Sunday, March 08, 2009

Tender Dracula – review

Directed by: Pierre Grunstein

Release date: 1974

Contains spoilers

I was rather happy when this little piece of vampire obscurity dropped through my letterbox. Okay, I knew it was on dvd-r and that the quality of the print was going to leave a lot to be desired but it is obscure, it does star Peter Cushing and Cushing plays the (alleged) vampire. Cushing plays a vampire!

I am still happy, as it is so rare and thus finds a place in my collection as a piece of obscurity. What I found, however, was a sub-rate, almost psychedelic, French bedroom farce (with an alternate title of Confessions of a Blood Drinker – obviously to cash in on the ‘Confessions of’ movies). It had perhaps overtones of the year before’s “Case of the Smiling Stiffs” – though that had a lot more going for it (and if you’ve seen the earlier film you’ll realise that is no good thing). Tonally I was also reminded of the later and risible Mama Dracula.

What I also discovered was something that reminded me, in places, of the following year's 'the Rocky Horror Picture Show'… There were (blooming awful) songs in this, there was even a song as a woman bandaged an injured man whilst ripping her underwear into strips (a sequence that ends in a level of nudity unseen in Rocky) and there was a launching castle at the end. If Richard O'Brien took anything from this he only improved it but nevertheless the fact that it brought Rocky Horror to mind was nothing short of bizarre.

The film begins with two men running around corridors as, elsewhere, a surgeon looks down on two women – one young and one old. Eventually we see the throat of the young one cut but it is obviously a dummy and a bad effect at that. The two men burst through a door, the surgeon reveals his face. It is a film (they have entered the screening) and the surgeon has been played by MacGregor (Peter Cushing).

The studio’s producer (Julien Guiomar) has a problem, MacGregor doesn’t want to do horror any more – he has a clause in his contract that has allowed him to refuse horror roles and he now wants to do romance. The two men, Alfred (Bernard Menez) and Boris (Stéphane Shandor), are writers on the romantic drama ‘the Growing Pains of Daphne’. They are to travel, with two actresses Madeleine (Nathalie Courval) and Marie (Miou-Miou), to persuade him to do horror and then change their show accordingly.

At the castle they meet the brain damaged servant Abélard (Percival Russel) and MacGregor’s wife (Alida valli). She was originally Abélard’s wife until his accident and was called Mable; MacGregor changed her name to Héloïse as Mable did not contain the spirit of romance. He is fixated upon romance, for example he deems the fact that they arrived at the castle on foot - the car crashed - without luggage as fitting for romance purposes, and really refuses to go back to horror as it is a dead genre (and if this film could have had anything to do with it then it would have been a dead genre).

As the films grinds slowly on it becomes clear that strange things are afoot. Is MacGregor, in reality, a vampire? He does seem to have fangs, he like to dress in formal wear and seems to drink a glass of blood for breakfast – but then claims it to be a Bloody Mary. Things are fairly psychedelic, but not in a good way, and even the nudity can’t keep the viewer's interest. This really is a prime example of poor film making and, I would have to say, probably the worst film Peter Cushing ever made.

The surrealistic nature of the film runs from beginning to end, be it the producer throwing a knife at MacGregor’s picture that then bleeds, or Héloïse stating that she loves the young and the beautiful (the two writers were far from young and beautiful) to the revelation that the producer and a film crew were at the castle, in bed sheets like ghosts, filming the weekend. And yet… I couldn’t have cared, so difficult it was to keep my attention focused on the pile of celluloid faeces before me. 0.5 out of 10 is only given because it would be a sin for a Cushing movie to get a big, fat zero.

One for the collection, though it’ll never be watched again! Unless you are an obsessive completist, I would say avoid.

The imdb page is here.

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