Director: Paul Morrissey
Release Date: 1974
Produced by Andy Warhol, this oddity is a little difficult to fathom. As a serious piece of cinema it falls flat through some atrocious acting and yet it has a streak of black humour which makes it very watchable and some highly unusual precepts that make it rather unusual in the genre as a whole.
Udo Kier plays Dracula and when we first see him he is applying makeup and painting his hair to make his albino looks more acceptable to the world. His skill must be exceptional as, when the camera pans around, we realise he casts no reflection and he does all this by touch and through experience. His secretary, Anton (Arno Juerging), enters the room with the Count’s ailing sister and tells the Count that he must leave Romania. The Dracula line is dying as they can only ingest virgin blood, the Count must leave and find a virgin bride. Anton suggests Italy as the strength of the Roman Catholic Church means that virgins will be found aplenty. They discuss the trip, the count wishing to take dried flowers and his stuffed birds and concerned about how Anton’s car will cope with his coffin (they tie it to the roof). Before leaving they help the Count’s sister into the crypt and place her in her coffin.
It is within the character of Dracula that we find a very different vampire; he is ailing, dying even. He spends much of his time in a wheelchair and suffers convulsive spasms. He is able to enter sunlight, simply holding his hat up to ward off the direct sun and touch holy items, though they cause him much distaste. The biggest change however is that he can only drink virgin blood and, bizarrely, this makes him almost a moral compass.
We see the Di Fiore family, and it is to these that the Count goes to in order that he might find his new bride. At first we see the eldest sister, Esmeralda (Milena Vukotic), and her mother (Maxime McKendry). Working the garden are the other three sisters, Saphiria (Dominique Darrel), Rubinia (Stefania Casini) and fourteen year old Perla (Silvia Dionisio). Saphiria complains that it is too hot and removes her top, followed by Rubinia. This is too much for Perla and her protest brings the girls’ nudity to the attention of their mother.
The estate has fallen on hard times due to the gambling of the father (Vittorio De Sica) and the mother sees the arrival of the Count, looking for a bride, as a way out of their dire straits. More than this she realises that, due to his ill-health, whichever daughter marries him will likely be a rich widow soon. Of course the Count insists on virginity or a wirgin as Anton pronounces it and it is here that things go wrong.
The best matches are likely to be Saphiria or Rubinia, but these girls are far from virginal. Both are having regular sex, including incestual pairings together, with the handyman Mario (Joe Dallesandro). A word about Mario as he is the ‘hero’ of the piece. Firstly his New York drawl seems very out of place, especially as he is a second generation servant of the estate. He is obsessed with the Russian Revolution and the overthrow of the aristocracy – even painting a hammer and sickle on the wall of his shack. Yet he is entirely without morals, talking openly to the two sisters he sleeps with about his desire to rape their youngest sister, forcing sex on a protesting Saphiria, beating Rubinia. He is a thoroughly dislikeable character.
Dracula tries his luck with Saphiria first, trying to cajole her into admitting she is not a virgin. When she does not admit this he bites her and drinks, but then vomits the blood back up in a protracted and convincingly painful looking scene. The next day she informs her mother that she was not wanted as she was not a virgin and her mother cannot believe that she admitted such a thing. Saphiria seems pale (having lost a lot of blood) and is entirely unwilling to discuss her time with the Count.
The next sister he meets with is Rubinia and again he tries to cajole the truth of her virginity. Whilst they talk she realises that he has no reflection and tries to run, but he grabs and bites her, again vomiting blood afterwards. “The blood of these whores is killing me!” He exclaims.
Anton has decided that they should leave but the Count visits Esmeralda, leaving her alone when he hears that she was once engaged, thus assuming that she 'knew' her fiancé. However things are now coming to a head. Dracula’s coffin has been kept in the family chapel and Mario opens it, finding it empty.
Rubinia and Saphiria, now under Dracula’s control, go to Perla and check her virginity before dragging her to the Count. She escapes and runs straight into Mario who rapes her in order to “protect her”, he has realised (by seeing an empty coffin!) what the Count really is. The mother enters at this point and he drags them both to see the two bitten sisters and what they have become.
We see the Count enter and drop to the floor to lap the blood of Perla’s lost virginity from the floor and then we see Esmeralda walk in.
Mario gets an axe in order to kill Dracula, smashing the coffin that Dracula and Anton are attempting to remove. Anton is ultimately shot by the mother after stabbing her and the chase is now on, towards probably the most bizarre death of Dracula in a movie. Mario chases Dracula through the house, managing to chop an arm off that stays attached to the rail he held. Out of the house he takes the second arm and then chops a leg of. Dracula, now on the floor, looses his last leg whilst insisting that Mario cannot hurt him. I couldn’t watch this scene without thinking of Monty Python (interestingly the film I’m thinking of was released the following year).
Mario is about to stake him when Esmeralda throws herself over his body, screaming for Mario to stop as he is hers and we see the glint of fangs in her mouth. It is now clear that she was a virgin and has offered herself willingly to Dracula. She is pulled away and he is staked, so she throws herself onto the stake also.
It is a strange ending to a strange movie. None of the acting is particularly good, at best it comes across as very stagey and at its worst (Arno Juerging’s acting for example) it is just plain awful. The best acting, as you would expect, comes from Kier whose performance, whilst drifting to pantomimish at times, does offer us a sympathetic figure.
The film contains a good bit of gore, copious blood vomiting and chopped limbs, and a high level of nudity with strong sexual themes. It is within the nudity and some of the sexual taboos that the film touches on that the real puzzle of the movie is revealed. The mortals are, in the main, despicable. The mother is entirely mercenary, the father a gambling fool who puts stock in how names ‘taste’, Mario is a rapist, including the rape of a fourteen year old, and misogynist, and the two middle sisters are incestuous, users and liars. Dracula is ailing and yet pure. He searches for purity in his proposed bride, he is a vegetarian as he can only eat virgin meat (again unusual within the genre is the idea that the vampire can eat mortal food, but that the meat - like the blood he needs - must be virginal), he clearly loves his sister and talks of his first wife with genuine affection. His bite certainly did not kill the sisters, though it clearly turned Esmeralda as she was a virgin (thus only virgins become vampires).
Normally the vampire is portrayed as the immoral one and yet the film desperately tries to aim all our sympathy at the vampire. It is also clear that there was a simile being drawn between the Count and Warhol, given that the Count is albino. This isn’t a result of his failing body, after all his dying sister looks naturally dark haired. The aversion to direct sunlight possibly has as much to do with his albino condition as it does with his vampiric one.
As I watched this and wondered how I would score it I felt that the acting, and scripting to be fair, really let the film down to the point it should be scored very low. However, the unusual take on vampirism makes this an interesting watch and the black humour does lift the film. 3 out of 10 might seem harsh to some but I cannot score higher, in fairness. That said genre fans need to see the movie as it is one of the more unusual films the genre has to offer.
The imdb page is here.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Director: Paul Morrissey