Shot immediately after ‘Flesh for Frankenstein' using most of the same cast & crew, Paul Morrissey's ‘Blood for Dracula' is, like its companion piece, a curious mix of arthouse sensibilities & exploitation excess. Even more so than Frankenstein, the film seems almost designed to frustrate both audiences – the arthouse crowd will likely be repelled by the gore, unusual acting styles & politically incorrect dialogue and sex levels, whilst many horror fans will be frustrated by the relatively slow pacing & preponderance of social commentary. Personally, I love arthouse just as much as horror, & as such both these films are right up my strangely lit side-alley.
Count Dracula (Udo Kier) is sickly & near death in his ancestral home as he can only drink virgin blood, & all the girls in Romania are, ahem, “experienced”. Suggesting that the strong hold of the Catholic Church will mean that Italian girls are likely to be pure until marriage, his servant Anton (Arno Juerging) decides to drive him to Italy. He sets up at a local inn there, & under the pretext of finding a bride for the Count, Anton tries to find a family who have girls who are untouched. He discovers the Di Fiore family, local aristocrats whose fortune is fading & have four beautiful daughters they would be keen to marry off to a rich foreign Count. Trouble is, their one remaining servant Mario (Joe Dallessandro) has been secretly having his way with the two middle daughters, who the parents regard as being most suitable for this alliance with Dracula.
If you hadn't guessed, like Frankenstein ‘Blood for Dracula' makes no pretence to be an adaptation of the original classic gothic horror novel, but is rather an all new spin using the famous character as a leaping-off point. Indeed, it contains some alteration to the traditional mythology of vampirism that may befuddle genre audiences – apart from any blood other than that of a virgin being poisonous to Dracula, he is seen outside in daylight on more than one occasion. The resulting film may disappoint by not being particularly scary (or even noticeably tense) but there are many sequences to please horror fans – noticeably Dracula convulsing & throwing up non-Virgin blood, licking hymen blood off the floor, & the rather bonkers limb-lopping climax.
Whilst Dracula may have considerably less in your face gore than Frankenstein, I suspect many fans will be pleased to notice that it compensates by having much more sex & nudity. The two middle daughters (one of whom is played by Suspiria's Stefania Casini) seem to have great difficulty with keeping their clothes on – particularly in the second half of the film as they fall under Dracula's spell. Meanwhile the Dallessandro buttocks put in a rather more convincing performance than the rest of him. The effects once more are by Carlo Rambaldi (Alien, ET), & whilst he has less to do this time around they are still very good. Although not as eye-catching as his work with Dario Argento, Luigi (Profondo Rosso) Kuveiller's cinematography is once again crisp & accomplished.
The social commentary angle of the film is rather more overt than in Frankenstein, particularly in relation to class structure. The Count is now no longer able to suck the life out of the villagers surrounding his castle in order to maintain his heady lifestyle, & his sickly, near-death fatigue is a clear representation of the decline of the upper class nobility; something echoed in the falling of the fortunes of the di Fiore family. Young Mario is an avowedly Marxist worker who poaches the daughters' purity before Dracula has a chance, claiming it's for their own good. Even as he beds two of the daughters he constantly threatens them of an upcoming revolution when all their fortunes will be lost. He is also one of the least sympathetic “heroes” in any horror films – at one point he remarks how he'd “like to rape the shit outta” the 14 year old di Fiore daughter, & later tries to do just that once he discovers Dracula's intentions. The daughters meanwhile are stuck in the middle of the two extremes, torn between proclaiming them peasant workers as they whip their clothes off to till the land, & then being all too eager to marry a rich Aristocrat in order to live the high life.
Despite all this, the film is consistently hugely entertaining & funny, filled with “did he really just say that?” dialogue, & some wonderfully scenery-chewing by Kier & Jeurging. Overall, it's a film I can only give a slightly guarded recommendation to, but if you're a fan of 70s Euro flicks & don't mind having your exploitation flesh & blood served up with a side helping of artistic pretension, then the chances are you'll love ‘Blood for Dracula'. I certainly did.
The film arrives on UK DVD courtesy of Tartan, & once again it's pleasing to note that all previous BBFC cuts have now been waived. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is not the best I've ever seen, being slightly soft & with some noticeable ghosting, but given the age & nature of the film I find it perfectly watchable – similarly the Dolby 2.0 mono. A good package of extras once again starts with a commentary track from Paul Morrissey, Udo Kier & critic Maurice Yakowar, which is full of interest, even if Yakowar is excessively scholarly in his approach. Again there's a lengthy stills gallery with directors' commentary (around 25 mins), which is one of the most interesting such features I've come across. Filling the disc out is a rare screen test with a different actor playing Dracula, again commentated by Morrissey (4mins).
Whilst ‘Blood for Dracula' is often held up as being the better of the two films since it's less excessively absurd, gratuitously gory & is more ripe for critical dissection, I suspect I'm not the only genre fan who prefers ‘Flesh for Frankenstein' for precisely the same reasons. Still, they're both more than worthwhile purchases, & if you like one the chances are you'll like the its companion piece too.