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Monday, October 10, 2011

Reel Bad Cinema: Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (1971) review


J. Carrol Naish (Dr. Frankenstein), Lon Chaney Jr. (Groton), Zandor Vorkov (Count Dracula), Regina Carrol (Judith Fontaine), Anthony Eisley (Mike), Russ Tamblyn (Rico), Greydon Clark (Strange), Angelo Rossitto (Grazbo), William Bonner, Forrest J. Ackerman (Dr. Beaumont)

Directed by Al Adamson

The Short Version: Mesmerizingly atrocious clash of the terror titans pits an afro'ed, curly haired Dracula against a dime store Frankenstein's monster whose face resembles a burnt marshmallow. The plot has far more going on than it should and never once will you take this surprisingly bloody 'GP' feature seriously. This perennial bad movie favorite from one of trash cinemas most beloved filmmakers, Al Adamson, is poverty row fluff at its most gloriously gaudy and execrably entertaining.

Count Dracula digs up Frankenstein's Monster (he's buried in Oakmoor Cemetery!) and barters a deal with the last of the Frankenstein's who secretly runs a carnival sideshow under the guise of Dr. Dureys while performing flesh and blood experiments in the basement of the carnival. Dracula desires Frank's blood serum which will supposedly make him invincible and allow him to create a "League of living vampires, an indestructible army of the undead" (Jeez, Drac, make up your mind--living or undead!?) Meanwhile, Judith Fontaine--a Vegas showgirl--goes in search of her missing sister and instead finds an unending stream of awful dialog, a biker gang, even worse acting, an axe wielding maniac, the worst optical effects imaginable, Dr. Frankenstein and eventually tangles with what is absolutely the most hilarious interpretation of Dracula ever to (dis)grace the screen.

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN personifies the stigma of 'Bad Movie Made Good' and is the Royal Crown Cola of 70s exploitation movies. It takes two of horrors greatest icons and transforms them into greasy caricatures of their former glories. If turning two classic characters into buffoonish clowns weren't reason enough to see this travesty, Adamson keeps things interesting at all times by throwing in an axe wielding maniac, a wheelchair bound Dr. Frankenstein, a biker gang, the booming hippie/drug culture and even Angelo "FREAKS" Rossitto as a devilish carnival barker! The storyline never makes sense and apparently it's a literal mishmash of monster mayhem melded with an unfinished sleazy biker epic Adamson had been working on.

Dracula does his disintegrating mime impersonation

This multitude of plot strands are on a collision course with one another and despite none of them ever gelling into a cohesive whole, it's ghoulish fun waiting for the proverbial train wreck as the film builds to the cataclysmic, titanic tussle between the title fiends. This "battle royal" consists of meticulously choreographed pushing and shoving till Dracula gets the bright idea to rip Frank's limbs off. It's safe to say there's nothing one can spoil about a movie like DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. Knowing what is going to happen doesn't do the penetratingly oppressive ineptness justice. One of the most marvelously mirthful moments occurs at the end as Dracula "melts" away after being exposed to the rising sun. Apparently there was no time for even time lapse photography so instead, we get to see Vorkov twist and contort his face to give the appearance he is turning to ashes.

I don't know what the hell this is supposed to be

Zandor Vorkov (whose name spelled backwards is Rodnaz Vokrov) is likely cinemas lousiest Dracula, but his stilted, robotic delivery coupled with his outer space echoing voice and lightning bolt zapping, grocery store magic ring is too ridiculous to resist. Outside of the special guest starring role of Regina Carrol's cleavage, Vorkov's performance is the most fascinating aspect of the whole enterprise. It's really quite incredible and his ensemble is topped off with a garish costume and Halloween party make up job. The green eyed monster ring that emits lightning bolts is an electrifying accoutrement Bram stoker never thought of. Dracula is something of an undead and unscrupulous gangster in this movie blackmailing Dr. Frankenstein into a partnership whereby Kabuki Dracula gets some additional and unwitting blood donors in his quest to create a LIVING undead army (???HUH???).

The cast is a sampling of various horror stars and future trash filmmakers. Lon Chaney Jr. plays Groton, the mindless, crazed axe murderer under the control of Frankenstein. As fun as this picture is, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN is a serious low point among the numerous classy horror films on the former WOLF MAN's resume. Chaney famously essayed the Larry Talbot role in the classic original, THE WOLF MAN (1941), played Kharis the Mummy in a few films, played a MAN MADE MONSTER in 1941 and a similar role as a convict brought back from the grave in THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (1956). He also played a human monster of sorts in Bert I. Gordon's THE CYCLOPS (1957). Arguably his last good role was as Bruno the caretaker from Jack Hill's seminal cult favorite, SPIDER BABY (1968). Sadly, his manic, grunt and groaner performance here in DVF was to be his last.

Greydon Clark plays a Venice Beach hipster makin' the scene in DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN

Russ Tamblyn, late of WEST SIDE STORY (1961), plays a bad boy biker rapist--a role not too far removed from the one he played in another Adamson feature, SATAN'S SADISTS from 1969, which reportedly, this film was originally supposed to be a sequel to. Tamblyn will also be remembered for his sleepwalking, disinterested lead role in the Kaiju classic WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). The founding father of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Forry Ackerman has a role here and the film was given a generous amount of promotion at the time in that esteemed publication. Much of that ballyhoo in FM magazine was just as playfully silly as the film itself. Fellow trash filmmaker Greydon Clark has a role as a hippie. His movies were just as bad and terribly enjoyable as anything Al Adamson ever cooked up.

The films lead actress, Regina Carrol, was a busty blonde beauty who also was married to the director. She appeared in most of her husbands movies, at least the most famous ones right up to one of Adamson's last, the mind bogglingly absurd CARNIVAL MAGIC from 1981. Carrol had a successful, busy career in show business that covered ground outside of just appearing in her husbands movies. You could say Sherri Moon Zombie is the modern equivalent to Carrol, but it's highly unlikely her rock star husband's movies will attain the same level of cult status as Al Adamson as technically inefficient as they may be.

Far from the 'B' movie category, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN proudly wears its 'D' movie status with pride and a lot of trash fans hold it in high regard. There's no middle ground with this one--you either love it or hate it. It's likely the late directors most "revered" motion picture and if anything can be said of it, there's a great deal of fun to be had here in the right frame of mind. Your enjoyment can be gauged on your tolerance for sincerely awful movies. It's among the upper echelon of low brow entertainment and adorned VidAmerica's World's Worst Videos label in addition to getting a DVD release from Troma a few years ago. MGM has restored this glorious mess of a movie so now every insipid moment is crystal clear. It's yet to be made available on the company's On Demand mail order DVD service, but it gets occasional play on the MGM HD channel.


Will Errickson said...

I saw this as a kid in the late '70s/early '80s as part of the Saturday afternoon creature double feature and MAN was I freaked out by that terrible Dracula!

venoms5 said...

Aint it terrible, though? I didn't (sort of) catch up with it till the mid 80s when this tape I bought called FILM HOUSE FEVER had clips of it on there. It was a movie (about 60 minutes I think) that starred Steve Buschemi and another guy as trash movie buffs who go to this film festival populated with dozens of clips and intermission shorts. At the end, Buschemi and his friend realize everybody in the theater are made up like the zombies in CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Later on, I bought that VidAmerica tape. I think it was also on the Super Video label.

Andrew said...

I friggin' love this movie....
As a Frankenstein man, I really wish someone would bring the series back. Great analysis.

venoms5 said...

Ah ha, Andrew, so this is one 70s exploitation flick you like I see! It was really hard for me to sit through the first time around, but later on I came to appreciate its "qualities" a lot better.

The Flashback Fanatic said...

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN fascinates because of its reckless mixture of old horror tropes (mad science and monsters) with early '70s film tropes (cops, hippies, bikers, and LSD). It has all the stuff that exploitation film fans are primed for and are expected to accept. Stuff just happens because that is how we expect these genre characters to behave. Since this flick was cobbled together from two previous versions and the original story did not include Dracula or Frankenstein, its logic was bound to suffer. I just let myself freakout to the bad trip of monsters, sexy women, violence, and obtuse Dracula and Dr. Durea dialogue.

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