Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Graduating from Andy Warhol's factory of experimental films and camp epics, Paul Morrissey relocated to Europe in the early 1970s, there to direct twisted camp versions of the horror staples Frankenstein and Dracula. Produced by Andrew Braunsberg with money from Carlo Ponti, both were eventually released in America as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Andy Warhol's Dracula, although the New York trendsetter's participation as a credited producer doesn't seem to have been substantial. Frankenstein had excellent 3D and elaborate Carlo Rambaldi gore effects, leaving its poor cousin Blood for Dracula to be appreciated only for Udo Kier's original black comedy take on the vampire character.
Transylvanian resources of virgin blood are currently tapped out. Count Dracula (Udo Kier) lays his vampire sister to rest, knowing that he too will perish if he cannot secure a fresh supply. His underling Anton (Arno Juerging) has the perfect plan - they'll pack the Count's coffin atop his touring car and drive to Italy in search of unprotected virgins. Using the ruse that the sickly Count is looking for a bride, Anton easily finds accommodations in the villa of the bankrupt Marchese and Marchesa Di Fiore (Vittorio de Sica and Maxime McKendry). Unfortunately, the notion that virgins would be plentiful in a country of devout Roman Catholics isn't entirely accurate -- Dracula goes into convulsions when he feeds on the beautiful necks of the already quite-worldly Di Fiore girls.
It took decades for Paul Morrissey to be firmly established as the real director of Blood for Dracula. In Italy the credit for both films was assigned to Antonio Margheriti, who in English versions is listed as an assistant director, second unit director and effects makeup man. Phil Hardy's The Encyclopedia of Horror Movieshelped to perpetuate that theory, but Margheriti's name was probably used only to circumvent Italian labor regulations. Filmed in English, Blood for Dracula's style fits in with Morrissey's deadpan aesthetics.
There aren't that many original vampire concepts, and the inventive Blood for Dracula could have been a classic were it not for the Morrissey-Warhol camp-trash ethic that demands a cynical approach to every subject. One might think that underground filmmakers would respect a genre known for its subversive possibilities, but Morrissey and his scriptwriter Pat Hackett (suspicious, that name) are indifferent to any but exploitative goals. The movie begins with a refreshing sense of humor as Udo Kier's vampire suffers a series of humorous indignities in his honest quest to survive as a parasitic bloodsucker. Reacting with Germanic disbelief to each new setback -- he vomits back the tainted non-virgin blood while writhing like a spastic snake -- Kier only becomes more despondent as each new victim 'disappoints' him. Even the Marchesa is befuddled: "How would he know if they were virgins or not unless he ..?"
Arno Juerging's snooty valet is a perfect toady, an enabler who can arrange access to the bourgeois houses hiding the succulent daughters Dracula craves. Then Morrisey's star Joe Dallesandro makes his entrance, coming on like an inexpressive Brando to perform a deadpan series of boring sex scenes. As the handyman in residence, Dallesandro is a communist who 'saves' the girls from Dracula by having sex with them, a reasonably interesting farcical development. But Dallesandro's undisguised New York accent and, indeed, lack of anything resembling a performance puts the entire movie in a disdainful, who-cares? mood. Director Morrissey acquits himself quite well with modest production values that are still a grade up from his New York work; it's too bad that he couldn't take the big step and commit to a belief in his own film.
Vittorio De Sica waves his arms as an ineffective, mostly absent father, looking a lot like the elderly Charlie Chaplin. Roman Polanski puts in a cameo appearance as a local bar room cheat. But the movie really belongs to Udo Kier and Arno Juerging -- Keir would be an excellent choice to revisit the Dracula role, even thirty years later.
Image Entertainment's DVD of Blood for Dracula presents the film uncut in a good transfer. Criterion released an earlier disc but this edition is widescreen-enhanced and much sharper. A director's audio commentary is repeated from the earlier release. New audio recollections from Morrissey are heard over an extensive stills gallery - the director comes off as casually cynical, dismissing today's world as a disgusting sewer without further elaboration. We're offered some unimpressive screen tests featuring a potential Dracula who couldn't work because of a legal problem; it's hard to believe that he was considered in place of Keir, who simply finished filming Flesh for Frankenstein on one morning and continued with the Dracula film in the afternoon. Until the fun goes stale, Blood for Dracula is good for a few macabre laughs.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Blood for Dracula rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very good
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Paul Morrissey and Udo Kier (from earlier Criterion disc); New Audio recollections from Paul Morrisey (over still montage); screen test for Dracula actor not used.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 2, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson
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