Horror-Western hybrid debuts on Blu-ray 3.5 Stars

During the 1950’s, Universal-International had become noted for their work in two specific genres. One was the western, which they cranked out plenty and featured the likes of James Stewart, Audie Murphy and Rock Hudson among others; the second was the horror genre, which harkened the studio back to its heyday in the 1930’s and also intermingled with the sci-fi genre. From these two genre came Curse of the Undead, an unusual concoction of elements from each. Only previously available on VHS, Kino Lorber has licensed the movie from Universal for its Blu-ray debut.

Curse of the Undead (1959)
Released: 01 May 1959
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 79 min
Director: Edward Dein
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance, Thriller, Western
Cast: Eric Fleming, Michael Pate, Kathleen Crowley, John Hoyt
Writer(s): Edward Dein, Mildred Dein
Plot: B-grade western with a twist: mysterious gunslinger-for-hire Drake Robey is really a vampire, and it's up to Preacher Dan to save the town and girlfriend Dolores Carter.
IMDB rating: 6.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 19 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 10/06/2020
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3/5

In the Old West, a small town is dealing with a double problem: people are mysteriously dying of an unknown disease and a local bigwig is involved with a land dispute with the town’s doctor and his family. Entering into this fray is Drake Robey (Michael Pate), a mysterious gunslinger who offers his services to the doctor’s daughter (Kathleen Crowley), who graciously accepts. However, Preacher Dan (Eric Fleming) soon discovers that Robey has a past that dates back over a century and believes that the hired gun may have more sinister motives. It all leads to a showdown between good and evil where only one will walk away with their life and the woman.

One of the more fascinating curios of the time, Curse of the Undead is unique in the fact that it deviates from some of the more notable tropes of vampirism in movies. For instance, director Edward Dein (who co-wrote the the script with his wife Mildred) chose to hew closer to European folklore rather than the studio created mythology of vampires (with the notable exception of Robey turning into a bat); also, the victims here don’t rise from the dead to feast on more blood. This infusion of horror elements breathes new life into the western genre and also gives it a unique spin on its traditional tropes (such as the final confrontation between Preacher Dan and Robey). Despite this, the movie is not without its obvious flaws; while being decently paced, the main hero is rather weakly sketched and the overuse of the electric violin (to signify Robey’s otherworldly nature) in Irving Gertz’s otherwise effective score does tend to jar the viewer out of the story in the most inopportune times. While not completely fulfilling its ambitions, Curse of the Undead nonetheless remains one of the more satisfying and intriguing horror western hybrids in the history of the movies, predating the likes of Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) and the largely underrated Ghost Town (1988).

Although given the lead here, Eric Fleming is rather ineffective and weak as Preacher Dan; the actor – who tragically died during filming an episode for a TV show in Peru in 1966 – had better success in the TV western shows Rawhide and Bonanza. In a rare plum part, character actor Michael Pate is mesmerizing as the vampiric gunslinger Drake Robey; he manages to elicit both pathos as well as menace in a great performance. Frequent character actor in horror and sci-fi John Hoyt makes the most of his screen time as Dr. Carter, fighting a losing battle against the mysterious illness; Kathleen Crowley also manages a decent job as the main love interest of Preacher Dan and the main attraction of Robey. Rounding out the case here are Bruce Gordon as the town’s main honcho and bully Buffer, Edward Binns as the town’s sheriff, Jimmy Murphy as the doctor’s hotheaded son, Eddie Parker and John Truax as a couple of Buffer’s henchman and an uncredited Forrest Stanley – the original Cat in Paul Leni’s The Cat and the Canary (1927) – as the caretaker of the town’s cemetery.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio for this release, taken from a brand new 2K transfer. Film grain is faithfully represented along with inky blacks, fine details, shadows and gray scale; problems like scratches, dirt, dust or tears are very minor here. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and is leaps and bounds better than the VHS.

Audio: 4.5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is both strong and clear, with sound effects and Irving Gertz’s eerie score both given faithful representations as well; there’s minimal cases of hissing, crackling, dropouts or distortion present. For a movie that hadn’t seen either a DVD or Blu-ray release until now, this release does a very good job and is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by film historian Tom Weaver – Recorded for this release, Weaver provides his usual tongue in cheek observations and wealth of information on the movie, buttressed by actor recreations of the cast and crew’s memories of the movie and contributions by author Mike Cronenberg with additional details and film music historian David Schecter on the film’s score.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Black Sleep, Black Sabbath, The Oblong Box & Zoltan… Hound of Dracula

Overall: 3.5/5

Despite obvious flaws, Curse of the Undead manages to blend together the two bread-and-butter genres that were crucial to Universal’s success in the 1950’s. Kino successfully resurrects this curiosity from the home video grave with a great HD transfer in addition to a insightful and entertaining commentary track. Recommended for fans of the movie who’ve been awaiting this release.

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Supporting Actor
Jan 13, 2003
Real Name
Remember seeing this as a kid on television in the mid 60s on a late show. It really scared me as a child. Only have seen it on television the one time. And forgot about it until I see it's on BR. interesting take on the vampire lore.
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