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.

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: The Mad Magician (1954) review


Vincent Price (Don Gallico), Mary Murphy (Karen Lee), Eva Gabor (Claire Ormond), John Emery (The Great Rinaldi), Donald Randolph (Ross Ormond), Patrick O'Neal (Lt. Alan Bruce)

Directed by John Brahm

"...It was your head, Karen...the dummy head I made for the buzzsaw trick. Do you remember how its eyes rolled and the mouth opened and it screamed when the teeth of the saw ripped into its flesh? That was the most life-like thing I ever made. Do you think I'm going to let Rinaldi take that away from me, too? Oh, no, my dear, they'll never find that lovely head of yours."--Gallico morbidly discussing one of his elaborate "head pieces".

The Short Version: Rare Vincent Price vehicle was a quick cash in hot off the success of HOUSE OF WAX (1953) and even though it was put together in fast fashion, the set pieces are accomplished and offer several choice moments of ghastly mayhem during its scant 70 minutes. Considered a lesser Price, the man still delivers an energetically evil performance as he always did. Elements of this film (and of course his previous 3D effort) were incorporated into the PHIBES series and THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). Any Price is good Price and this obscure and rarely discussed production is essential for the cinematic Godfather of the ghoulish and the Grand Guinol.

Gallico the Great is an illusionist and master of disguise who also invents the dangerous devices used in the performances of other magicians. On his way to hitting the big time with his new and lavish invention, his unscrupulous and duplicitous boss--whom also stole his wife from him--pulls the rug out from under Gallico giving his idea and invention to a rival magician, The Great Rinaldi. Gallico is sent over the edge and plots gruesome revenge on those who've wronged him using his elaborate death devices as his murderous methods. Meanwhile, a resolute police Lieutenant and other interested parties get closer to discovering Gallico as the Mad Magician.

Absolutely ghoulish and sadistically entertaining horror revenge thriller starring one of the genres greatest and most celebrated actors, Vincent Price. Having solidified himself as an icon of horror with the previous years 3D spectacular, HOUSE OF WAX (1953), THE MAD MAGICIAN is essentially the same movie also in 3D (the first to be televised in the format), but in B/W. Price is put through pure hell here and this scenario would be repeated multiple times throughout his career most famously in the gory black comedy THEATER OF BLOOD (1973).

There's a great scene where Karen--Gallico's assistant at Illusions Inc.--accidentally leaves her bag and picks up Gallico's identical bag by mistake. The kicker is that the now murderous magician's bag contains a man's severed head! Upon finding her, he learns she left it aboard a horse drawn cab. Gallico tracks down the coach, but learns to his horror that the driver gave it to a policeman! Strangely enough, the cop never opens the bag. Even still, this is one of the best sequences in the movie containing a macabre level of humor about it.

Speaking of the authorities, there's also a determined Lieutenant who will stop at nothing to find the murderer which causes our title madman no end of grief. With each succeeding murder, Lt. Bruce gets closer to the truth as Gallico's means of covering up his deeds soon becomes known. The usage of fingerprinting is utilized here and according to some dialog, this practice was in its infancy and was viewed as hardly reliable. If there's one minor weakness of the script, it's in Gallico's modus operandi. It has the potential to give him away a lot sooner than it actually does in the movie. It's known from the beginning that his career up to that point has been impersonating others and designing exquisitely crafted masks. So when various individuals disappear or become prime suspects in a murder case, it isn't long before the trail leads straight to Gallico.

Eva Gabor played a likable lady with money on GREEN ACRES. In MAD MAGICIAN she plays a similar wealthy woman but is anything but likable here playing a blood sucking leech, sponging off the men in her life.

Most all of Gallico's victims are scuzzy, less than honorable people and it's these kinds of individuals that set Gallico off. Like HOUSE OF WAX before it and his other vengeance seeking tragic heroes that came after, Price's character is essentially a Frankenstein's Monster in that his enemies made him what he is. Eventually, though, Gallico turns his hatred towards innocent people whose only crime was learning of his homicidal tendencies. The climax is a suitable example of poetic justice, but isn't as good as the finale of the widely recognized HOUSE OF WAX (1953). The budgets and shooting schedules were on opposite ends of the spectrum but you would scarcely notice anything lacking here aside from the relative cheaper price of shooting on B/W film stock.

Vincent Price is his usual boisterous self essaying a tragic figure in one of his earliest horror movies. He was often referred to as a champion of hammy performances, the king of these no doubt being his intentionally OTT role in THEATER OF BLOOD in 1973. With him having previously been a stage actor, orating beyond the audience perfectly suited the often stagy nature of his horror pictures. It was a natural fit and Price made it sing his entire career. As in many of his other movies, Price's masterful delivery of dialog is in evidence here, too. It's almost as if he's occasionally reading us a passage from a book with the rich descriptiveness of the words that roll off his tongue. While it's a lesser affair on his resume considering it came so swiftly on the heels of the much more well known and prestigious HOUSE OF WAX (1953), THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954) seems to get a bad rap. It actually makes a nice 'B' side to its more famous progenitor.

Notice Price's legs in view within the mirrors hidden between the table

The film also carries a grand showbiz style atmosphere with its handful of magic trickery and the behind the scenes goings on in preparation for the shows as well as revealing a secret or two. Camera placement unintentionally reveals one piece of business where Gallico, impersonating his rival Rinaldi, raises his female assistant from a flower pot. You can see Gallico's legs reflected in the mirrors placed between the legs of the table holding the flower pot. This Columbia production also closely mimics its source material from rival Warner Brothers by copying not only the WAX remakes plot, but also some of its scenes. One of the 3D shots from the Warner picture had an entertainer flicking a paddle ball at the audience. For MAGICIAN, it's a guy and his two yo yo's flying at the screen. Old TV show lovers look out for Eva Gabor (Lisa Douglas from GREEN ACRES) as Gallico's gold-digging ex-wife.

Director Brahm also directed the 1944 Jack the Ripper horror thriller THE LODGER. He later dabbled in a dozen TWILIGHT ZONE episodes as well as several other sci fi and horror themed shows like ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THRILLER, THE OUTER LIMITS and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. His direction here for THE MAD MAGICIAN is efficient keeping this very early Vincent Price horror thriller moving at a fair clip. The score is lively and is one of the pictures best assets. Barring its modestly brutal climax (we even get to see Price do a Karate chop!), THE MAD MAGICIAN is recommended solely on the fact that Vincent Price is its star as well as taking into consideration that this movie has pulled a disappearing act for far too long.
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