Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)


This one might take a little focus. Dracula (Zandor Vorkov) is alive and well and living in California, where he's taken to digging up the corpse of Frankenstein's monster (John Bloom/Shelly Weiss). Meanwhile, the mad scientist Dr. Duryea (J. Carrol Naish), who moonlights as the operator of a fun-house in the local carnival, is experimenting with young women captured by his idiot man-servant Groton (Lon Chaney Jr.) in an attempt to discover the secret to eternal life (i think). One of these young women is the sister of Vegas dancer Judith Fontaine (Regina Carrol & her ample cleavage), who comes to California to track her down but ends up being drugged by bikers before being luckily rescued by some hippies, led by aging hippy Mike (Anthony Eisley).

Following so far? Ok. So, Dracula reveals that Dr. Duryea is actually the last of the Frankensteins and they work to resurrect the Frankenstein's Monster since Drac is interested in raising an army of the undead. Judith and Mike begin to suspect that Duryea is involved with the recent murders and disappearances on the beach, and find entry to Doctor's lair through the funhouse. Once inside, midget carny Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto) falls on an axe, and Groton is shot by the police and falls to his death. Dr. Duryea, in pursuit of Mike, somehow falls into his own guillotine contraption and gets decapitated. The end.

Huh? Oh yeah. Dracula and Frankenstein. Dracula hypnotizes Judith and ties her up, sending the creature after Mike who blinds it with a flare, causing it to attack Dracula. Dracula will have none of this and zaps Mike (to death!) with his fancy Dracula ring, before dragging Judith to a nearby Church as the sun begins to rise. Frankenstein, suddenly enraptured by Judith's beauty (or something), starts wailing on Dracula and they start beating on each other in the woods. Dracula rips Frankenstein apart, before finding himself unable to make it back to safety before the sun rises and turns him into a dusty old skeleton.


Al Adamson and Sam Sherman's work for Independent International pictures in the 60s and 70s displayed some real ingenuity for taking sometimes dreadful, tattered pieces of films and making with them something that delivered the goods for fans of drive-in flicks. Having already examined the twisted history of Horror Of The Blood Monsters, it's only fair to look at the pair's most well known pasted together oddity: Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

In some ways, the making of this film (from 1969-1971) is even more interesting. Oddly, the film didn't begin as a monster movie at all, instead beginning as a Mad-Scientist/Biker followup to Adamson's film Satan's Sadists called The Blood Seekers. Distributors decided to shelve the film since they felt it was unreleasable, but Sherman, feeling that the film had some reasonable acting and "star" power (in J. Carrol Naish and Lon Chaney Jr.), made it a pet project to recraft the footage into something commercial. The inspired idea of shoehorning Dracula and Frankenstein into the project led to the new title Blood Of Frankenstein, and Adamson shot new footage featuring Vorkov (actually stockbroker Engel renamed by Forry Ackerman) and cleverly inserted these scenes into the previous film.

Still feeling something was missing, the crew decided to change the original ending (which was quite anticlimactic) and instead have Dracula and Frankenstein have an all out brawl to finish things off. Filmed incredibly cheaply and without sound (and appearing quite dark in the final version), these final scenes capped off the film that was now finally known as Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

And it's not good. Not even close. It's confusing, and grainy, and the acting and special effects are often just over the level of a high school play. That said, it's certainly never boring, and there's something admirable about the patchwork way that the filmmakers took something that was going to be thrown away, and turned it into a viable commercial property that was able to make significant money.

There are things to recommend about the film. The opening credits effectively set up the weirdness we're about to encounter, and it's accompanied by a great old fashioned score by William Lava, who did the music for plenty of cartoons and Republic serials. The performances are uneven, but Anthony Eisley is perfectly capable as the male lead, and 7'4 John Bloom as the monster is suitably impressive (though his make-up certainly isn't). And it's always nice to see Famous Monsters Of Film editor (and horror mainstay) Forrest J Ackerman show up in a cameo. Regina Carrol isn't much of an actress, but the assets she does have are certainly on display (though, only in a PG fashion).

The film is certainly a product of the time it was made, though Adamson seems rather conservative in his portrayal of hippies ("What are we protesting tonight?". "I don't know. But I'll bet it's fun!"). There's also a group of bikers (led by Satan's Sadist's Russ Tamblyn), who are remnants from the original version of the film, and seem to appear and disappear randomly before they are messily dispatched. Even Dracula has an afro!

Speaking of Dracula, Zandor/Robert is required only to speak menacingly (with added echo) and occasionally point his ring at people, but his lack of acting chops (and inconsistent make-up) make his appearances more silly than scary. And there's something just plain odd about Dracula sitting in a car. J. Carrol Naish looks like he would rather be somewhere else, while Lon Chaney Jr. hams it up as best he can in his mute role.

The film's final scene lacks greatly in production values, and certain parts are difficult to watch because of the dark, grainy look of the film, but is a great improvement over the original ending (available in the special features). It actually features some ingenuity to overcome the non-existent budget, particularly in the death of Dracula which works surprisingly well, and in the death of Frankenstein which (as mentioned in the commentary) shares some resemblance to the death of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The film is given a surprisingly solid (and reverent) treatment from Troma, who present the film in a grainy full-screen print (which likely could not be helped since the film was originally shot in 16mm and blown up for the big screen), and have produced some informative features.

First is a full length commentary from producer Sam Sherman. Similar to his commentary for Horror Of The Blood Monsters, this one is packed with information and storied about the film's production. There are a few significant silent gaps, but it's a very worthwhile commentary (though sometimes a tad defensive) which relates much of this film's fascinating history.

We're also treated to the film's original Theatrical Trailer, a television spot, and a Behind The Scenes Gallery. A short featurette (Producing Schlock) on Sam Sherman repeats some of the information from the commentary, but also provides other entertaining stories regarding other Adamson projects.

The DVD also features a text feature on Dracula's Ring, test footage shot by Sherman of the church used in the climactic scene, and a series of deleted scenes including the very different original ending and a scene with Forry Ackerman introduced by the Ackermonster himself!

Also included are trailers for Angel's Wild Women, Satan's Sadists, Blood Of Ghastly Horror and I Spit On Your Corpse.

A film best watched as a Drive-In feature like it was intended, Dracula vs. Frankenstein remains entertaining even as it fails totally at being coherent or well made. The DVD provides necessary context, and it's not hard to see why audiences flocked to it upon its release. The perfect choice for a home version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

1 comment:

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a real classic horror movie from 70's, when this movie have the premiere I even born yet, but a some years later I have the chance to see this excellent movie.