An oddity from my VHS rental days returns, this time in less adulterated form.
A 40’s style cab pulls up to the titular character’s desert castle – now serving double duty as the Saward sanitarium – as the opening to the old Shadow radio show plays. Its passengers are “Aunt Irine” and her sleep-deprived son Richard Renfield (Richard Bulik), who are greeted by Doctor Arthur Seward (John Leslie) and his assistant Sibyl.
“I must go to Transylvania…I got a great deal on an old castle. I shall return in a fortnight, or as soon as escrow closes.”
In the throes of nightmare, poor Renfield is driven into the basement of the castle (which sports a rather incongruous chandelier amidst its cobwebs and coffins) to pull the stake from ol’ Drac himself (a bearded Jamie Gillis), who conveniently happens to be in the basement. Or is it his castle in the first place, and convenient that Seward set up shop upstairs, while never exploring the easily accessible basement? Whatever. In a film like this, sometimes it’s best not to ask…
No sooner does Renfield crawl up the front steps laughing like Dwight Frye than Lucy Westerna (Serena), John Harker (Paul Thomas) and his fiancée Mina (an unrecognizably dark and frizzy haired Annette Haven, who comes off more like a lesser Pamela Hensley here than her usual gorgeous redheaded waif) arrive, leaving much of the film’s cast onscreen at the same time, to stare disgustedly at Bulik’s demented entrance.
Conveniently, everyone shares the same chauffeur (David Lee Bynum) who delivers a straightfaced rendition of “swing low, sweet chariot” and later gives a performance worthy of Mantan Moreland if not Stepin Fetchit – it’s actually embarrassing. Serena gives a minor character a hand job, kicking off the first of many brief and just-barely-XXX couplings the film is peppered with. Oh, and now Gillis’ Dracula has a pair of brides (Renee Andre and Slavica), one of whom really digs rats.
“You were correct – Lucy is the slut, Harker is the homo and Mina is a virgin, just like me!”
With that rather informative if somewhat TMI voiceover from Renfield, Dracula meets up with the assembled cast in a surprisingly atmospheric sitting room, while redshifted insets show Gillis urinating on Serena. Seriously.
Reggie Nalder (Salem’s Lot, Dracula’s Dog, Mark of the Devil) makes a surprise appearance as Professor Van Helsing, which like the castle itself, lends an unusual touch of gravitas and genre authenticity to the production. Nalder himself alternates between attempting a straightfaced performance and grinning to himself bemusedly at being onscreen with a crew of porno stars. It’s disconcertedly amusing.
Top billed John Holmes* doesn’t even show until a third into the picture, as “Dr. John Stoker”, whose main contribution to the proceedings appears to be banging the maid (Irene Best) on the pool table as an Lugosi-starring episode of old time radio standby Suspense plays. Like just about everyone in the cast, she’s already a vampire (don’t ask me how, as Gillis appears to have done much of his work offscreen!), which means he gets to don cheap dime store fangs for an encounter with yet another walk-on, Dixie-fried good ol’ girl Seka.
* At least he was on the R-rated videotape I rented back when, billed alongside if not above Gillis!
The somewhat Lesley Ann Warren by way of Susan Sarandonesque Kay Parker winds up as one of the more attractive performers, in her “close working relationship” with Leslie’s Seward, Seka gets a few brief scenes (at least one of which shows off her only real asset, giving the taxi a much more prominent set of headlights) and even saying that Haven is far from looking her best herein still carries the implication that she still comes off a damn sight better than any number of her ostensible peers. As any Buck Rogers in the 25th Century fan can tell you, to be compared to Pamela “Princess Ardala” Hensley ain’t exactly a bad thing…
While I still resent the bowdlerization of the film I was tricked into renting way back when, much of the sex in Dracula Sucks tends to be limited to softcore, with brief flashes of prurience every now and again. It’s an amazingly disjointed film, alternately overacted and underscripted, and hardly stands alone as a “straight” genre horror, despite the location and the presence of Nalder. But it also fails as a hardcore picture due to the extreme limitations on the ‘forbidden visual’ adult film relies on as it’s stock in trade.
Despite being packed to the rafters with “name” stars and starlets, the film ultimately flounders under the weight of its status as neither fish nor fowl, partly a line for line reenactment of the 1931 filming of Lugosi’s famed stage performance and partly a bastardized comedic rewrite thereof, with seemingly everyone in the cast being a vampire or victim, despite little actual seduction or action of the fanged variety on the part of Gillis (who’s far more content to pose dramatically and attempt to evoke something of a Christopher Lee-like line delivery and demeanor throughout).
The porn angle curses the film in several ways. Certainly the most obvious way this causes issues is in saddling Dracula Sucks with a cast of hardcore performers rather than more standard and perhaps accomplished stage or screen actors and keeping the film from a wider release and potential profit on the cult and drive in circuits of the day.
But more than this, it puts a level of expectations on the film that either the horror or porn labels would offer more standard releases falling under one or the other umbrella. Because while the porn business (and necessity of casting hardcore film actors and actresses) hampers its status as a true horror picture, Marshak’s choice to limit most (but not all) of the sex to short, generally softcore sequences leaves the porn audience feeling just as ripped off as the mainstream horror audience. Too much is “suggested” and too little shown for the raincoat crowd, and yet too much is shown for the general public who just enjoys a good Dracula film and isn’t looking for anything more “adult oriented” to spice up the proceedings.
Just as interesting as the setting and cast are some irregularities in the production staff. For one thing, and in the spirit of a true cooperative, both Gillis and Leslie take turns as third unit director, while the credits further note a stuntman going by the rather appropriate pseudonym of “I. Broke Leg”!
The crew also boasts a certain Titus Moody (Moede) as third unit camera operator. For those for whom that name doesn’t immediately ring fire alarm-level bells, Moody was a regular in the cinematic careers of both cult favorite Ray Dennis Steckler and Don’t Go Into the Woods, Lady Street Fighter and Executioner Part II director James Bryan, appearing in bit parts and as crew on the former’s Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, The Thrill Killers and as co-lead Boo Boo in the Batman pastiche Rat Pfink a Boo Boo before joining the latter for both Escape to Passion and The Dirtiest Game and taking part in the Aussie porn star-bedecked softcore portmonteau Fantasm Comes Again. Quite a resume, there…
Beyond Vinegar Syndrome’s usual stellar restoration, there isn’t all that much else to chat about here.
There’s only two real extras: first, that bizarro softcore edit of the film that fooled me into a rental all those years ago (and left me baffled as to where all the adult material went, and why anyone would want to release an eviscerated cut of an adult film).
Far more worthwhile is another extra wherein William Margold (whose only apparent contribution to the project was in the decidedly minor role of orderly Henry and as writer of some additional scenes) and director Philip Marshak’s son Darryl (who cowrote and produced, as well as serving as both assistant director and first assistant editor on the film) “return to castle ranch”, where we discover Marshak, Sr. made the film because he owned the rights to the Lugosi catalogue, but couldn’t interest anyone in making a new film – so he went the porn route instead! We also hear that he had the even crazier idea to rent the Queen Mary as a location…for a porno film!
Further choice tidbits of discussion include how Irene Best (the maid with John Holmes) would seem to have put on some serious pounds in years since, how they tried to get virginal Richard Eulick (Renfield) laid (courtesy of Serena), that they convinced Panavision to lend them their cameras and cut 25 prints in the name of freedom of speech, and how it was Marshak’s idea to release the “softcore cut” of Dracula Sucks after the example of Bill Osco’s Alice in Wonderland (!). Gee, thanks, Darryl. You owe me a few bucks for that rental…
Oddly, though the stated intention was to revisit the original location, all we actually get is a long car ride and about 10 minutes standing by the edge of a barbed wire fence a good half mile from the (posted) property. It’s all about the conversation, really.
While an interesting experiment suffused with a surprising amount of atmosphere and offering at least Gillis the chance to stretch his theatrical chops a bit more than usual, Dracula Sucks is ultimately an oddity of its time, which distance and perspective fails to redeem in any further respect.
While in many senses quite well done, given the limitations of the genre towards which it most particularly gravitates and belongs, the film is ultimately a very aesthetic failure.