Monday, August 01, 2016

Mystery in Dracula’s Castle – review

Director: Robert Totten

Release date: 1973

Contains spoilers

This made for TV Disney film was first aired as a two parter in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour. Whether it strayed over to the UK I’m not sure but I am fairly certain I never saw it as a child. I spotted it uploaded onto YouTube and, with the title being what it is, I had to watch it of course.

It is one of those films that is probably better with rose-tinted glasses and fond memories, but to the previously uninitiated it had some real dating issues – age has not treated it kindly. It is, of course, full of Disney schmaltz and there isn’t a vampire in it (though it still deserves to be looked at here) nor does it have a castle in it. We’ll get to all that later.

Dracula on screen
It begins, however, in a movie theatre and the theatre is showing “Curse of Count Dracula”. Three young boys watch the film; Morgan (Jean-Michel Michenaud), Morgan’s friend Alfie (Johnny Whitaker) and Alfie’s little brother Leonard (Scott C. Kolden). On screen, a grave robber (Ben Wrigley) has opened Count Dracula’s grave. He decides he’ll take the cape but to get it he has to pull the stake out… Morgan notices Leonard hiding his face behind his hands.

the cinema
As the boys walk home they discuss the film. Leonard found it too scary, clearly, but Morgan felt that “Dracula wasn’t vicious enough… there should have been more blood.” The discussion moves to the film of Frankenstein they’d recently seen and the fact that Alfie wants to make a Dracula film. The problem is Alfie and Leonard will be taking a beach vacation and Morgan will be off to scout camp. Leonard notices an alarm and realises that a jewellery shop has been robbed.

Mariette Hartley as Marsha
The boys watch from a fire escape, until called down by the cops. Leonard might not like monsters but he does want to be a detective. We discover that the Daumier Necklace has been stolen. After all the excitement its time to go on vacation and leave Morgan behind. The boy’s mom, Marsha (Mariette Hartley, the Return of Count Yorga & The Night Dracula Saved the World), is a writer and has a deadline so the boys are going to be left pretty much to their own devices. When Leonard says the town is too quiet for a detective she tells him about Sherlock Holmes and the moors.

Leonard cast as Dracula
Leonard realises there is a missing piece of glass in their bedroom window and the screen is pushed back. He decides it must have been done by a rat and Alfie conjures up a horror image to tie in with his film. During the night something gets in and goes under Leonard’s covers – after some panic it is revealed to be a stray dog. Marsha agrees they can keep it and Leonard calls it Watson. The next day Leonard finds himself cast as Dracula in Alfie’s film. Alfie’s shots keep getting spoiled by Watson. The dog is also a thief and helps itself to a watch from a local jewellers.

Clu Gulager as Keith
Eventually the boys find a lighthouse, which Alfie decides will make a perfect Dracula’s castle. They have an explore, believing it to be empty, and are caught by Keith (Clu Gulager). He and his friend Noah (Mills Watson) are the thieves who stole the Daumier Necklace – what are the odds they’d end up in the same small coastal town as the boys – and are looking to reset the jewels and fence them. Keith is posing as an artist. The film then follows the misadventures of the boys and the thieves.

Making movies
And so the vampirism is found in the film at the beginning and the film Alfie makes with his brother. The thieves, or at least Keith, are the most patient guys in the world, allowing the young kids in and around them – he even tells Leonard that the dynamite the boy finds are actually fireworks and promises the boys a display. It’s the reaction of the thieves to the boys – especially when the dog steals the necklace and Leonard ends up with it – that underscores the Disney schmaltz.

all at sea
The film, beyond that, is poorly paced and I doubt it would have been much better in two parts. A cliff-hanger (almost literally) has no tension as we know it is Disney and they are not going to kill the youngest child in the cast. Like I said at the head of the review, it hasn’t aged well, feeling like a part of yesteryear that never really existed anyway. Those who had this as part of their childhood may react more positively to it than I did and I suppose a younger viewer may still enjoy it. For myself the bit I liked most was the fact that the scriptwriter, Sue Milburn, clearly knew that children often want something more visceral than a kid’s programme allows for – hence Morgan’s comment about blood – and still wrote exactly the opposite.

4 out of 10 is probably too generous.

The imdb page is here.


Khaia said...

I saw it as a kid... and I remember being very, very disappointed.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Khaia, sorry to hear that, I hoped at least it would have had some fond memories for those who saw it as kids. Thanks for taking time to comment :)