Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961)

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961) Doctor Blood is one of those names that can go either way: maybe the guy is just a preordained medical genius who — under the pressure of living down an obnoxious surname — is on his way to a Noble prize. Or, he could be a bonesaw-wielding maniac whose idea of anesthesia is a shovel to the back of the head.

In 1961’s British horror Doctor Blood’s Coffin, Peter Blood (Kieron Moore) is somewhere in-between: dashing good looks, a velvety, intelligent voice, and a morbid (and vindictive) fascination with reanimating the dead.

Well-made and nicely acted but very low on fright factor, Doctor Blood’s Coffin is a 1960’s Re-Animator that knocks around a similar theme we tend to find crawling around corpses: love.

Malpractice of the Macabre

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961)

Despite being shut out by the medical community, Dr. Blood continues his questionable experiments in a small Cornish village by working on the dead husband of his love interest Linda Parker (Hazel Court).

His procedure is simple: take the beating hearts out of undeserving people — or at least the people he deems undeserving — and with the help of a poison called curare, implant them in the dead to reanimate them. When the local doctors figure out that curare is the single cause of death in new subjects, Dr. Blood’s gig might be up.

The film is certainly light on gore, and not just by Re-Animator standards. The zombie spooking itself only comes directly before the conclusion and would have been far better placed earlier in the film — and multiplied by ten. We want ghouls! And lots of them! We want to see them dance and fight and mill about and see how far Dr. Blood’s experimenting will go. But alas, that’s a story for another time and another movie entirely, and Doctor Blood’s Coffin matter-of-fact ending instead rings out with a resounding thud.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight

Dr Blood's Coffin

Dr Blood’s Coffin

If you’re a Chicagolander, you should know Svengoolie, the network TV horror mainstay, featured this flick on an episode in 1998. Director Sidney J. Furie, who is still kicking it at 81 years old, has seen both sides of the critical spectrum: he was nominated in 1965 for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for The Ipcress File (a British espionage film starring Michael Caine), but he was also nominated for the 1980 Razzie award for Worst Director along with Richard Fleischer for the remake of the 1927 classic The Jazz Singer.

For what it’s worth, Doctor Blood’s Coffin, his first feature, is bright and well-shot (critic Jim Batts points to how nicely the reds pop onscreen — a dazzling contrast to the black and white monster films of the day). The score is operatic, booming and frightening. And ultimately, the crux of the plot isn’t braindead. Zombies are perhaps the sturdiest horror dowel rod for hanging your script’s metaphors. ‘Love’ works nicely as a motivator for toying with the undead, and the sour, seething turn come the film’s conclusion is an inventive take on the skeletons of past loves that we can’t seem to bury.

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Written by: Ben Mueller