Friday, April 15, 2016

The World of Dracula – review

Directors: Various

Release date: 1979

Contains spoilers

The series Cliff Hangers was an attempt to bring back the old serial, each ending on a cliff hanger. Each episode was made up of three programmes, one of them being The Curse of Dracula. The Curse of Dracula was later recut into two films and they are rather rare, having never had a home video release that I can trace.

Several rare film sites have offered DVD-Rs of the first of the films, the World of Dracula – but rarely with the second one, the Loves of Dracula. Recently I came across an online seller who offered both together (my thanks to Holly for posting the link). It should be noted, however, that the video quality is (understandably) atrocious and this reflects in the screenshots.

Michael Nouri as Dracula
The series starts on a cliff hanger – indeed with two unlabelled DVD-Rs one would be forgiven for thinking that they were being viewed in the wrong order. Kurt Von Helsing (Stephen Johnson) and his lover/sidekick Mary Gibbons (Carol Baxter) are in a barn and they have found one of Dracula’s coffins containing a sprinkling of his native earth. They purify it with holy water but like a chess strategist Dracula (Michael Nouri) is sacrificing it for final victory. He has primed the barn with accelerant and sets it ablaze. Mary and Kurt use the coffin as a battering ram to escape.

teaching
Back at the college where Kurt works they discover that there is a professor teaching Eastern European history only at night at another school. They get the idea that it might be Dracula and so Mary goes undercover, wearing a headscarf and shades! The professor is indeed Dracula and his lessons are so vivid he might have been at the events he describes (later he suggests he hasn’t seen the sun for 512 years but also gives his age as 512 at another point). He invites Mary and three students – Darryl (Mark Montgomery), Christine (Bever-Leigh Banfield) and Antoinette (Antoinette Stella) – back to his home for wine and star gazing.

Carol Baxter as Mary
Kurt follows them but Dracula knows he is there and drives like a maniac until he loses him. Later he suggests that Kurt’s cut fuel line will dispose of him, but that should have impacted much earlier, surely. Of course he knew who Mary was and asks her why she hates him. She says that he killed her mother (Louise Sorel) but he counters that, suggesting that he loved her mother. She tries to escape and the other (bitten) students stop her. When she does, later, escape she is unaware (presumably due to hypnotic suggestion) that she has been bitten – in this they follow the three bites to turn rule.

holding up a cross
And, you know what, I’m sorry but it wasn’t brilliant – at least not cut into a film. The entire cliff hanger principle was way too corny in close proximity, especially as it was too often Kurt in peril – there were all too few characters – and the guy has more luck than a four leaf clover. I know that was the point but, to be fair, the old cinema serials don’t work that well if you watch each episode too close to the next. We also had flashback moments that would have reminded a viewer of what happened last week but were superfluous in a film format. Then there was the melodrama. Of course soap operas often rely on cliff hanger and are chock full of melodrama and this was, without doubt, melodrama of the thickest most pungent fragrance.

attack dogs
Michael Nouri was interesting as Dracula. I’d say he was channelling Frank Langella except that this aired months before the release of Langella's version of Dracula. He is certainly a charmer but there is a disturbing undercurrent as we discover that his bite subverts the will of the victim and yet he claims to love Mary and wants her to come willingly to him. No wonder this version of vampire is indeed burnt by crosses. They are also destroyed by sunlight and can communicate with animals (he has two guard dogs, which a jealous Antoinette sets on Mary at one point, and also gets information from a raven).

angry Dracula
Kurt is a bit of a wet lettuce, to be honest, and the three students/servants are ciphers and nothing more (we get Antoinette’s jealousy played out, but she is two dimensional at best and the other two are so flimsy that we don’t even get names for them – they were gleaned from IMDb). Now, I know I am sounding way too negative because people seem to have fond memories of this – and I can understand the value of rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to it – but for a person watching it as a film, now, it is unsophisticated, under-loaded with characters but a rarity and worth seeing for that reason if no other. 4 out of 10.

The series’ imdb page is here.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Oh my, do I remember this one. I was excited to see ads for it on NBC and in TV Guide. The other two shows with it had a certain goofy charm, but I was particularly interested in this one.
I found the story line a bit clunky (Kolchak and Dark Shadows had set the standards for TV gothic horror for me), and was also struck by the incompetence of the hero (how was it so difficult to kill this guy?). I thought Nouri did a good job with what he had. His Dracula gave off the right dismissive attitude towards his foes. Having him profess his love for the heroine so soon into the series was a shark-jump, probably indicating nervousness by the show runners that the ratings were not up to snuff. And they weren't. The rest of the cast was pretty much standard issue, none actually standing out. I was hoping he would add to his group as the series progressed, but no such luck. In my part of the country, they did not even air the final two episodes. Until YouTube, I never knew how it ended.
My most vivid memory of it was that his town car had the license plate "ETERNAL."

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi

thanks for comment - I knew this would have a nostalgic appeal to readers from the US and it does appear so.

Nouri was the one who stood out - but there was also an interesting performance in the latter half of the series and I'll touch on that when I post the Loves of Dracula review. You are, of course, absolutely spot on with the licence plate observation and I do mention that in the second review :)