Grave of the Vampire (1972) Retrospective

It is nighttime in a dark, foreboding cemetery. Inside a moss-covered mausoleum, the sound of someone chipping away at the cement crypt bearing the name of Caleb Croft can be heard.

On a nearby college campus, a party at a Fraternity house is celebrating the winning of the 1940 New England Seaboard Conference championship. A young couple, Leslie (KITTY VALLACHER) and her boyfriend Paul (JAY SCOTT), decide they want to be alone and drive off in Paul’s car for the damp and eerie privacy of the cemetery. When Paul slips an engagement ring on Leslie’s finger, she unabashedly leads him to the back seat of the car where they proceed toward love-making, unaware that Caleb Croll (MICHAEL PATAKI) has risen from the grave and is stalking through the cemetery in their direction. With more than human strength. Croft rips the door of the car, brutally murders Paul and when Leslie tries to escape. traps her in an open grave and rapes her.

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Police are puzzled: Paul’s body has been drained of blood, but there is no evidence of it in the car or on the ground where his body was found. When detectives talk to Leslie in her hospital room, she seems unable to comprehend until they show her a photograph of the man who is missing from the crypt, Caleb Croft. Leslie becomes hysterical and the woman in the next bed. Olga (LIEUX DRESSLER), screams at them to leave. Olga is a strong Id and had warned police to leave Leslie alone, stating that she was possessed. Shortly. Leslie will have complete faith in Olga. One of the policemen, Lt, Panzer (ERIC MASON) senses something of the supernatural about the case but cannot express his thoughts officially. After all, Caleb Croft was electrocuted three years ago.

Several months later, when Leslie, now very obviously showing the pregnancy which has resulted from her ordeal in the cemetery, and Olga move into the old house Leslie’s parents have left her. Panzer is on hand to help with the luggage. His offer is spurned but as he turns to leave, he notices another man watching them from a distance. The man turns, gets into a car and drives away. Panzer follows. all the way to the cemetery and the mausoleum where he finds the empty crypt. Croft savagely kills Panzer. His secret is safe.


With Olga acting as midwife, Leslie gives birth to a boy – although doctors have told her the baby was not alive. Unlike normal babies, her baby does not cry. giggle or drink milk. Its color is a sickly grey. Accidentally. Leslie discovers nurses her son by making small cuts on her breasts where the boy feeds. As time passes. Leslie grows weaker, age’s prematurely and goes insane. By the time the boy. James Eastman (WILLIAM SMITH). has grown to manhood. Leslie and Olga have died.

James attends the local university. He is almost devoid of ordinary human reactions. In an anthropology class, he meets Professor Adrian Lockwood. the same man who earlier was Caleb Croft. He is well groomed, about 30 years old and exerts a strange control over everyone in the class. Anne Arthur (LYN PETERS). an extremely attractive girl. finds James mysteriously fascinating. Lockwood in turn has eyes for Anne. Lockwood’s lecture centers on vampires and a legendary figure named Charles Croyden. Croyden’s wife was burned as a vampire in 1846 but Charles was never seen again. James knows that the story is not legend. but fact, and that Croyden is Caleb Croll, who is Professor Lockwood.

Grave of the Vampire Style BAnita Tacoby (DIANE HOLDEN), another very attractive student. tells the class of the existence of a book which links Croyden to Croft. Lockwood finds a small town library where a copy of the book exists: to steal the book and satisfy his lust, he kills the spinster librarian.

That evening, James drops in on a party at the apartment Anita shares with Anne. Not quite at ease, he is about to leave when Anne arrives. tired and more in the mood for a quiet dinner than a party. James offers her the use of his apartment upstairs and they leave. Alone. James finds his human characteristics and emotions emerging as he and Anne fall into an immediate and passionate attraction.

Passion also drives Lockwood to seek Anne. In the middle of the night he goes to her apartment, only to find Anita, who has uncovered his secret and strangely, has fallen in love with him. She asks him to transform her into a vampire to become his wife. Lockwood agrees to comply with her request. then kills her. When Anne returns to her own apartment, she finds Anita’s body in the shower, and Lockwood is still there. Her screams send him running and bring James and other students in the building – Brian (FRANK WHITEMAN) and Tex (INGA NEILSEN). Sam (CARMEN ARGENZIANO) and Carol (ABBI HENDERSON) to the scene. Sam calls the police. Despite the tragedy, James and Anne. Brian and Tex and Sam and Carol meet the following day at Lockwood’s house for a scheduled séance. They are gathered in the room where the seance is to take place when Lockwood enters and announces that Anne will be the medium. When Lockwood tries to call upon his wife, Sarah. it is Anita who answers. She tells everyone that she will assume Anne’s body. but it is her spirit which will serve the vampire. When Anne begins speaking in Anita’s voice. Lockwood takes her face in his hands, urging her to cast Anita out. She does, and passes out. exhausted. When James takes her upstairs. Lockwood turns on the remainder of the group and announces he is going to kill them. Sam pulls a .45 and fires bullets into the professor. The bullets go right through. One by one. Lockwood drains his victims of blood.

James returns to find the doors to the seance room locked. He crashes them open and sees the blood orgy before him. James and Lockwood struggle in fierce combat, which ends when James tells Lockwood that he is his son and has but one purpose: to kill his own father. He rips a post from the banister and drives the pointed stake into Lockwood’s heart. As Lockwood dies, a strange transformation comes over James. As he realizes what is happening, he urges Anne to run away from him. While she hesitates, he feels complete emotion and glories in the evil of being a vampire. Anne screams at the sight of him and runs. James goes after her. to kill her, his face contorted. his fangs hungry for blood.

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It is now a well-known bit of trivia that “The Sopranos” creator David Chase wrote Grave, his first feature screenplay. The then-neophyte had been hired by Hayes’ production company Clover Films for some archival tasks, and previously served as production manager on Hayes’ WWII action film The Cut-Throats. In an interview for the Archive of American Television, he remembered, “I was there off and on for a year. They’d hire me, and they wouldn’t have anything and they’d fire me and I had to look for work again, and then they’d have a project and I’d go back, or they’d recommend me to somebody else…it was an internship, essentially.” Hayes suggested the primary father/son vampire concept, and Chase wrote the screenplay, reportedly from an unpublished novel he’d composed called The Still Life. Both men had endured unhappy childhoods – Hayes’ parents had split when he was four and he was raised by his grandmother and an addict uncle, while Chase’s parents fostered an environment of hostility and erratic behavior that often left him physically sick – thus Grave functioned as an exploration for both of them on the effects of youth trauma. Hayes shot the film in 11 days on a $50,000 budget. Of the production, Chase said, “That was sort of during my knocking-around phase…I was starting to learn how it all actually worked. I think I did visit the set once…I wrote the script and then he completely rewrote that. I was invited to the screening, and I was aghast, it was really not what I’d written at all.”


“My last three pictures before ‘Vampire’ were made in Spain, Bolivia and Italy,” William Smith related. “When I finish this picture, I take off for Mexico City, then the Philippines. If I’m lucky, I’ll be making another film in Hollywood before this year is over.

Bill rode his own motorcycle back and forth from his Hollywood Hills home to the set every day while filming “Vampire.”

“Although we were supposed to be filming all over Texas, we seldom left the Universal back lot. And you know. it was nice to go home to your own bed at night.”

The climactic scenes of “Grave of a Vampire.”  take place in the darkly paneled rooms of a foreboding looking mansion which is actually located in one of the most elegant sections of Los Angeles.

“We needed a somber looking house where a terrifying seance and the key point of our story take place.” said producer Daniel Cady. “Two vampires go at each other’s throats, fighting up and down wide staircases and crashing through heavy balustrades. We had to have a house to match our bizarre script and we found one.”

The house which Cady and director John Hayes found is in the Fremont Place area of Los Angeles’ mid-Wilshire district near the famous La Brea tar pits. Like neighboring Hancock Park and Rossmore. Fremont Place is an exclusive residential section where the early wealth of Southern California settled. High walled and formerly guarded by a private patrol, it is an area of mansions built by millionaires. The city of Los Angeles has exploded in all directions in both residential and commercial development but Fremont Place has resisted successfully to this point all attempts at urban progress.

“Some of the mansions which were built for $40-50,000 half a century ago today are being remodeled al costs in excess of $200,000.” Cady said. “Such was not the case with our house.”

“Our” house was built in the early 1920’s and contains 18 rooms plus an entry hall big enough to hold a party of 200 people dancing to Lawrence Welk’s orchestra-using the stairway landing as a bandstand. Its present owner is a retired clergyman who also has deed to a couple of other mansions in the area. In his heyday, the reverend was a legitimate but highly controversial figure when Los Angeles was the mecca for high powered religionists of varying persuasions-and credentials.

“There was one advantage filming there,” director Hayes said. “We did quite a bit of night shooting-and we never had to worry about our leading ladies wandering very far from the cameras. The far reaches of the house at night were almost as frightening as what we were doing in front of the camera.”

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John Hayes

Daniel Cady (producer)

David Chase (screenplay)
John Hayes (screen treatment)

Based on The Still Life by David Chase

William Smith as James Eastman
Michael Pataki as Caleb Croft/Professor Lockwood
Lyn Peters as Anne Arthur
Diane Holden as Anita Jacoby
Lieux Dressler as Olga
Eric Mason as Lieutenant Panzer
Jay Adler as Old Zack
Jay Scott as Paul
William Guhl as Sergeant Duffy
Margaret Fairchild as Miss Fenwick
Carmen Argenziano as Sam
Frank Whiteman
Abbi Henderson as Carol Moskowitz
Inga Neilsen
Lindis Guinness
Kitty Vallacher as the unwilling mother

Grave of the Vampire (1972) Movie Pressbook

4 thoughts on “Grave of the Vampire (1972) Retrospective

  1. Never understood the love this one gets. I can’t get past the first 20 minutes, and I am a huge fan of Big Bill Smith. I find it’s co-feature, Garden of the Dead, to be far more entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

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