Mad Scientist With a Green Thumb Cameron Mitchell Hangs Out On a Deserted Island Growing Blood Sucking Plants In a Creepy Old Villa While Disposing Of Pesky Visitors !!
"What Was The Terrifying Secret Of The Vampire Tree ?"
Opening with some rather oddball animated credits, this has Cameron Mitchell in a fairly (initially at least ) restrained performance (especially by Cameron Mitchell standards) playing Baron Weser who as botanist living in a large villa on a secluded island has been experimenting with crossbreeding carnivore plants. The end result is a large bloodsucking tree that shoots appendages out and attached itself to unwary victims in the form of some unlucky tourists who happen to drop by for a visit.
Forgoing a row of nice shiny tour buses a group of tourists decide instead on what looks to be a WWII German staff car driven by Ricardo Valle (Morpho from THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) who invites them to enjoy the wonderful botanical delights on Baron Weser’s private island (hint.. hint). The group includes a bickering couple in the form of older husband James Robinson (Rolf Van Nauckhoff) and his younger and perpetually horny younger wife Cora (Kais Fischer)-or as she’s called here Mrs. Robinson (!) and there’s love interest in the person of nominal hunky hero type David (spaghetti western star George Martin) & probable future bloodsucking tree victim Beth (Elisa Montés). Plus there’s noisy obnoxious Myrtle Callahan (Matilde Samperdo - who as dubbed here sounds like Fran Drescher’s mother) and geeky botanist Prof. Julius Demerist (from the University of Michigan !) as played by Herman Nehlsen.
Upon arrival on the island the Baron shows off his weird (and hungry) plant collection and the group settles into their expected stereotypes. Cora starts prowling around for any available man - including the driver (with whom she was playing footsie in the car earlier). Unfortunately for her (and unbeknownst) by this time he's become monster tree fodder. Moving on to the Baron he rebuffs her and she sulks back to her room to become the next item on the buffet. Also lurking about is the baron's creepy manservant Baldi, who's twin brother was found did earlier in the movie and serves the purpose of a red herring for the plot.
Beth and David start to click and the nosy botanist begins to ask to many questions of the baron's gardening practices which necessitates Cameron taking him out via a rather nifty poisonous Indian God statue. All the while the baron slowly becomes more and more unhinged, slowly turning into the wonderful scenery chewing Cameron Mitchell that we all know and love. The films climax is truly mind boggling complete with great geysers of tree blood & axe fighting in a thunderstorm while the heroine struggles in the clutches of the monster tree (and Cameron going way off the deep end).
To the movies credit the attacks are all shown from from a POV shot that keeps the identity and look of the monster unknown until the climax and there is some beautiful lightning and photography used. The monster tree considering the budget restraints has a great design, looking like a monstrous cousin to Little Shoppe of Horror's Audrey and the close-ups of its clear blood sucking feeders and wildly flailing appendages look like something out of Lovecraft.
Directed by American Mel Welles (LADY FRANKENSTEIN - here working under the pseudonym Ernst von Theumer), the film has a great atmosphere about it and a surprisng amount of blood & gory make-up for the time. As a matter of fact Welles did appear in Roger Corman's original LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS from 1960 and even help direct a bit of it. It's a shame there isn't a better copy of it legitimately available as in spite of its rather ludicrous premise (but hey, that's why we love these) its a neat little example of Euro horror. It's available on one of those Shout Factory Elvira double packs with the superb The House That Screamed. Unfortunately its pretty ugly looking, with a cropped and edited for television print (complete with fade-outs every 10 min for the Elvira interruptions). However a nice looking widescreen print has recently surfaced (Thanks Cinemageddon !), but hopefully one day we'll get a nice legit release.