Our Judge Dennis Prince found this take on the tale of the legendary bloodsucker to be generally repulsive yet simultaneously entrancing. It must be art.
"Zee blood of deese whores iss keeling me!"
Forget Lugosi, Lee, Langella, Niven, Nielsen, and even Oldman. This is the Count as you've never seen him before.
Facts of the Case
Count Dracula (Udo Kier, Mark of the Devil) is sickly and failing fast. He must leave his rotting castle in Rumania and travel elsewhere to find the virgin ("weer-gin") blood he requires for sustenance. Aided by his insolent yet devoted manservant, Anton (Arno Juerging, Flesh for Frankenstein), the Count treks to Italy to seek the innocent blood he so desperately needs. Upon their arrival, Anton begins to inquire to the availability of local virgins, lying that the Count is in search of a wife and that his family customs require he marry an unspoiled bride. The Di Fiore family is likewise desperate as they watch their once opulent estate crumble around them and fear their elevated social status hangs in the balance. They agree to entertain the Count and Anton, offering their daughters for wed. Onsite handyman Mario (Joe Dallesandro, Trash) maintains an obvious disdain for his employers and their daughters though he regularly engages Saphiria (Dominique Darel) and Rubina (Stefania Casini) for his own sexual indulgences, all the while proclaiming their stilted bourgeois attitudes will bring on their imminent downfall. As the Count courts the daughters, trying to determine if they're truly virgins, Mario stalks the vampire in order to reveal the inhuman houseguest's true intentions.
This is not your classic retelling of the vampire "bat-man" who feeds off the blood of the living. In this follow-on film to Flesh for Frankenstein, director Paul Morrissey continues delivery of his twisted visions and severe social satire at the expense of cinema's most enduring horror icons. Clearly, Morrissey's intent on exposing and exploiting the excesses and indulgences of modern culture (by 1974's standards, anyway) by holding up a mirror, so to speak, to reveal inconsistencies and insensitivities of the upper class. Through this film he seems to wish a pestilence upon those who would exploit the lesser among them and, ultimately, conjectures that the downtrodden will find easy retribution when socially rich collapse under the weight of their own blind ambition.
The film is an overt exercise in allegory as every situation (especially the explicit sex scenes), with accompanying dialogue, viciously pounds the stake of social unrest through the heart of the class structure. The events are clearly over the top (as can be found in Flesh for Frankenstein yet they're strangely satisfying as the viewer quickly discovers this is not just another "monster movie." In the end, it becomes a classic case of role reversal as the "normal folks" are exposed as the most inhuman of all.
Blood for Dracula is excellent cinema yet it's difficult to view in mixed company (and, therefore, it must be "art"). Besides the heavy doses of nudity and explicit sexuality, there are plenty of disgusting and disturbing scenes where the Count's body violently rejects impure blood (not to mention another gag-worthy sequence following the deflowering of the youngest Di Fiore daughter). The final confrontation is also a gory spectacle very much akin to the final reel of Flesh for Frankenstein. Understand that the gore effects are quite dated yet their over-the-top execution will either have you cringing or crying out with laughter.
That becomes the predicament of this film and its forebear: is it to be taken seriously or for laughs? No doubt, the picture is outrageous, largely driven by the unpredictable and unconventional portrayal of the Count by German actor Udo Kier. Immediately following his work as Dr. Frankenstein, Kier (along with Juerging and Dallesandro), strolled off one shooting set in the morning and onto another that afternoon to commence filming of this picture. While definitely more sickly in this role, Kier is nonetheless manic (even spastic) as the blood-thirsty creature. Although his performance swings wildly from one physical and emotional extreme to another, it fits the overall biting tone of the film's narrative. Arno Juerging portrays manservant Anton with creepy precision, often usurping the supposed dominance that the Count should maintain. Beyond handling his master's affronts, Juerging coolly matches the locals' snobbishness turn for turn with steely-eyed indifference. Dallesandro, as usual, brings buckets full of sexuality while remaining completely unapologetic for his ill-suited Brooklynesqe utterances (in grating contrast to the various European accents also in the mix). His brashness as Mario further takes aim at disrupting order and expectation throughout the film. Of special note, Vittorio De Sica turns out a delightfully eccentric performance as the largely disconnected Marchese De Fiore; a performance not to be missed.
As quirky and unconventional as it may be, Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula has generally maintained a consistent availability in the home video market, beginning with an initial VHS/Beta release from Video Gems back in 1982. It has been offered on video tape several times since then and was given the Criterion treatment on laserdisc in 1996 (those elements later transferred to the 1998 release of the Criterion DVD edition). Now, it seems Image Entertainment has secured the digital distribution rights with this newest release, still largely leveraged from the Criterion elements. This time around, the film elements have been digitally remastered in a "Director-Supervised High-Definition Transfer." Truly, the film looks its best yet, framed at a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The source material looks incredibly clean, the contrast issues from previous releases have been corrected, and the blood runs a deep, deep red throughout. The audio track delivers a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that manages to overcome its limited soundstage and provides clear dialogue, well balanced against Claudio Gizzi's lyrical score.
In the extras department, once again we get the composite commentary track originally accompanying Criterion's 1996 laserdisc release. It's a fascinating discussion, really, culled from separate observations and ruminations by Morrissey and Kier. Contextual comments and film school-like extrapolations are provided by film historian Maurice Yacowar and, collectively, this emerges a well rounded and highly informative experience. New to this release are the Audio Recollections of Paul Morrissey, which accompany the previously-seen still gallery. It's a generous reworking of the gallery with Morrissey's comments running over 25 minutes. Also present is a rare screen test where Srdjan Zelenovic is considered for the role of Count Dracula. Although his interpretation is interesting and intentionally underplayed, Kier still seems to be the better choice.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, an adaptation like this, one that could be charged as perverted, excessive, and disrespectful of the Dracula legacy, is surely one that's ripe for assailing. Interestingly, Morrissey shows absolutely no compunction (both then and now) over his blatant skewering of the Dracula lore, from matters of the Count avoiding sunlight to his refined tastes for only virgin blood. To the furtherance of his social statements, Morrissey likewise exposes the sometimes dogmatic adherence to Bram Stoker's original tale and the manner in which audiences will passionately repel any deviations from established vampiric "rules." It all makes for a further jab at societal norms and conventions that can easily be turned on their head and cause uproar within the social fabric.
Oh, and what of all that confusion over whether this was Paul Morrissey's film or Andy Warhol's production. Simply put, the picture (along with its Frankenstein predecessor) was released stateside as Andy Warhol's Dracula although the soup can artiste had no involvement in the production. Having once mentored a younger Morrissey in his own creative Factory, Warhol agreed to lend his name to this picture for promotional purposes. The picture, however, was written and directed by Paul Morrissey.
And, at this point, the question is asked as to whether or not this newest release is a worthy upgrade to the previous Criterion DVD. If you've never seen the film, you should rent it first as it's certainly not suited for all tastes. If you revel in the picture, either for its camp potential or its social commentary, then this is a sound purchase. The enhanced image quality and additional recollections by Morrissey make this higher-class treatment of this very profound and provocative film experience.
Agree or disagree, this court finds Blood for Dracula not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Commentary by Director Paul Morrissey, Actor Udo Kier, and Film Historian Maurice Yacowar
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