Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dracula’s Last Rites - review

Director: Dominic Paris

Release date: 1980

Contains spoilers

This is a fairly hard to come by film. You can still find it ghosting around on VHS and it was, I believe, on a double bill DVD – though the VHS is easier to find. The question is, should you really take time out to bother? The film has the title Last Rites a well as Dracula’s Last Rites. The Dracula addition is tied into the head vampire (Gerald Fielding) being called A Lucard, yeah I know, but there is little evidence to suspect that the vampire who has taken the Count’s name and spelt it backwards is actually the Count.

The film itself begins with a race between two teen lads in their cars. The teen we focus on has received some degree of hassle for racing by his girl, which he ignores. Her predictions of doom and gloom come to pass as they crash. Emergency services arrive and she is declared dead by the town’s doctor, Dr Cummins (Victor Jorge), and taken, by ambulance, to the funeral home run by Lucard. All is not as it seems however.

As she is wheeled out of the ambulance her hand moves. We hear that the boy died on the scene. She is taken to a room and Cummins vamps out and bites her, feeding upon her, they then stake her and hide the neck wounds and stake hole with mortician’s clay. This is the clever bit of the film Lucard, Cummins and the town Sheriff, Ordell (Alfred Steinel), are all vampires. They have Cummins declare accident victims as dead, bring them to Lucard’s funeral home, feed, stake (one bite will turn a victim) and then dispose of the body. The idea is genius; unfortunately we will see that after a bright idea they let this flounder.

They need more blood and so Cummins attends the home of an elderly lady, Mrs Bradley (Mimi Weddell), and makes it look like she has died. When her daughter, Marie Fonda (Patricia Hammond), arrives they have her sign papers to transfer the body to Lucard, telling her that her mother suffered a stroke. Ted (Michael Lally), Marie’s husband, shows up and they decide to have the casket in her home. He phones Lucard, who isn’t very taken by the idea. The next day Ted goes to the funeral home and takes the body back.

Lucard needs the corpse returning, she hasn’t been staked. This includes getting a cohort to break in – he dies falling out of a window onto a picket fence, a typical accidental vampire death though we don’t know if he was a vampire. Mrs Bradley rises and takes herself off and the Fondas get very suspicious.

This is where we have fallen apart, story wise. These three vampires are so bumbling, and argue amongst themselves so much, that one wonders how they have kept their little victim snatching charade going at all. One questions why they didn’t feed and immediately stake Mrs Bradley as they did with the car crash victim – no problem releasing the corpse then. The bumbling gives us a story, but the way the story is handled is poor.

As for the vampires they must be staked to die and they have reflections. The question of sunlight is confusing. We see Lucard applying makeup, perhaps it is a sun block? Yet for the most part we see the vampires walk around in daylight but then there is a hint of death in sunlight. We know they are strong; Lucard stops and lifts a car.

The effects aren’t anything to write home about. Mrs Bradley looks quite eerie hiding out and then looks like a mad cat woman at other times with fangs that just do not seem to work too well and generally falls into a parody representation of a vampire. We get boom mikes appearing in shot and the soundtrack is a very 80s synth job that sounds dated and poor.

The acting also lets this down, not overly proficient and way too melodramatic but the worst aspect is the story, held together by the characters’ bungling that is so bad it feels like we are wading through plot holes rather than actual plot. It is a great opening premise that gets lost and then mires within an entirely un-suspenseful framework.

1.5 out of 10 is given for the interesting set up the vampires have in the town.

The imdb page is here.

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