Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dracula and Son – review

posterDirected by: Edouard Molinaro

Release Date: 1976

Contains spoilers

This was a French vampire comedy and one cannot but help compare and contrast with Tender Dracula as they are both comedies, from the same country of origin, they both featured Gernard Menez in the cast and this starred Christopher Lee, whilst the earlier film starred Peter Cushing. You’ll be pleased to note that this did not plumb the depths of movie Hell that Tender Dracula managed.

There is a degree of compare and contrast to this article, however, as I watched two versions of the film before writing it. Obviously I would dearly love to see the original French film with English subtitles – as far as I am aware there is no way that’s going to happen – but what I actually watched were two different dubbed versions of the film. One, more comedic with very silly dubbing, came in at 78 minutes (and for clarity I shall refer to it as DaS_A). The second was less comedic, had more serious dubbing and was 94 minutes in length (for clarity I shall refer to this version as DaS_B).

cartoon openingHow different was the dubbing? If you research the film you find that Christopher Lee shot the film in French. Some sources state he was dubbed into English and others state he dubbed himself into English. DaS_B was certainly Lee’s own voice, I am fairly certain that it was another voice actor in DaS_A. Indeed the dubbing is very silly in DaS_A, voiceovers that aren’t on the other version, characters referring to the voiceovers and even different character names. The son of ‘Dracula’ (Bernard Menez) is called Ferdinand in DaS_B and Victor in DaS_A (in which he has a faux Bronx accent). Even the start of the films are different, with the shorter film having an animation of vampires through the ages curtailing the actual running time further.

Catherine Breillat as HerminieIn eighteenth century Transylvania a coach looses its wheel. Before it can be fixed a second coach comes along and transports the two female passengers, Herminie (Catherine Breillat) and her chaperone Marguerite (Claude Génia), away. It is clear that it is a vampire’s coach and Marguerite is bitten on the journey. They reach a castle and Herminie is left to meet the Prince of Darkness (Christopher Lee). We should note that, on release, it was decided he was Dracula – against Lee’s protest – though the film never actually was meant to be a Dracula movie. We see one of the problems with DaS_A here – which is it creates its own plot holes. Herminie and the Prince end up having some coffin sex and she notes that she has no fang wounds with her reflection. In both versions the Prince falls for her and wants a child and heir, however in DaS_A he says he is professional with his bites and has not left a mark, but she does not turn and he leaves quite vivid wounds when he does turn her after she has given birth, whilst in DaS_B he makes it clear that he has shown self control and not bitten her.

the Transylvanian double-crossAnyway, she does become pregnant and gives birth to a son – at which point the Prince does turn her whilst leaving the child in the care of Marguerite, who is to be the nanny. Herminie goes on her first hunt – at which point we see a cross that in DaS_A is referred to as the Transylvanian double-cross – but she fails to return to the castle in good time and is fried in the sun. Five years later and Ferdinand is a precocious brat who plays bowling with a skull and the urn of his mother’s ashes and traps Marguerite in the sun – killing her off.

hammer and sickleBy the time he is over 100, the Prince takes Ferdinand hunting as he cannot be fed from the bottle all his life. At this point Ferdinand is sporting a very silly moustache. In DaS_B no comment is made with regards this, in DaS_A the dub suggests that it is a false moustache as he doesn’t want to be seen with his father! Then the castle is lost to the Communist revolution and the Prince decides it is time to leave. Interestingly we get a call for a cross, when confronting a vampire servant, and a hammer and sickle are crossed to make a cross – I preferred the Doctor Who – the Curse of Fenric idea that faith in the revolution made the hammer and sickle a potent symbol.

He looks like Christopher LeeTo cross the border the prince has them kill a couple of French sailors and then they take their place in the coffins. Unfortunately they end up being buried at sea. Ferdinand washes up in France whilst a fishing boat picks up the Prince and he ends up in England. The next segment shows their fight to survive. The Prince struggles – even biting a rubber doll – until he is found by a movie producer who thinks him perfect for his vampire movie, obviously vampires can be filmed in this despite having no reflections. In DaS_A it is because he looks just like Christopher Lee!

he wants to have his toothsome wayLater, as a successful star, the Prince travels to Paris and is reunited with his son. However they both fall for the same girl, Nicole (Marie-Hélène Breillat) and Ferdinand decides he must protect her from his father whilst wooing her – she shows more interest in the Prince at first. The Prince wants to have his toothsome way and has decided she will replace Herminie and Ferdinand just wants a girl it seems.

a human Ferdinand can use the crossLore wise I have mentioned much of it – sunlight kills, lack of reflections etc. What I probably didn’t make clear is that a cross can kill as well as ward. However one thing that neither version of the film explains well is the fact that Ferdinand is able to become human. To be honest he doesn’t know how but I suspect it was meant to be a combination of him being a particularly poor vampire and experiencing true love.

Bernard Menez as ferdinandThe two films are very different experiences. One, DaS_B, a gentle comedy with some languid moments that amount to poor pacing. The other much better paced but with the most ridiculous dub and some very silly humour – that does work on certain levels but does come across as a bit student/puerile. Neither version noses above the other score wise.

I would love to see this restored and in the original French and DVD companies should note that if they released a set with an original French/English subs and the two dubbed versions it would be something, I think, collectors would go for. For both the dubbed versions 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Niels K. Petersen said...

There is a German DVD version, Die Herren Dracula, from 2005 that is in French and dubbed in German. I don't own it and I haven't watched it since it was shown in local cinemas in the Seventies, so I have to rely on the information on German Amazon, but apparently subtitles are only available in French.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Niels. I have heard of that on (it appears on the UK ebay from time to time) but as you say the subtitles are german only - not in English - however useful info, so again thanks