In the late 1980’s, I discovered one of the more enduring horror characters of all time. A beautiful, raven haired, vampire from outer space, a woman named Vampirella.
Vampirella was created by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1969 for James Warren’s publishing company which was already responsible for horror magazines Eerie and Creepy. The company had hit some hard times and was trying to come up with something that would recapture the imagination of the audience. Forest worked his magic, and the rest is history, Vampirella saved the day. Mr. Warren saw the potential for big screen adventures ala Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella which became a big budget film from De Laurentiis pictures starring Jane Fonda. Well, there was once a big screen Vampirella film in production, but there is little information on it, even in the digital age. The script is extremely hard to come by, but does exist; it remains one of the most beloved and oft talked about films never made. What follows is the story of Vampirella and Hammer Films.
In the mid 1970’s Hammer was in trouble. After dominating the horror film industry for 15 years, Hammer began to run out of steam. Rival studios copied Hammer’s style and started hiring their familiar stable of actors. Hollywood also started making big budget horror like Rosemary’s baby. Hammer had lost its niche.
Michael Carreras, head of Hammer Films, was desperate. He was putting a lot of money into “Nessie”, a large scale take on the Loc Ness monster, and had decided to double down. He ran an ad in Warren magazines asking readers what Hammer should do next and the readers answered; Vampirella. He struck a deal with James Warren and they were off and running. Jimmy Sangster wrote the outline, which was embellished by John Starr, Lew Davidson and Christopher Wicking.
Caroline Munroe, former bond girl and possibly Hammer’s only beauty ever to have a contract, was offered the part. She was flown to Italy for a photo shoot, more of a test shoot than anything, and Michael began pre-production. However, when the script was given to her, she declined the part due to the nudity in the film. They turned to the beautiful Valerie Leon, who whould have been perfect, but she opted out as well for the very same reason.
With that, a worldwide search started and finally settled on Barbara Leigh. A tall beautiful actress, Barbara was already known from starring with Steve McQueen in Junior Bonner and dating Elvis Presley. She was signed up for six pictures and was so excited for the role, that she even paid the "Western Costume" Couturier department for Hammer Films a reported $7,000 to make her costume and $2,000 for the boots. In 1975 Michael Carreras took Barbara and Peter Cushing to the Famous Monsters Convention to promote their upcoming film, ads and posters were released, things were in full swing.
What happen next was a shock to all involved, the film died, followed by Hammer Films and Barbara Leigh’s career. There are numerous stories as to what went wrong, but it seems to come down to money. Barbara wore the outfit to a meeting with American International Pictures and helped convince them to join in, until they stipulated that a big name American star had to be cast. That deal fell apart. In an interview with James Warren, he states that they had actress approval based on a screen test. Hammer failed to pay for the screen test and also failed to pay Warren for the use of the character. According to Michael Carreras, Warren would not give up merchandise rights and stormed off the lot at Bray. Either way, Hammer could not raise the funds for a film and the deal crumbled.
Hammer films ceased film operations shortly after. As for Barbara Leigh, her film career died as well and allegedly believes it a result of the films failure to materialize. Warren Publishing hit hard times a few years later and lost the rights to all its characters including Vampirella. What would the film have been like?
There are no copies of the script online and there are very few actual details available, until now. What follows is a complete script breakdown from the September 1975 draft by Christopher Wicking. Production notes indicate that filming was to start in December and run through March 14, 1976.
The film opens to credits intercut with shots of Draculon’s twin Suns. The screen fades to red and pulls back to reveal a lake of blood. Lying in front of the lake, in all her sexual glory is Vampirella. The music kicks in as we see the beauty of the alien landscape before the camera shoots into space as the planet explodes. Amongst the debris flies a large bat, eventually finding its way to earth. This credit sequence was to be used in the subsequent films.
We then are introduced to the” Space Operatives for Defence and Security (SODS) Organization”. They are on the verge of a panic due to the extreme spike in bizarre unexplained deaths and mutilations.
Cut to a nightclub at an Island resort. Vampirella and her partner Pendragon (Cushing) are performing a magic show. After the show, A rich man approaches Vampirella and tries to seduce her. Unamused, she finds that he has made his fortune by cheating the Casino at Roulette; she challenges him to a game and beats him. Due to his pride, he keeps playing until he is broke. His assistant grabs him and tosses him out the window, impaling him on a post. A strange blue eyed man watches from the darkness.
Later we find Vampi with her lover Allan. He is a member of SODS and a Dr. trying to find a cure for Vampi’s bloodlust. He uses a device to put Vampi in a dream state and read her thoughts. She dreams of a blind man named Tristan, who she loved back on Draculon. When she wakes, perhaps feeling vulnerable, she fights with Allan, accusing him of using her for research, and storms out.
Back at SODS HQ, they discuss the case of 130 girls at a privet all woman’s school who turn up pregnant. It has happened before and the women gave birth to monsters. They continue to monitor the situation.
Vampirella and Pendragon are in England at the home of two elderly women who used to care for Pendragon when he was poor. Pendragon is drunk and dressed like Dracula (now that would have been fun), anyways, they are the only guest as all of their other friends have since passed away. The butler is sent out with invitations to find people to invite. As he speeds along the highway, invitations fly out and are found by a motorcycle gang who decide to go. They bust in while Vampi and Pendragon are dancing and an exciting fight ensues. Vampi of course wins and sends the bikers packing.
SODS meanwhile cannot get their super computer back online so they call in a specialist. He is killed by a child on his way.
Later, Vampi and Pendragon are on the road, when they are stopped by police and gassed. Vampi wakes up in to her body being scanned in a room filled with conveyor belts carrying human heads with their brains exposed. We see the blue eyed man watching her but she doesn’t register him and passes out again. Pendragon calls Allan for help. SODS come to the rescue. In the meantime, Vampi is being driven somewhere by the blue eyed man.
Cut to Allan pulling his car out of the garage. An elderly woman comes up and asks his name. He gives it and then the lady kills him.
Vampirella is now at the SODS office, asleep on the sofa, she was left there. Pendragon learns of Allan’s death and saddened, takes Vampi home.
We then cut back to the super computer and the SODS members trying to fix it. Suddenly a light shoots out of it and they are all fried.
Back to Vampirella lying in bed, someone enters the room with a stake. We get another vision of Vampi and Tristan before she is awakened by Adam Van Helsing, stake in hand. He explains that he is a vampire hunter and just before he attempts to drive a stake into her heart, his crucifix falls from his neck landing on Vampirella. She does not react. Adam is taken aback. They talk for awhile and Vampi explains that she is an alien, not a vampire per say. Soon, he is under her spell and offers himself to her. She bleeds him a little, but when he rushes out to tell his father Conrad, he is killed as a vampire.
Poor Vampi. Her and Pendragon discuss the strange goings on and decide to go to SODS HQ to confront the chief. They accuse the chief of evil and a fight ensues. The chief of SODS isn’t even human, he is an alien! Vampi kills him. Vampi and Pendragon flee and she decides that she needs to remember her origins to help battle the alien threat.
Using Allan’s device, Pendragon puts Vampi under and we are back on Draculon. She sees that she Tristan is killed by aliens and she travelled in a beam to earth in a beam of light and landed in Bermuda, unconscious, she is found by Pendragon.
SODS HQ. Members find the chief and discover that he was an alien. They now want to find Vampirella and uncover the whole truth.
Cut to Bermuda. She believes the alien base is there and uses psychic powers to try to reveal the location. Suddenly, she is captured in a beam of light and transferred to an alien ship. In direct contrast to her earlier capture, this place has headless bodies on conveyor belts. She also runs into the blue eyed man again and learns that he is the head of the alien base on earth. He is attracted to her and wants her to join him. He explains that they go from world to world to boost them in their evolution. Draculon resisted and was destroyed for that reason; he doesn’t want to do that to earth. Vampirella has been uncloaking the ship as they walk and talk, making it visible to SODS.
SODS HQ. The organization finds the spacecraft and launch missiles. The alien wants Vampirella to love him. In a bout of frustration, he offers to become anyone that Vampirella wants. He turns into Allan but Vampirella, seeing the missiles coming through a view port, asks him to turn into Tristan. He does and since he is blinded, Vampi sets the controls and escapes just in time.
Back on earth, Vampirella tells Pendragon what happened. As they walk on the beach, they are approached by a horse drawn carriage. The driver, a hunchback, tells them that they are invited to perform for his employer at his castle and that they have friends in common with the Van Helsings. Inside the carriage, a coffin lid raises and a hand comes out, wearing a ring with the letter “D”. Fade to black.
If only that film would have been realized we would not be stuck with the bad taste that is the Showtime movie of the week. So ended the dream of the Vampirella film series, the savior of Hammer Films and Warren publishing, and the first step into greatness for actress Barbara Leigh. The Vampirella film for all its promise of riches, became the harbinger of death.