The Deathmaster

Synopsis: In Deathmaster (1972) Quarry portrays Khorda, a Charles Manson-esque guru with a taste for human blood. Set in the hippie communes of 1970s Khorda is quickly accepted as the new spiritual leader of a group of confused teens and soon sets about turning them all into vampires.

Released during the heyday of Quarry’s reign as AIP’s new King of Horror Deathmaster presents one of the few truly original horror characters to emerge from this time of social unrest. Peace, Love and Murder!

The Deathmaster 6.0

I loved the setting and premise of this film: made in the early ‘70s, it transplants the vampire to a hippy commune, where he quickly assumes the role of cult leader to the easily impressionable youth living there. It makes a statement about the growing threat of religious cults in North America (at the time) and attempted to tap into people’s fears of cults to deliver chills along the way.

Does it work? Well, only partially.

On the plus side, Robert Quarry plays the vampire in full Charlie Manson-like regalia – but with fangs. He looks a little strange in this type of attire, with long hair and a goatee, but that’s easily dismissed by the fact that he’s a vampire – and vampires, one supposes, would look a bit strange, or “off”. As well, I really loved the decor, the music, …etc It wasn’t perfect, probably due to a low budget, but it evoked a trippy era in North America that may never be reproduced or revived.

On the weak side of things, there are glaring holes in the story, the film tries too hard to be contemporary (they have a “kung fu” fighting protagonist who wears a long-haired wig!) and it’s not really scary; one does not feel that there is an immediate threat to our heroes – and one also does not care, seeing as none of the characters are really sympathetic.

As for why the film is called ‘The Deathmaster’… who knows? There is no indication at all that it has anything to do with anything in this film – aside from the fact that Quarry’s cultish vampire is the bringer of death by preying on his victims (and that’s stretching it!). Actuality, the title may be rooted in Quarry previous film, ‘The Return of Count Yorga’: the trailer for that film refers to his vampire villain as “the death master”. Was the name stolen from the trailer to the Count Yorga film? Or was the Count Yorga trailer a subtle way to promote this upcoming film? I’d certainly love to find out.

Either way, ‘The Deathmaster’ isn’t memorable for anything but the setting and the Manson-esque vampire. It’s worth seeing, for that perspective alone, but it’s not enough to warrant more than one viewing.

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