genre, none of any distinction. His only other venture into genre material was Tower of Terror (1941), a quasi-psycho film about a mad lighthouse keeper, although he did write the script for one posthumously produced Anglo-horror film The Oblong Box (1969). Ignominiously for Huntingdon, The Vulture would be his last film and he died the year following its release.

Huntingdon’s directorial style is dull and prosaic. The main problem with The Vulture is that it never engages as the horror film it aspires to be – we only get two appearances of the title creature throughout, none of them full body. In fact, it becomes hard to stop oneself laughing in the scene where Broderick Crawford goes out onto his balcony and is snatched by a pair of giant claws that come down from above, or the later scenes where we see Akim Tamiroff moving around in a birdsuit. There is no particular subtlety to the script – Akim Tamiroff’s villain is obvious from the outset – he’s the one with the Germanic accent and is even unsubtly outfitted with a hat and black cape that makes him look like a vulture.

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