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Retro Review: DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971) and BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE (1969)

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DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN
(US - 1971)

Directed by Al Adamson. Written by William Pugsley and Samuel M. Sherman. Cast: J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney, Anthony Eisley, Regina Carrol, Russ Tamblyn, Jim Davis, Zandor Vorkov, John Bloom, Shelly Weiss, Greydon Clark, Angelo Rossitto, Anne Morrell, William Bonner, Forrest J. Ackerman, Maria Lease, Bruce Kimball, Gary Kent, Connie Nelson. (PG, 91 mins)

Though he's made films that were better and films that were somehow worse, 1971's DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN is generally considered to be the career-defining statement of Z-grade exploitation legend Al Adamson, whose work has just been compiled in a near-comprehensive Blu-ray box set from Severin, because physical media is dead. It's by far his best-known and most-seen film thanks to its ubiquitous presence on late-night TV from the mid '70s to now (it still regularly runs on the sci-fi/horror channel Comet), and in nearly every way encompasses the whole Al Adamson "experience"--and why he's the Ed Wood of his era--in one painful 90-minute slog. It's a cut-and-paste patchwork of one or more abandoned projects where the new footage doesn't match the old, it's laughably cheap and unabashedly trashy, it's filled with nonsensical dialogue, it panders to the counterculture with hippies, bikers, groovy jams, and an LSD freakout, and it employs well past-their-prime Hollywood old-timers so feeble-looking that their presence, despite Adamson's noble intent in giving aging actors some work when no one else would hire them, is a sight so depressing that it borders on elder abuse.






Released in the fall of 1971 and making its way to America's drive-ins and grindhouses throughout 1972, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN began life in its embryonic stages in 1969 as a semi-sequel to Adamson's SATAN'S SADISTS, with his new BFF Russ Tamblyn playing another sadistic biker. That was almost immediately junked as the project morphed into a horror film called THE BLOOD SEEKERS, though Tamblyn and the bikers were kept on as supporting characters. The crux of the plot dealt with a Santa Monica amusement park being a cover for mad, wheelchair-bound scientist Dr. Durea (J. Carrol Naish), his mute, brutish, ax-wielding henchman Groton (Lon Chaney, Jr), and obnoxious carnival barker Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto), who abduct young women and harvest their blood for bizarre experiments. One victim is local hippie Joanie Fontaine (Maria Lease), whose Vegas go-go dancer sister Judith (Regina Carrol, soon to be Adamson's wife) is summoned by hard-nosed detective Martin (Jim Davis, several years before becoming patriarch Jock Ewing on DALLAS) after a missing persons report is filed. Martin informs her that Joanie was living in a commune near the amusement park, known to be "a hangout for pushers and white slavery operators." Judith goes to investigate and is drugged by biker gang leader Rico (Tamblyn) and eventually rescued by a pair of Joanie's hippie friends, Strange (Greydon Clark) and Samantha (Anne Morrell). She falls in love with aging hippie Mike (HAWAIIAN EYE star Anthony Eisley) and yada yada yada, discovers that Joanie was one of the evil Durea's victims.


That was THE BLOOD SEEKERS, and it was shot fast and cheap in the spring of 1969. Its biggest casting coup--or at least Adamson's idea of a casting coup--was getting guys like Chaney and Naish, though seeing both of them under these circumstances is not enjoyable for classic horror fans. Even considering the fact that he's playing a "mad zombie" kept alive by doses of Durea's experimental serum, Chaney appears to be at death's door. Bloated and sweaty, and suffering from the combined effects of throat cancer and decades of alcoholism, Chaney was beloved by horror fans after playing every Universal monster in the 1940s starting with THE WOLF MAN, but he was largely unemployable by this time. He was barely able to speak, but he did appear in one more Adamson film, THE FEMALE BUNCH, shot in 1969 and released in 1971. He's an even sadder sight in that film, his voice a gasping, hoarse croak, bleary-eyed, puffy, and guzzling vodka on camera. These two Adamson films would constitute his final work before his death in 1973. Naish, a two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee and one of the most in-demand character actors of the 1940s, would periodically dabble in the horror genre in his heyday, and he co-starred with Chaney in 1944's monster rally HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. But by 1969, he was only doing sporadic TV guest spots and hadn't appeared on the big screen in nearly a decade. The 73-year-old actor was in obviously declining health and arrived on the set in a wheelchair, had ill-fitting dentures, couldn't remember his lines, and could barely see to read the cue cards that were made for him. It also doesn't help that he had a glass eye and he's visibly reading those cue cards. And when Adamson plants the camera right in front of Naish's face, you can't really focus on anything aside from his functioning right eye reading the words as he babbles reams of dialogue while his glass left eye stares straight ahead.


THE BLOOD SEEKERS sat around for a year in an unfinished, unreleasable state, but after the breakout success of SATAN'S SADISTS, Adamson and co-writer and Independent-International partner Sam Sherman came up with a plan to tweak it and make it a winner: throw in Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. Adamson shot new footage with Naish (becoming noticeably more frail and aged in the year since working on THE BLOOD SEEKERS), whose Dr. Durea is revealed to be the last descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein. He's visited by Dracula (Zandor Vorkov--more on him in a minute), who has happened upon the remains of the Frankenstein monster (John Bloom), and plots to revive him in order to help "Durea" get revenge on past colleagues (including one played by beloved Famous Monsters editor Forrest J. Ackerman) who ruined his career and caused a fire that left him in a wheelchair. None of this has anything to do with the plot of THE BLOOD SEEKERS, and Dracula and the Frankenstein monster appear so infrequently that calling it DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN is a bit misleading. Granted, they do finally fight at the end, with Dracula dismembering the monster and ripping its head off, but in true Adamson fashion, the battle was a late reshoot outside a church in Somers, NY that Sherman shot himself. In these final scenes, Vorkov's makeup doesn't even match what he looked like in the rest of the movie, and the monster is suddenly played by Shelly Weiss, who's thinner and about eight inches shorter than the hulking, gigantic Bloom, presumably because Sherman didn't want to pay to fly the actor to New York for the reshoots. Adding to the confusion is the credits, which list "John Bloom as The Monster" and "Shelly Weiss as The Creature," but they're both playing the same monster. From what was once THE BLOOD SEEKERS, only Naish and Regina Carrol appear in the new footage with Dracula and the monster, and the released DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN ended up being Naish's final screen appearance before his death from emphysema in 1973.


Adamson took a page right out of Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE playbook (Wood infamously had his chiropractor hold a cape over his face to unconvincingly double for the dead Bela Lugosi) in casting non-actor "Zandor Vorkov" as Dracula. "Vorkov" was actually a guy named Roger Engel, a Los Angeles stockbroker who was serving as Adamson's and Sherman's financial adviser. His Dracula is dubbed over with a weird electronic echo effect, and with his curly hair and goatee, he looks and sounds less like the Dracula of Bram Stoker, Universal, or Hammer, and more like Frank Zappa auditioning for THE TIMOTHY CAREY STORY. And as mentioned, his look is completely overhauled for the New York-shot climax, where he's suddenly sporting white makeup and black circles around his eyes like a Kabuki theater tribute to King Diamond. Everything about DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN is like crack for bad movie lovers--the terrible acting, the cheap sets, the choppy editing, the ludicrous dialogue (Clark's Strange is introduced exclaiming "Let's get ready for the big protest tonight!"), Eisley as Santa Monica's oldest and squarest hippie, and the haphazard structure that's so clumsy in its execution that even the most casual moviegoer will be able to tell this is two movies precariously and hastily Scotch-taped together. But nothing sums up the utter lovable nonsense that is DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN more than this dialogue exchange when ominously voice-echoing Dracula just suddenly appears in the passenger seat of Durea rival Dr. Beaumont's (Ackerman) car:

Beaumont: "Who are you?"  
Dracula: "I am known as the Count of Darkness. The Lord of the Manor of Corpathia. Turn here." 

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN on a Halloween double bill
with the Paul Naschy werewolf movie FRANKENSTEIN'S
 BLOODY TERROR in Toledo, OH on 10/25/1972



BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE
(US - 1969)

Directed by Al Adamson. Written by Rex Carlton. Cast: John Carradine, Paula Raymond, Alex D'Arcy, Robert Dix, Gene O'Shane (Gene Otis Shane), Barbara Bishop (Jennifer Bishop), Vicki Volante, Ray Young, John "Bud" Cardos, Ken Osborne. (PG, 84 mins)

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN wasn't Al Adamson's first stab at tarnishing the legacy of a classic horror movie monster. Released in May 1969 by Crown International on a double bill with the dismal NIGHTMARE IN WAX, BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE started making the drive-in rounds about two weeks before Adamson's Independent-International kickoff SATAN'S SADISTS. But it had been on the shelf for quite some time after it was completed back in 1966, with its initial announcement in Variety coming a year earlier with Jayne Mansfield attached to star. That never happened, but Adamson did secure the services of the great character actor John Carradine, who never turned down a job and would star in several films for the director. Carradine also had a history with Dracula, having played the vampire in 1944's HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1945's HOUSE OF DRACULA, and 1966's almost Adamson-esque BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA. But since this is an Al Adamson movie we're talking about, of course BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE would be the worst Dracula movie in which Carradine would appear to that point, and of course it would somehow be a Dracula movie where Carradine doesn't even play Dracula, but rather, the pivotal role of Dracula's butler George.






Written by co-producer Rex Carlton (who would "commit suicide" in 1968 after he failed to secure a distribution deal after borrowing mob-connected money to help fund Adamson's THE FAKERS, which ultimately became HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS), BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE hooks you in from the start, opening with a solid three time-killing minutes of regular Adamson starlet Vicki Volante driving around and listening to the radio, from which emanates the sounds of Gil Bernal's "Next Train Out," an admittedly catchy tune. Her car runs out of gas and he's abducted by lumbering, deformed Mango (Ray Young). Cut to smarmy photographer Glen Cannon (Gene Otis Shane), who's doing a photo shoot with model/girlfriend Liz (Jennifer Bishop, billed as "Barbara Bishop") at L.A.'s Marineland, which is a perfect excuse for Adamson to inflate the running time a little more by taking a leisurely tour around the park, including a ride up the Sky Tower. Glen is notified that his uncle has died and left him a castle (played for the exteriors by the landmark Shea's Castle) that's been rented for the last 60 years by the wealthy, erudite, and ageless Count Charles Townsend (Alex D'Arcy) and his wife (Paula Raymond). Their butler George (Carradine) and his henchman Mango kidnap young women passing through and keep them chained in the basement as a fresh blood supply for the Townsends, who are actually the Count and Countess Dracula, drinking their victims' blood out of Bloody Mary glasses. Glen arrives and intends to politely evict them, around the same time Townsend family friend--escaped murderer Johnny (Robert Dix)--pays them a visit. Dracula and his wife intend to stay and they find Liz an appetizing source of blood that they wish to keep around.


It's no surprise that BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE is cheap and sloppy, and that it doesn't even seem to be paying attention to itself. Glen and Liz hear a girl screaming in the middle of the night, and Johnny insists it's a toucan (!), so they go off to investigate as Adamson immediately cuts to the next morning as Glen and Liz are happily swimming in the ocean and walking along the rocky shoreline by the castle (nevermind that the exterior shots of Shea's Castle show it nowhere near any body of water). It's filled with aimless, meandering conversations and detours, like the Marineland sequence, and then Johnny's escape from jail and fleeing taking up about 15 minutes of screen time, during which he kills one girl and then another guy, rifling through a suitcase and eating a single piece of chicken that the guy had packed away with his clothes. Such is the flagrant, "get it in the can" carelessness of the Adamson experience, but unlike a lot of his films, the humor here appears to be somewhat intentional, with D'Arcy playing Dracula as an emasculated and henpecked husband (when George intends to sacrifice some kidnapped women, an excited Dracula asks his wife "Can I watch the purification?" and she replies with a curt, judgmental "At your age?"). It also seems that there was more going on with Dix's Johnny, with vague werewolf references being made that "he's only a problem when that damn moon is full!" but from what we see, he's just a crazy psycho killer. When the 84-minute film was being prepped for syndicated TV, the title was changed to simply DRACULA'S CASTLE, with seven minutes of new footage added showing Johnny (not played by Dix) turning into a werewolf. These new scenes were rumored to be shot by Don Hulette (best known for directing 1977's BREAKER! BREAKER! with Chuck Norris in his first starring role), who would routinely re-edit Crown International product for TV. Hulette also scored the added werewolf scenes with some sub-Rick Wakeman synth farts that don't sound anything like the rest of the film's stock Harry Lubin cues.


Crown International's  BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE/
NIGHTMARE IN WAX double bill hitting Toledo, OH


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