No, thankfully, that’s not the title of some new, awful movie of the cheaply-made and badly-acted kind. And where the special-effects are anything but special. You know the ones I mean. And you know where you can find them, too. I’m focusing my attention on something else: a 1967 movie that has more than a few similarities to the saga of one of the world’s most famous and strange creatures. We’re talking about the legendary Mothman, immortalized in John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies. As for the movie, it’s called The Blood Beast Terror.
If you fail to take notice of the opening credits to The Blood Beast Terror you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were watching one of those old, classic Hammer Film Productions. Why? Simple: it stars Peter Cushing, who – alongside Christopher Lee – was Hammer’s most famous face. But, Cushing wasn’t exclusive to Hammer. The Blood Beast Terror was a production of Tigon British Film Productions. Tigon’s other credits included The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General. The Blood Beast Terror was made in late 1967 and was first shown in British cinemas in early 1968.
Like so many British horror-movies of the sixties, this one is set in Victorian England, and largely in the confines of (a) the countryside, (b) an old and sprawling manor house, and (c) suitably dark and spooky woods. Oh, and a mortuary, too. As for the theme of The Blood Beast Terror, it’s an intriguing one: something terrifying and monstrous is killing the young men of the area. Not only that. It’s draining them of blood, too. Fear, menace, and violent death are the order of the day. And it’s up to a Detective Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) to try and solve the murders. Quennell is assisted by Sergeant Allan (actor Glynn Edwards, a well-known face on UK TV) and his – Quennell’s – own daughter, Meg (actress Vanessa Howard).
Much of the attention is focused on the activities of Dr. Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemying) and his daughter Clare (played by über-babe Wanda Ventham). And it’s quite right that the focus should be on the pair. They’re at the very heart of the mystery. Mallinger is a classic “mad-professor”-type who is engaging in crazed experiments of the kind no-one should be contemplating. The subject of the experiments: Clare. We finally learn (but suspect from early on) that she is the cause of all the mayhem and death. Clare may look blisteringly hot, but she’ll drain you of the red stuff in seconds. In reality, she’s a shape-shifting monster, one that is half-human and half…something else. Cue the countdown to Cushing’s Inspector Quennell saving the day. All of which brings us to Mothman.
Most people with an interest in strange creatures will know of Mothman: a flying beast seen on numerous occasions in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, largely between November 1966 and December 1967. So, what does this have to do with The Blood Beast Terror? Well, I’ll tell you. In the movie, Clare is a creature that is half-human and…half-moth. A giant moth. She is a flying humanoid of moth-like proportions. Just like Point Pleasant’s resident beast. She shape-shifts from hot Victorian chick to blood-sucking monster when she needs to feed. Although, how she came to be that way is never really revealed.
So, we have Mothman scaring the you-know-what out of the people of Point Pleasant, just as Clare does in England. Both Mothman and Clare (in her monster-form, at least) have red eyes and large wings. Rather appropriately, Clare is part-girl and part-Death’s Head Moth. On top of that, the film begins with shots of a large stork. And, later in the film, the theory that “Moth-Babe” is actually a large and violent eagle is pursued. If you know your Mothman history, you’ll know that theories suggested Mothman was nothing other than a large bird, namely a Sandhill Crane.
And, of course, there’s the time-frame: 1967. It was in December of that year that Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge collapsed into the depths of the Ohio River, drowning dozens in the process. In the movie, one of Clare’s victims is hauled out of a river. Late 1967 was when The Blood Beast Terror was made. It first aired just two months after the tragedy in Point Pleasant. While the special-effects are typical of that era (that means just about okay, but nothing special), it must be said that in monster-mode Clare resembles Mothman to a startling degree. I have to wonder if the writer of the movie, Peter Bryan (whose writing skills also played a significant role in one of Hammer’s best, The Plague of the Zombies), heard of the Mothman mystery and chose to incorporate aspects of the controversy into The Blood Beast Terror. After all, it’s not like Mothman didn’t hit the newspapers. It certainly did.
Maybe all of the above can be explained away as nothing stranger than coincidence. On the other hand, perhaps news of the Mothman reached the eyes and ears of movie-makers in the UK. And, as a result, a real monster became the inspiration for a fictional one. Or, maybe, the curious phenomenon of synchronicity was at work. On this latter point, there’s yet another 1967 production that may be relevant to all this. Its title, The Vulture. It, too, was made in 1967 and is focused on a half-human/half-bird “thing.” But, that is another story for another day.