May 27, 2011


(1961, UK)

Zombie tale or Frankenstein story? You decide...

(Updated in 2014, for DVD releases)

I enjoy this more each time I see it. Originally sought it out after seeing a spooky photo of a man fighting something moulderingly undead in Denis Gifford's Movie Monsters. Seeing it, at first on late-night TV, the story was disappointing in that the punchline doesn't appear sooner. But a recent less-cut version on TV added just enough to make this a low-budget b-movie nasty, with the spectacular Hazel Court sealing the deal for fans of sixties' Brit horror.

A string of disappearances from a small village in Cornwall. The local police are stumped but we can easily guess what's going on, even though the assailant attacks from the shadows, the bloody title completely gives it away. Doctor Blood is up to no good.

Yes, it's Kieron Moore (he doesn't smile like this in the movie) who usually plays a shouty, grumpy, no-nonsense hero, is more realistically cast as a shouty, grumpy, no-nonsense villain. (You're all wrong, I'm right, I can do what I like. To hell with medical ethics and human lives...)

Before even the opening titles, only thirty seconds pass before Kieron starts shouting. This isn't to say I don't find him watchable. This lack of charisma in a leading man is as unintentionally entertaining as it is a mystery. Here he's a serial murderer who radically experiments on his subjects while they're not only alive, but still awake! The clumsy storyline reveals his morally-bankrupt identity before he starts wooing the heroine. How are we supposed enjoy their romantic day out? It's not played as suspense, like Hitchcock would have done, but as a budding new relationship.

There's another amusing mis-step when one of the kidnapped spends a long twenty minutes clawing his way out of a subterranean surgery. The narrative keeps returning to the crawling character like a running gag - nope, still not getting anywhere. In addition, if this had been a Roger Corman flick, the abductees would be the scantily-clad daughters of the village, not a bunch of wheezy old extras.

The bad doctor is so focused on his 'work' that he doesn't even widen his hunting ground, leaving the police in a spin as to which kidnap victim they're supposed to be looking for. Also, anyone who gets in his way quickly winds up in Dr. Blood's coffin. He never thinks through the details, like alibis. His trail of clues is clumsy and inefficient, much like his wooing.

The picturesque Cornish locations make a welcome change from Black Park and the suburbs of London and, despite the interiors being shot in a London studio, the sets look authentic and blend in well.

Hand-coloured lobby card - not the colour he is in the film!

There's blood and even a little gore, which would have leapt off the screen in Eastmancolour at the time, presuming it wasn't snipped by the censor. The special make-up for the result of Blood's experiments (above) looks really very good, more convincing than anything that later appeared in Night of the Living Dead, and it was duly splashed across the publicity art.

To compensate for Kieron Moore's heartless lack of charisma, Hazel Court amply warms up the screen as Nurse (Nosey) Parker. The late actress is so utterly professional that she can answer the phone with, "Dr. Blood's surgery", without a hint of camp or irony. Court appears here just after starring in Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein and The Man Who Could Cheat Death, and just before a winning run of American horrors, appearing in three of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe cycle - The Premature Burial, The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death.

Interesting to see future director Nicolas Roeg (Don't Look Now) rise from camera operator on Doctor Blood's Coffin, to director of photography on The Masque of the Red Death three years later. Visually there are a few interesting slants - low camera angles, deep focus, peeking through things and sometimes tilting the action (known as 'dutch angles'). Director Sidney J. Furie repeated and exaggerated this style for his best movie The Ipcress File (1965).

Dr. Blood is one sick little bunny - you don't see everything he gets up to, but he's a sadistic, vengeful, oblivious fan of human experimentation. He's nastier and less likeable than many of the movie Dr Frankensteins. His carelessness indicates he's more psychopathic than calculating. While the direction and script are slack, there's enough here to make it worth a look.

Doctor Blood's Coffin was very late getting an official DVD release anywhere, debuting on MGM's made-on-demand service in November 2011. While the restoration was good, the image was spoilt by being slightly horizontally squeezed. The 1.66 framing within a 16:9 anamorphic presentation, should have been stretched out to a standard 16:9 to correct the appearance of taller, thinner actors.

In July 2014, there was a DVD release in the UK, which unfortunately repeats the 'visual squeezing' fault. This is so close to the MGM release that it's even an NTSC picture, but coded for the UK as a region 2 disc.

Also, here's my quick chat with the man behind Doctor Blood's zombie, actor Paul Stockman, mid-2014.

This fantastic French poster is from sci-fi/horror poster site Wrong Side Of The Art.


  1. I always liked this after seeing it as a kid on ITV sometime in the 70's and then it disappeared for ages.
    I got it as part of a laserdisc box set in the 90's in a nice print.
    It seemed slower and stagier seeing it as an adult, but the open heart surgery shots were a bit daring for the time, and as you say, the corpse make-up was very well done indeed. Shame you have to wait till the movie has nearly ended before he shows up. Enjoyed the rousing opening theme music as well.
    All in all, not a bad early sixties horror.

  2. I recently bought the MGM DVD-R version and, although it's an exceptionally clear transfer with vibrant colour and clear and loud sound, the is something wrong. Whoever has done this transfer has, for some reason, squeezed the image in from the sides by 10%. This may not seem like much, but it's enough to make faces and people look rather tall and thin. I tested this by grabbing a frame from the disc on my computer and then stretching out the image by 10% using Paintshop Pro and the result looked just right. Why they'd want to do this, I don't know. This was in no way a CinemaScope film, so the original image was not anamorphically squeezed in any way. The slight, but very noticable squeeze has been added to this transfer.

    David Rayner,

  3. Ooh. I'll have a look to see if mine is the same....

  4. Yes, David, I agree, it looks slightly squeezed - even the MGM lion at the start! I think the idea was to present it 1.66 and they've overdone it. There's not a setting on my TV to counteract this distortion.

  5. No, Mark, you can either have 4 x 3 or 16 by 9. I suppose that there is specialist equipment through which you can transfer from the original DVD to a copy and correct the Aspect Ratio, but I wouldn't know where you can get it.

    However, I used to have a PowerDVD programme on my computer that could stretch the moving image in any direction, including horizontally, as needs doing with this one. Obviously, they didn't check the DVD before they released it, or they would have had to do it again ptoperly.

    David in Stoke-on-Trent.