Blood for Dracula/Andy Warhol’s Dracula/Young Dracula/Dracula Cerca Sangue di Virgine… e Morì di Sete! (1974) ***
You know how it goes. Ever since Universal established the pattern in 1931, the arrival of a new version of Dracula has been a virtual guarantee that a new Frankenstein isn’t far behind— and vice versa. Hammer followed up The Curse of Frankenstein with Horror of Dracula. William Beaudine paired Billy the Kid vs. Dracula with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Dan Curtis adapted both novels for television in the 1970’s. And of course there were those desperately serious early-90’s bids to “reclaim” the old stories from the horror ghetto, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Well, Paul Morrissey may have spent most of his early career crapping all over tradition and convention, but this was one that not even he could resist bowing before. About a year after the initial West German release of Flesh for Frankenstein, Morrissey returned with Blood for Dracula, a companion piece in the same gross and goofy vein, shot on the same locations and utilizing much of the same cast and crew.
After some 30 years of seeing vampires grow ever more powerful in virutally every pop-culture context, Morrissey’s take on Count Dracula (Udo Kier, from Spermula and Shadow of the Vampire) comes as quite a shock. Sickly, enervated, and enfeebled, the count hasn’t left the confines of his castle in ages, and his sister is in even worse shape. This, apparently, is what happens to vampires who fail to meet their USRDA of hemoglobin— a slow, wasting sickness that Morrissey’s track record as a gay-issues filmmaker would encourage one to read as a metaphor for AIDS, were it not for the fact that the world was still in blissful ignorance of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in 1974. Morrissey’s vampires, you see, are a very particular bunch. They need not just blood, but virgin blood; “impure” blood is indigestible and nauseates them violently (they can’t even eat the meat of non-virgin animals!), but no blood at all leaves them looking like they’re nursing an advanced case of tuberculosis. For Dracula and his sister specifically, the difficulty of meeting their dietary needs is twofold. First, Romania is a small country, in population if not necessarily in land area, and their family’s reputation precedes them from one end of it to the other. Secondly, virgins are just a lot harder to come by in the 20th century (various oblique clues add up to suggest that Blood for Dracula is set sometime around 1935) than they once were, whatever the use to which one might seek to put them. Dracula’s just lucky he has Anton (Arno Juerging, of All Around Service and Flesh for Frankenstein) looking out for him. The vampire’s servant takes a more proactive approach to the family’s problems, and he has devised a plan that should put the count’s health and nutrition woes safely behind him: Count Dracula is going on an extended vacation in Italy. It seems a sensible enough program the way Anton lays it out. The Draculas are unknown outside of Romania, so reputation will no longer matter. The count can simply present himself as a nobleman from abroad in search of a suitably virtuous bride among the landed families of Europe. Italy in particular is attractive as a hunting ground first because its people have not yet succumbed to the anti-aristocratic feeling that is rampant throughout the rest of the continent, and secondly because the influence of the Catholic Church remains strong enough there to keep the virginity of the country’s young women secure against the depredations of its young men. Dracula is reluctant to leave his ancestral home, but he knows an untenable situation when he sees it— hell, his sister is so sick at this point that she’s apt to be coffin-ridden for the rest of her eternal life, and he’ll be just like her in a matter of weeks if he can’t get his fangs into a decent, virgin jugular vein. The count submits to being bundled into the car that Anton has bought for the trip, together with a minimum of luggage beyond his coffin (for which Anton devises the cover story that it contains a dead uncle whose remains are to be repatriated) and a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, in Italy, the Marchese di Fiore (Vittorio de Sica) and his family have fallen upon hard times. The marchese likes to gamble, and he’s managed to squander just about everything he owns except for the house and its grounds. The way his wife (Maxime McKendry) sees it, the only hope for the di Fiores is for them to marry off one of their four daughters to somebody as rich as they used to be, and then live parasitically off of their in-laws. Fourteen-year-old Perla (Silvia Dionisio, from School Girl Killer and Terror Express) is too young for marriage, while the dowdy and introverted Esmeralda (Milena Vukotic, from The Monster of the Opera and Creampuffs) is too old by conventional reckoning. That leaves the intermediate sisters, Saphiria (Dominique Darel) and Rubinia (Stefania Casini, of Suspiria and How to Lose a Wife and Find a Lover). When Dracula arrives in the di Fiores’ village, and Anton begins asking around after marriageable maidens for his master, it’s all but inevitable that the two scheming bluebloods will batten upon each other as the antidote to their troubles.
It isn’t going to be nearly that simple, however, because Saphiria and Rubinia are far from virginal. The two girls whom the marchesa would place in competition for Dracula’s favor have been carrying on a collaborative affair with Mario Balato (Joe Dallesandro, from The Streetwalker and Killer Nun), the di Fiores’ communist handyman. For that matter, they’re also carrying on an affair with each other. There’s a weird symbiosis to this triangle, for Mario plainly thinks of himself as sticking it to the upper classes whenever he sticks it Rubinia and Saphiria, while the girls just as obviously get off on deigning to bed a man who is so far beneath their station— and on making sure he knows that deigning is just how they see it, too. Mario also seeks to expand his conquests to the other two di Fiore sisters, and he lets it be known to pretty much everyone but their parents that he’s perfectly willing to resort to rape if proletarian studliness alone won’t get the job done. So let’s look at what we’ve got here… On the one hand, there’s a vampire who’ll waste away to nothing if he doesn’t drink himself a whole bunch of virgin blood right quick. On the other, there’s a money-hungry marchesa whose daughters collectively comprise an eight-legged Madonna-whore complex, and who is angling to pair up that vampire with exactly the daughters he can’t use. How fucked up is it that once Dracula realizes he’s been chasing Mario’s sloppy seconds all this time, Perla and Esmeralda’s best hope for survival will be a prophylactic run-in behind the stables with the Red Rapist?!
Speaking, as we were, of coupled Dracula and Frankenstein movies, I find it interesting that in each case where I’ve seen both halves of the pair, I’ve ended up liking the Frankenstein film better. Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula are no exception, although the disparity here is narrower than usual. As compared to its companion piece, Blood for Dracula is more subdued in its employment of sex and gore (although it still has plenty of both) and more overt in its lefty politics (although it still maintains a firm sense of humor about those). For my purposes, Morrissey got the balance backwards this second time around, and it’s the “althoughs” that salvage the situation. Dracula’s protracted death scene, for example, goes a long way toward making up for the relative paucity of Grand Guignol gross-out up ‘til then, while the somewhat tedious overemphasis on the theme of aristocratic decadence is redeemed by the amusingly complete loutishness of the character who most often raises the subject. Udo Kier is once again terrific as the living (or in this case, undead) embodiment of the term “Eurotrash,” and the notion of an almost totally helpless and debilitated Dracula, whose Renfield is furthermore the brains of the operation, looks even more subversive now than it did in 1974. Similarly subversive is Mario’s central role in Dracula’s eventual destruction, which effectively equates to Quincy Morris usurping the position generally reserved for Dr. Van Helsing, compounding the sense that Mario is staging his own little one-man October Revolution when he turns Fearless Vampire Killer at the climax. And of course, the appalling irony of a situation in which a teenager getting raped by the groundskeeper can be spun as a good thing makes Morrissey a legitimate claimant to authorship of the Most Tasteless Joke Ever. I’m sure that’s just what he was aiming for, too.