Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Son of Dracula – review

Directed by: Freddie Francis

Release Date: 1973

Contains spoilers

This was, to all intents and purposes, a vehicle for Harry Nilsson and is one of those almost lost films. Dubbed as “The First Rock-and-Roll Dracula Movie!” perhaps it should stay lost. As it is the film spooks around in a very low quality from video print and can be tracked down with a little bit of effort.

It begins in Transylvania in the 1800s. We get a point of view traverse through the castle as an unseen assailant attacks Count Dracula (Dan Meaden). This point of view sequence is obviously meant to hide the villain of the piece from us. A flaming torch is waved and a crucifix wielded. The Count, who sports a Nosferatu meets Uncle Fester look, retreats and is found in his coffin and staked. Garlic is popped into his mouth.

The servant Brian (David Bailie) comes into the room, upset because he went for help and wasn’t there are the critical moment. Help is in the form of Merlin the Magician (Ringo Starr). Why Merlin should be helping the Netherworld creatures (as they are known) is beyond me. They check a coffin and find the Countess (Lorna Wilde) still alive. She is pregnant with the Count’s son. Why a mortal woman would sleep in a coffin is also beyond me. Merlin predicts that in 100 years the son of Dracula will become king of the Netherworld.

100 years later and a car crosses to England by means of the Channel Tunnel – in a film some twenty years before the tunnel became operational, though this had probably got something to do with trial borings made when the film was shot. It is a hearse and the coffin occupant is Count Downe (Harry Nilsson). Okay, you can groan at the name now and then ask why he wasn’t called Count Dracula?

The car stops off for petrol and Downe sneaks out for a snack on a young couple before returning in crap bat form to the car. A quick stop off at Merlin’s home and we discover that the magician is trying to discover the astrologically perfect time for Downe's coronation. Yet all is not well.

Downe likes music and his human side is trying to rise to the fore. Of course this love of music makes a perfect excuse to throw in some Nilsson songs and, for 70s rock fans, look out for cameo band appearances by Peter Frampton, Keith Moon and John Bonham. We discover that Baron Frankenstein (Freddie Jones) – who for some unbeknown reason is an immortal Netherworld creature – is the killer of Dracula and wants to take Downe out.

Throw into the mix the fact that Downe has dreamt of a girl, whom he meets the day after the dream, named Amber (Suzanna Leigh) and who is assistant to Van Helsing (Dennis Price). Van Helsing does not seem to be the vampire slayer we know, he is an associate of Merlin, has set up the monster exhibition that is to be the coronation setting and has manipulated Amber into liking the Count to push him towards choosing humanity. What will he choose? To be human, a musician and in love or to be a vampire and King of the Netherworld? Don’t bother answering; it is blooming obvious which way the film would take this.

For his part I have seen descriptions that suggest that Downe was in love with Amber. Clearly not the case as the film makes it clear that she interests him only. As a vampire he feels no love. That said we get a transfusion scene later, between Downe and Amber, to the strains of “Without You” by Nilsson – I kid you not.

If the story is trite then the acting is worse. Only Leigh really manages to pull off anything like a decent performance. That said Starr is almost worth the pain of watching this, with his long grey hair and beard and wizards hat he is barely recognisable until he opens his mouth and that familiar Ringo voice issues forth. Honestly, can you imagine the venerable Merlin with Ringo’s Liverpool twang?

The makeup is terrible and I mentioned the crap bat but it was not as crap as the transformation to bat later on, where an animation was added over Nilsson holding out his cape in a transformation that had been done many times better decades before – for instance see the transformations in this film’s 1943 namesake which were vastly superior.

This film is really only worth seeing if you are either a vampire movie completist or a Nilsson fanatic. It is this sort of film that makes me consider adding a rider of “I watch them so you don’t have to”. Having said that I am going to give this 1 out of 10 for Starr as Merlin – simply as his voice amused me, nothing else in the film did.

The imdb page is here.

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