Paul Morrissey started off in film as an assistant director and cinematographer on a lot of Andy Warhol's early experimental art movies. From there he branched out and started producing a lot of Warhol's movies, which in turn lead to directing films such as Flesh, Trash, and Heat. In the early seventies he made Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (though some say Italian genre director Antonio Margheriti did as much work behind the camera, if not more, than Morrissey did), and these two films, more or less shot back to back, remain his most popular works to this day.
Shot on location in Europe, the movie follows the exploits of Count Dracula (Udo Kier of the infamous Mark Of The Devil) who, according to his faithful man servant Anton (the bug eyed Arno Juerging), needs to feast on the blood of a virgin soon or he will become ill and soon die. Because the Count is well known in his native Romania, they're having trouble finding nubile young women for him to feast on so Anton decides that they should head to Italy to look for fresh meat. After all, Italy is a very Catholic country and because of that, they should have no troubles finding a virtuous young woman or two for the Count to sink his fangs into.
After much whining the Count finally and reluctantly agrees to head off to Italy with Anton, who assures him that there won't be any difficulty in finding a snack if they stick to his plan – to pretend that the Count is looking for a virgin wife to take back to Romania with him. While the Count is holed up in a hotel, Arno heads to a tavern to mingle with the locals (one of whom is played by Roman Polanski!) and hears word of Di Fiore family who have four lovely daughters who must surely still retain their purity. Anton heads to their villa, a once beautiful Italian mansion now in a rather run down state, and convinces the family to let he and Dracula stay with them.
The Count and Anton move to the villa where the family meets him for the first time. While the mother is keen on marrying off one of her girls so that they can bring some new and much needed money into the family, two of the girls are more interested in carrying about with the servant, Mario ('Little' Joe Dallesandro of Trash), who happens to obsess over communist teachings and preaches warning of the upcoming revolution that will surely take down the upper class. The eldest daughter, while still virtuous, isn't interested so much in The Count while the youngest isn't of marrying age yet. This leads to complications for the family, as well as for the count, as he tries to figure out which one, if any, of the girls he'll be able to satiate his hunger with and they try to figure out what exactly his real intentions are…
Morrissey infuses his take on Stoker's original classic story with heavy doses of socialist politics and the end result is that the movie plays out as much like a class war between the rich and the poor (embodied by Mario's struggle against Dracula as well as his dealings with the Di Fiore family, who he obviously resents) as it does as a story of good versus evil. This makes for an interesting take on the story – it's not often that the vampire film is used as a political metaphor of any kind, even if here it is very much tongue in cheek and done with a fine sense of macabre humor.
Morrissey's direction is excellent in the film. While it takes a little while to get moving, once we arrive at the Di Fiore home the movie really picks up and the cinematography makes excellent use of the location. There's plenty of atmosphere and at times it almost seems like the state of the family home is mirrored by the state of the family itself as both are falling apart and both have really been let go.
The real star of the show, however, is Udo Kier. He plays the count with such over the top sadness and suffering that it's funny but at the same time, a little disturbing. The scene where he learns the hard way that one of the victim's he has just attempted to feast on is not a virgin – resulting in his vomiting blood all over the bathroom and convulsing – demonstrates his ability to really use his odd physical characteristics to his advantage. He's a strange looking man and perfectly suited to the lead in the film. Arno Juerging serves as the perfect compliment, leering over the girls he hopes to help the count acquire and bringing to his role a sense of unearthly loyalty to his master. While Joe Dallesandro's New York accent seems out of place against the European cast members and their various dialects, he does well as Mario and is believable enough in the part despite the obvious NYC speak.
Filled with more than a few fairly graphic sex scenes and some completely over the top violence and gore, Blood For Dracula works really well as a macabre black comedy and satire.
Image's 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very nice and proves to be a vast improvement over the previous Criterion DVD release (which was a non-anamorphic port of their laserdisc transfer). The image is much sharper and presents a lot more detail in both the foreground and the background of the picture. Colors look very rich and the reds are vibrant and bright but don't bleed into the rest of the image. Black levels are strong and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts. Some edge enhancement is present in a few spots but if you're not looking for it you're not likely going to even notice it as it is really minor. Film grain is present throughout but it's not distracting and while there are some instances where you're apt to pick up on some print damage, again, it's nothing too serious (the majority of it is noticeable in the opening five minutes) and for the most part, Blood For Dracula looks really good on this DVD.
While the score sounds really nice on this English language Dolby Digital Mono track, the dialogue is up and down. For the most part it's pretty clear but levels do fluctuate in a few spots and some audible hiss is present in the mix that creeps out in a few spots. Overall, the track is alright, and it sounds as good as it ever has despite some minor flaws that were likely inherent in the source material. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided on this release.
First and foremost, the commentary track that was originally recorded for the Criterion Collection release has been carried over for this release as well. Paul Morrissey and Udo Kier discuss pretty much everything you could hope them to on this lively and informative track that details the making of Blood For Dracula and makes some interesting comparisons to its sister film, Flesh For Frankenstein. A film historian named Maurice Yacowar is also on hand on this track to keep things focused and fill in the blanks as far as the film's history if concerned. Morrissey covers some of the censorship issues that they had to deal with and what it was like shooting in Europe, and Kier discusses a lot of the details behind the idiosyncrasies of his performance. There's virtually no dead air at all on this commentary and it's pretty much packed with interesting information and quite a bit of insight. With both Kier and Morrissey on the track we get a look at the making of the movie from both in front of and behind the camera and if you were at all interested in the feature, you'd be crazy not to check out this commentary as it really does help further one's appreciation of the movie.
Up next is a very lengthy still gallery in slideshow format that plays out with commentary from Morrissey for almost twenty-five minutes in length. Morrissey gives us background information on most of the images presented to us and once more he proves to have a really solid memory of making this film as his recollections are again quite interesting. He details some interesting pre-production and production details and also provides some general trivia and facts about the movie and the people he worked with to make it.
The final supplement is a screen-test for Srdjan Zelenovic who was originally slated to play the Count. This runs for just over four minutes in length and once again features a commentary track from Morrissey who explains why Kier ended up playing the role instead. This is an interesting little supplement and while it's brief, it gives us a glimpse at would could have been a very different film.
An offbeat and completely engrossing take on the vampire mythos, Blood For Dracula revisits DVD with a vastly improved transfer and a nice selection of extras. The movie holds up really well, thanks to Udo Kier's amazing performance and Morrissey's interesting direction, and this release is easy to highly recommend!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.