Dracula vs. Frankenstein / Revenge of Dracula / Teenage Dracula / Blood of Frankenstein / Blood Seekers / Satanís Bloody Freaks / Theyíre Coming to Get You (1971) -*****
Okay, this is a serious question, so I want you to give it some serious thought. Who, in your estimation, ought to be credited with the all-time worst movie portrayal of Count Dracula? Is it Frank Langella? Gary Oldman? Louis Jourdan? How about Jack Palance? The inveterate iconoclast in me wants to nominate Bela Lugosi, but I cannot in good faith do that, because I have seen Al Adamsonís Dracula vs. Frankenstein, and I suggest you do the same before you render your final judgement.
Al Adamsonís Dracula is played by a guy named Zandor Vorkov (obviously not his real name) in his first film role. (Astonishingly, it was not also his last. Rather less astonishingly, his one other movie was another Al Adamson picture, Brain of Blood.) The fact that one of this movieís many alternate titles is Teenage Dracula should tell you something about why Vorkov is especially ridiculous in the part; he may not be quite a teenager, but he couldnít possibly have been more than 25 when work began on the movie in 1969. (And yes, observant reader, that does mean it took Adamson two full years to drag this sack of shit from preproduction to release. This is possible because of the way that Adamson made movies. He would simply shoot until he ran out of money. Then he would interrupt production for as long as it took for him to raise some more cash. This curious production technique often had more profound impact on Adamsonís movies than delays in release, as I will explain a bit later.) Vorkov is easily the skinniest, least healthy-looking guy ever to don the cape (which, by the way, is made of fucking plastic here, and which thus betrays its origins as an element of a Halloween costume that Adamson picked up at the local Drug Fair or some such place), making him look particularly silly in his vampire makeup. His face (but not his hands!) is covered with white grease paint, accented by absurd purple eye-shadow and bright red lipstick, for an effect that could best be described as the gothic mime look. Combine this with a Frank Zappa-like beard and a hairdo that treads perilously close to afro territory, and I think it will become clear why Vorkov blows his competition for the Worst Dracula Ever crown right out of the water, even before he has a chance to deploy his stunningly wooden delivery of the filmís frightfully bad dialogue. But Adamson wasnít quite satisfied with this, so just for good measure, he went and added an echo effect to Vorkovís voice, with no regard to the acoustics of the setting. Draculaís voice echoes, even in the front seat of a Ď65 Pontiac.
But wait, we havenít said anything about Dracula vs. Frankensteinís rendition of the Frankenstein monster. While it does not tower head and shoulders in wretchedness above its competitors the way Vorkovís Dracula does (itís awfully hard to top the monster in Blackenstein, you know), itís still fantastically bad. To begin with, Iím fairly certain that its head is actually a mask, rather than an application of makeup to actor John Bloomís face. (And no, that isnít the John Bloom better known to the world as Joe Bob Briggs; itís the John Bloom who would go on to play Papa Jupiterís older brother, the Reaper, in the embarrassingly awful The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2.) My conviction that the monsterís face is a mask stems from the fact that its features never once move during the entire course of the film, apart from a very slight twitch of the upper lip. As for the beastís overall appearance, the closest I can come to doing it justice on the printed page is to say that its face is composed of a disorderly collection of randomly placed lumps (three of them masquerading as a nose), with a circumferential row of staples running across its forehead.
So, what excuse has Adamson come up with to bring together the two most recognizable horror icons of the 20th century? Go turn off the TV, Ďcause youíre going to need your full powers of attention for this. The film begins with a murder, and not just any murder, either-- this is the full-on on-screen decapitation of a dark-haired girl. Then, we cut to Oakmoor Cemetery, where a six-foot, 130-pound man in what appears to be a plastic Dracula cape is digging up one of the graves. The coffin within contains a certain raisin-faced hulk with which we will become quite familiar before this is all over, a revelation that is made for us when the cemeteryís night watchman shines his flashlight into the open grave, sealing his poorly-choreographed doom at the hands (or jaws) of the King of Vampires. (Note that the distance between the bite marks on the manís neck is much less than half the distance between Vorkovís plastic fangs.)
And then, because it is the only logical thing to do, the movie takes us to Las Vegas for what is easily the very worst musical number Iíve ever seen in a movie. The cast of this production consists of: one (1) blonde woman with remarkable cleavage singing lead and (sort of) dancing, and two (2) male singer/dancers who lack remarkable cleavage, while its set consists of: one (1) completely empty stage, and two (2) shiny black suitcases. I like to imagine that this scene came about because Adamson overheard Russ Tamblyn (whom weíll be seeing shortly) talking about the time he had to sit through this awful lounge act for a monster movie he made over in Japan, a story that the director took as a challenge to create a song-and-dance interlude that would be even worse. It probably didnít really happen that way, but you never know, do you? Anyway, after the song, the blonde with the cleavage (her name turns out to be Judy Fontaine, and sheís played by Adamsonís favorite actress, Regina Carrol, who not coincidentally was also his wife) goes backstage, changes, and heads off to town to meet with a detective named Martin (Jim Davis, of Monster from Green Hell and Jesse James Meets Frankensteinís Daughter) for an update on the search for Judyís missing sister Joan. Youíre probably smart enough to figure out that Joan was that girl that got decapitated in the first scene, but Martin is only smart enough to tell Judy to stay out of his way after he divulges everything she needs, not just to catch up to the cops in the investigation, but to leave them in the goddamned dust.
Joan, or so Martin says, had gone to California to live on the beach with some hippies, and Judy wastes no time following. Her first efforts avail her little, other than getting a tab of acid slipped into her drink at a hippy/biker bar after she asks the wrong people if theyíve ever heard of Rico (Russ Tamblyn, reprising his role from Adamsonís Satanís Sadists in all but name), who I guess was part of the crowd with which Joan fell in. After a freak-out scene that vies with the one in The Weird World of LSD for howling awfulness, Judy wakes up in the ďpadĒ of a suspiciously-old-for-1969-1971 hippy beach bum named Mike Howard (Anthony Eisley, from The Navy vs. the Night Monsters), who tells her that Joan used to hang out at the haunted house on the amusement park pier. Judy naturally wants to go, and at last we begin to see how the different elements of the plot might fit together. The haunted house belongs to a crippled scientist named Dr. Durea (itís pronounced ďDoo-RAYĒ, but somebody apparently forgot to tell Regina Carrol that, because she canít decide whether itís supposed to be ďDoo-REE-uhĒ or ďDOO-ree-ayĒ), and he operates it with the help of two assistants: a dwarf named Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto, from Freaks and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) and a retarded thyroid case named Groton (Lon Chaney Jr., of The Wolf Man, in his woefully embarrassing final film role, a mere two years before his death of the same throat cancer that killed his father). Durea claims not to remember having seen Joan (and on the basis of the photo that Judy has of her, we can see why-- itís a polaroid taken from about 20 feet away!), but in a way that clearly says heís lying. In the next scene, we learn why.
You see, Durea (who, by the way, is played by another embarrassed has-been, J. Carroll Naish, who had appeared many years before in House of Frankenstein and Jungle Woman) is a mad scientist. His particular mad lab is dedicated to the isolation of a serum that will somehow cure his paraplegia, render Groton mentally normal, and allow Grazbo to grow to full adult size. The problem is that the principal ingredient of the serum is human blood, and not just any human blood, either. It has to be blood from a person who has experienced and survived gross physical trauma (decapitation for instance-- and yes, Durea has in fact found a cure for decapitation!)-- something about blood chemistry and molecular structure and blah, blah, blah-- and thus Durea must periodically send Groton out with an axe. Grotonís normally gentle disposition could have proved an insurmountable obstacle to this process, but fortunately for Durea, an early, unperfected version of his serum has the effect of working a Mr. Hyde-like transformation on Groton, and (apparently) reversing it as well. After explaining all of this, Durea notices that he has a visitor, prompting what may be the best line of nonsensical dialogue in the movie: ďWhen a man comes into my laboratory and casts no reflection in the mirror, and wears the infernal crest of Dracula on his hand, there can be no scientific explanation for anything! Tell me what it is you want... Count Dracula!Ē
Dracula isnít terribly interested in divulging what he wants right now, but he does reveal that he knows who Durea really is. The doctor (everybody together now) is yet another in the long line of last living members of the Frankenstein family. Dracula makes Durea an offer he canít refuse: the count, as you may recall, recently stole the body of the original Frankenstein monster from the grave where it had been buried by its previous owner, a certain Dr. Beaumont. This is of interest to Durea, not merely because he is a Frankenstein, but also because it was Beaumont that got him drummed out of the Medical Institute and who set the fire that crippled him. The great and ironic value of the monster as an instrument of revenge is clear to Durea, and he agrees to help Dracula get whatever it is that he wants in return for the monster.
The inevitable monster-revival scene follows (using the same gear that was used in the corresponding scene from James Whaleís 1931 Frankenstein), but with a twist. As Dracula tells us, the creature can be revived only upon the return of Warrenís Comet, which passed overhead at the moment of its creation all those centuries ago. You can probably guess that the return of the comet is used as an excuse for a special effect that is anything but. Then itís time for Dureaís revenge. We see Beaumont (Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman) get into his car, which to his surprise, has Dracula sitting in the passenger seat. After sort of introducing himself (ďI am known as the Count of Darkness and the Lord of the Manor of Carpathia,Ē Dracula reverberates), he orders Beaumont to drive until he finds the road blocked by Frankensteinís monster, at which point the doctor cooperatively leaves the relative safety of the car so that he can be strangled by the thing.
Meanwhile, in another movie, Mike and Judy are falling for each other, and some of Mikeís hippy friends are being menaced by Ricoís biker gang. The two stories are finally and decisively connected when Groton kills Ricoís gang and drags the hippy girl Samantha back to the lab. Mike and Judy discover the trap door under the pier that leads into the lab shortly thereafter, and sneak in to find Durea, Groton, and Grazbo hanging out inside-- and several zombie-like naked girls strapped to the back wall, each with a nasty-looking scar circling her neck. Naturally, one of these girls is Joan, and the mystery is solved at last (ha ha). A fight ensues, which leads to the deaths of everyone but Mike and Judy before Dracula arrives to take the situation in hand. After revealing his purpose in the movie (Dureaís blood serum would have rendered him invulnerable, allowing him to unleash ďa bloodbath the likes of which the world has never seen!Ē), Dracula incinerates Mike with a blast of cartoon fire from his ring (really!) and sics the Frankenstein monster on Judy.
ďAlright, El Santo,Ē I hear you saying, ďisnít this supposed to be Dracula vs. Frankenstein? Shouldnít the two monsters end up fighting each other sometime?Ē Well, yes, I suppose so, and that seems finally to have occurred to Al Adamson at this point, too. For in the next scene, we see the Frankenstein monster ogling the bound and unconscious Judy, playing with her shirt and sniffing her hair, clearly getting the hots for her. So of course, the monster doesnít think itís such a good idea when Dracula orders him to kill the girl in a final attempt to complete Dureaís work and make the vampire invincible. The laughably sorry duel that follows carries both monsters outside into the woods a good, I donít know, five minutes from dawn. You can see where this is going, right?
Now, earlier, I alluded to the ways in which Adamsonís piecemeal approach to filmmaking affected his movies. Notice, as you watch Dracula vs. Frankenstein, how little time the movie spends on the titular monsters. There is a very good reason for this. In 1969, when Adamson started filming, he had a very different movie in mind, something more along the lines of his relatively successful Satanís Sadists, thus explaining Russ Tamblyn, the bikers, and all the hippies. About a third of the footage ultimately used was shot during this phase of production, when the film was to have been called Satan's Bloody Freaks, before Adamsonís initial funding dried up. If Iím not mistaken, the development that sent this movie spinning off in the direction it finally took was Adamsonís subsequent discovery that the original lab gear from Universalís Frankenstein still existed, and could indeed be had for a price that even he could afford. The addition of Count Dracula to the mix was the last piece to fall into place, and probably had more to do with how much money Adamson thought his movie could make than with any kind of artistic considerations; Vorkovís scenes were among the last ones shot, sometime in 1971. Had Adamson spent less time on this movie, he would have had far fewer opportunities to change his mind about its direction, and thus would probably have produced something that made rather more sense. What a shame that would have been, huh?
By the way, the closing credits for Dracula vs. Frankenstein list, in addition to John Bloom as ďthe MonsterĒ, a Shelly Weiss in connection with the role of ďthe Creature.Ē I donít recall seeing any female ďcreaturesĒ in this film, and believe me, its every second had my rapt attention. If anyone has any idea what in the hell this is about, Iíd love to know.