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The following review is not very well written. That’s okay, because the film being reviewed isn’t very well made. You see, it’s a review for an Al Adamson film. And just like that, 22% of you will no longer be bothered with the rest of this review.
Today, we will be taking a look at what is arguably Adamson’s biggest “success”, 1971’s Dracula Vs Frankenstein, as well as the blu-ray release from Media Blasters. Granted, that “success” is due primarily to the “name recognition” of the Dracula and Frankenstein characters. Adding to the allure is the “star power” provided by genre stalwarts J. Carrol Naish (House of Frankenstein, Calling Dr. Death) and Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man, Son of Dracula), both of whom were sadly in very poor health during the film’s production. Dracula Vs Frankenstein would serve as the final film in each man’s career as both would pass away shortly after the film’s release.
The film was written and re-written (and re-written) by regular Adamson collaborator, Sam Sherman. Sherman also wrote and co-produced Brain of Blood, The Naughty Stewardesses, and Psycho a Go-Go for Adamson, as well as wrote and directed 1985’s Raiders of the Living Dead. That film featured “child star” turned “porn star” turned “trading card creator” Scotty Schwartz and is best remembered for not making one damned bit of sense.
If that last paragraph seemed a little confusing, well, too damned bad. There’s not much about Dracula Vs Frankenstein that isn’t confusing. That sentiment extends to the film’s production, as well as the plot’s coherency.
Originally written under the title of “The Blood Freaks”, filming began in 1969. However, by this point, the film had been renamed “The Blood Seekers” and was intended to be a sequel to 1969’s highly successful biker flick, Satan’s Sadists. At some point later in 1969, the notion arose to convert the film into a horror film, mostly because horror films did well with the drive-in crowds. For whatever reason, not all of the footage featuring the bikers was removed from the film, which explains why Sadist‘s star and former Jets leader Russ Tamblyn sporadically shows up to help muddle the plot.
The idea of incorporating Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Frankenstein Monster into the film came about in 1971. Naish was brought back to shoot new scenes, namely the ones featuring his interactions with the “Dracula” character. These additional shoots clearly stand out from the earlier scenes as Naish looks considerably older in just the 2 years that had passed.
But wait…. there’s more alternate title insanity! Dracula Vs Frankenstein received a release in the United Kingdom under the title Blood of Frankenstein. It would later be released in the early years of VHS under yet another new title, The Revenge of Dracula. (Not to be confused with the board game of the same name that I previously reviewed and just included the link to. You’re welcome.) Just to jumble things up further, The Blood Seekers was also used as an alternate title for 1971’s Blood Thirst.
Oh, yeah. Paul Naschy’s Los Monstuos del Terror and Jess Franco’s Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein? Also released as Dracula Vs Frankenstein. And then there are those various other titles, such as Satan’s Blood Freak, Teenage Dracula, and They’re Coming To Get You (which was later used for the US release of 1972’s All the Colours of the Dark), which I will not even attempt to hunt down the history of.
At release, there was even some attempt to market the film as a sequel to Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein, although there is clearly no relevance to that film. The attempt went so far as to even use the tagline, “Sensational Sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein, Which Is Smashing Records Throughout The World”!
Under the pseudonym of “Dr. Duryea” (Naish), the last of the Frankenstein descendants is a discredited scientist who now runs a sideshow attraction on the piers of the beaches in Venice, California. Unbeknownst to all that pass by, the spook house is nothing more than a “cover” for the experiments that the doctor still performs in the attraction’s hidden laboratory. His assistants include the sadistic dwarven barker that runs the ticket booth, and a mute simpleton named Groton (Chaney Jr).
Duryea is attempting to perfect a “blood serum”, of which the purpose is never clearly explained. Let’s just guess that it’s for “immortality”. However, he requires blood from women that have been scared to death, as their fear “energizes” the blood, whatever that means. To acquire this blood, Duryea dopes Groton with some other sort of serum that turns the poor sap into a zombie-like murderer, and sends the man out to kill. Subtlety be damned, Groton’s idea of scaring someone involves chopping their head off with an ax.
One of Groton’s victims (and Duryea’s “guinea pigs”) is the sister of a Vegas performer named “Judith”, portrayed by Adamson’s real-life wife, Regina Carrol (Doctor Dracula, Viva Las Vegas). When the local police prove to be of no help in locating her sister, Judith begins her own investigation. Her first stop is a seedy hippie bar that her sister was known to frequent. When she begins asking too many questions, she’s assumed to be an undercover detective and is slipped some LSD. Ya know, for amusement purposes.
After a brief “freak out”, she is rescued by a young hippie couple (the boyfriend played by Greydon Clark, who would later direct Without Warning, Satan’s Cheerleaders, and more) and taken to sleep off the drug on the couch of another older hippie named Mike (Anthony Eisley – The Wasp Woman, The Navy vs The Night Monsters). Judith awakens and informs Mike of her sister’s disappearance. Mike knows all the young local hippie kids, including Judith’s sister, and agrees to help her with the search. This is enough to start a budding romance between the two.
Out of nowhere, Dracula appears. He “offers” to resurrect the original Frankenstein’s Monster for Duryea to use to exact revenge against his enemies, namely Forrest J. Ackerman (in a small role). In exchange, he wants the use of Duryea’s serum, which somehow makes the vampire immune to sunlight. The less questions asked about “science” here, the better.
Judith and Mike continue their search, while more young women become guinea pigs in Duryea’s experiments. Russ Tamblyn pops up a few more times just to make us wonder why he’s even there. Mike and Judith spend more time making out than they do looking for Judith’s sister. Eventually, the plot is uncovered and the film is wrapped up with 2 grand battles, the first at Duryea’s lab and later at a nearby dilapidated church.
The film’s “draws”, as previously mentioned, come from 2 sources: The two iconic horror characters that comprise the film’s title, and the fading stars that receive top billing. As far as the characters, while the names “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” will undoubtedly conjure up images of Karloff, Lugosi, or Lee, the 2 monsters on display here are far from “legendary”. Dracula is portrayed by an actor named Roger Engel. Since “Roger Engel” didn’t have the “ring” that Boris Karloff’s screen name had for him, he was renamed “Zandor Vorkov” for his role. Per the commentary, Engel was actually an investor in Sherman’s production company and was given the role as a “thank you”. So, while it’s only natural that Vorkov is the least capable actor in the film, he’s also one of the least imposing Dracula’s ever committed to film.
As for the Monster? The facial appliance used for the creature looks like someone dumped out a pile of clay and didn’t even bother to sculpt it. The creature is portrayed by actor John Bloom (The Hills Have Eyes II, The Dark), who manages to provide the height needed for the Monster, but doesn’t seem to be given much else to do. This hopefully was for safety reasons as the mask doesn’t seem to have adequate eye or nostril holes.
While the casting of genre stars Naish and Chaney undeniably add some “class” to the production, their appearance may cause more sadness than jubilation. Already late in years, Naish was in noticeably poor health. While not actually confined to a wheelchair like the character he portrays, Naish did have trouble remembering his lines and was forced to recite his lines from cue cards. He also had one fake eye. I think you see where I’m going with this. It’s kinda like watching a game of Pong being played on an old Sears Tele-Games 2600 system.
Even worse is the condition in which we find the man responsible for giving life to one of the screen’s most iconic monsters. Chaney was in the final days of his bout with lung cancer, which by this point had left the man with a heavy rasp to his voice. The condition had already become so severe that Chaney’s voice was deemed unusable, leaving this then unappreciated legend of the genre with little more to do than sweat profusely while grunting like a pig. That said, the man still seems to be giving it his all in what is an embarrassing ending to a notable career.
Dracula Vs Frankenstein was released to blu-ray in December of 2016 by Media Blasters’ “Shriek Show” label. So, it’s safe to say that this review is more than a little overdue. It seems much more so when you consider that I first pre-ordered this release all the way back in 2012. It would have seemed that Media Blasters, who were already notorious for shipping releases late, had closed it’s doors, with most of their scheduled titles slowly seeing release from other labels over the coming years. Then, with no real warning or explanation for the delay, the film resurfaced for pre-order 4 years later. While this release is far from being a “failure”, I’m not sure any release is worth a 4 year delay.
Dracula Vs Frankenstein received generally negative reviews upon its release, quite a few of which stem from the film’s lack of adequate lighting. I can’t really argue with that. The crew filmed on the beach at night with minimal lighting equipment, which leaves any outdoor nighttime scene quite difficult to make out. A particular film stock was used to compensate for the lack of lighting, but it also leaves the film with a very grainy appearance. This is only made more apparent with the upgrade to HD. Then again, some might say that not being able to see anything actually benefits the film.
Overall, the transfer is a sizable upgrade over previous releases, but let’s be real. This movie has always looked like shit. That said, the uptick in detail and clarity are also a liability to the film as it not only shows off the shoddiness of the film’s make-up and effects, but just generally reveals how sloppy the production really is.
As with the visual aesthetics, the film was never very impressive on the audio front either. Besides not having a real dynamic soundtrack to begin with, there’s just not much in the line of pivotal audio moments. The blu-ray release does a respectable job of capturing the “tin can” dialog and “thud” of sound effects that’s inherent to the film’s audio track.
Producing Schlock – 8 mins – Presented in SD: In this retrospective piece from (presumably) the late 90’s, Sam Sherman discusses his partnership with Al Adamson, as well as a few of their better known productions. One particularly amusing anecdote involves staging a fake protest during the theatrical run of The Naughty Stewardesses by a group of “real” stewardesses angered by the film’s “whore”-ific portrayal of women in that profession. The stewardess profession, not the whore one.
Alternate Ending – Presented in 4/3 SD – Due to some amazing clumsy “dying” by Vorkov, I can see why they didn’t use this take.
8MM Location Footage – Footage presumably taken from location scouting, set to the film’s theme song. There is some grunting thrown in for good measure, but I can’t say whether it’s from the Monster or Chaney. You really have no reason to watch this.
Deleted Scene – Featuring an introduction by Sherman and Ackerman filmed at Chiller Theater that’s much longer than the actual missing scene.
Monster Protest – Raw footage from another mock promotional protest, this time by “monsters” who were upset by the way horror films portrayed them. As with the location footage, there is no audio captured, so more music and grunts have been added in. Gee, thanks.
I will assume that this took place sometime after the release of Night of the Living Dead in 1969 as most of these monsters look quite similar to the undead in that film.
-The disc features an audio commentary track by Sherman that might actually be more enjoyable than the film itself. Also included are a photo gallery, theatrical trailer, and TV spot.-
WRAP-UP: Despite what Sherman may try to argue on the included audio commentary and retrospective special feature, this is very much a movie made for “product”, quality and coherency disregarded. There may have been mountains of “good intentions”, but those never made it near a camera.
Al Adamson films generally fall into one of 2 categories: awful or “I think my brain is collapsing” awful. This is closer to the former, but there are still a few moments that will provoke more than a few chuckles, albeit for reasons that were surely never intended. Despite all the innumerable flaws, there are still some thrills to be found. Granted, these thrills are akin to watching a train full of kittens derail. Ultimately, it’s a tragic scene, but for a few moments there…. it’s really cute, y’all. It’s really, really cute.