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Monday, October 20, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 20: BLOOD FOR DRACULA (1974)

Udo Kier as the Count: An interesting and sympathetic take on the vampire genre's arch-fiend.

Following my re-discovery of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (aka ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN), I figured I'd finally check out its immediate followup, this time centering on fiction's most famous undead suckface. Its predecessor arrived in the U.S. with a considerable reputation for its generous helpings of sex and gore and it delivered in no uncertain terms, but little was said of the Dracula-centric followup and I always wondered why. Now I know.

Rumania, the 1920's: a delicate Count Dracula (Udo Kier) is sickly and apparently on a one-way short-ticket to lasting death, thanks to the lack of virgin blood in  the area. With the aid of his servant, Anton (Arno Juerging), Dracula relocates to Italy, where it is reasoned there will be virgins a-plenty thanks to the strong influence of the Church, and he ends up at the opulent home of the wealthy Di Fiori family. There are four nubile Di Fiori daughters for the Count to pursue, but there is also the presence of the hunky communist handyman Mario (Joe Dallesandro) to contend with, and two of the Di Fiori girls have spent a good deal of time contending with him (and each other) in the boudoir. In short succession the Count finds out what happens if he feasts on non-virginal blood (gaining two minions in the process), but will he strike out with the two remaining candidates? And what of Mario, who discovers that Dracula is a vampire? Will he do his part to save the remaining sisters from the fate of un-death?

Playing like some MASTERPIECE THEATER costume drama set in the jazz age, BLOOD FOR DRACULA is a staid and rather dull affair that comes off as a slow-moving disappointment in the wake of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN's delirious (and funny) excesses. The nudity is certainly not skimped upon but the lack of blood in a Dracula flick is somewhat shocking. Well, to be fair, the film does pull out all the bloody stops during its finale, when Mario takes a woodsman's axe to the Count and whittles him down limb-by-limb before makin' with the stakin', but it's too little far too late.

Udo Kier: When tragedy collides with hilarity.

The one thing the film does have going for it is another fun performance by the always-superb Udo Kier. Kier's Dracula is a fragile, sad-eyed, sympathetic monster who only seeks to survive. He's in no way the malicious, malevolent. satanic presence as seen in countless other depictions, and in many ways can be read as a commentary on the debilitating effects of hardcore addiction. I've seen and known enough junkies to know what I'm talking about, and Kier's Count would fit right in with the lot of them, only considerably more tolerable. The performance is mostly a study in sadness and futility in the face of the inevitable, and Kier's sad eyes tug at the heartstrings, but there are also a number of instances where he gets to ham it up as only he can, specifically during the moments when he suffers vomiting spasms upon supping on the blood of women who are not untried. He also somehow manages to hilariously keep a straight face while running away armless from an axe-wielding Mario.

A farewell to arms. (Sorry...)

I give writer/director Paul Morrissey credit for not feeding the audience more of exactly what he brought to the screen with his previous delving into horror but BLOOD FOR DRACULA is a disappointingly bloodless effort that is worth it for Kier and its finale, and should probably be skipped by all but the most devoted of vampire movie completists.

Poster from the original U.S. release.

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