Friday, April 23, 2021

Son of Dracula

Son of Dracula
Freddie Francis

What a strange movie.

Son of Dracula is a vampire movie with Ringo Starr playing Merlin. Right there that sentence should be enough to give you a moment’s pause. It sounds like it’s going to be a silly movie probably fueled by cocaine, too much money and artistic hubris. It is, but not in the way I anticipated. I expected this film to largely be a goof, an inside joke between a bunch of ex-hippies. It is exactly this, but it also tries to be a reasonable facsimile of real Dracula movie, somewhere between a Hammer film and late Universal cycle monster mashups like House of Dracula (1945).

Dracula (his appearance a nod to Nosferatu (1922)) gets staked in his own castle. The vampire hunters discover his bride asleep and pregnant. Cut to 100 years later and the son of Dracula, Count Downe (ugh) played by Harry Nilsson is set to take the throne as king of the underworld. His pal Merlin (Ringo Starr) is attempting to find the exact time it needs to happen. Count Downe (gah) begins having second thoughts when he falls in love with a young woman named Amber (Suzanna Leigh).

Fun Fact: Ring Starr did not know he was making a movie.

First thing's first, if you’re going to make a Dracula movie, you get veteran of numerous Hammer and Amicus horror films, Freddie Francis to direct. He creates a spooky atmosphere filled with gloomy gothic locations and mixes with modern spaces (by 1974 standards) in a way that does its best to compliment the story’s mix of classic horror tropes and then current ideals of peace and love born out of the 1960s. Count Downe (yeah, I know) is introduced as a monster lunging out of the dark to bite an unsuspecting gas station attendant and the scene wouldn’t look out of place in a more traditional horror movie. The songs are a mix of acid rock and glittering singer/songwriter stylings. As separate elements they work fine but the entirety never gels as a single aesthetic.

Harry Nilsson as Count Downe (boooo) is the weak link in the production. He’s never compelling or magnetic in the way a Dracula should be, he just seems bored and a little sad. It is difficult to understand why anyone would fall for him. Thankfully, the movie seems to recognize this as well and offers a magical explanation why Amber would even be interested in him. Since this movie is equally about honoring and subverting traditional monster movies, I suppose making Dracula a wet blanket could be a part of that, but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable view.

"I am an alluring creature of the night... I guess."

What to make of this film? For all its set-up it feels like it is going to more of a spoof than anything, but its aims are far more earnest. Like most modern vampire stories, Son of Dracula is a romance at heart and this film finds exactly that at its climax when we are whisked off to a floaty hippie ending with dazzling lights and exclamations of cosmic love. This part of the film is pure 1974.

What a strange movie.

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