Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SON OF DRACULA (1974)

As with a few other movie misfires on this blog, Son of Dracula has a good premise. What if the legendary vampire's son was born of a human mother -- and, over time, acquires human feelings, such as empathy and love? Does he submit, or continue to live the life of neck-biting immortality?

Really, not a bad idea. The problem is everything else.

When you think of vampires, singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson probably isn't the first person who comes to mind. Nor is Ringo Starr as Merlin the Magician. But since Ringo was the producer, and Nilsson his drinking/snorting buddy, you have no other choice. Except to avoid it.

He shoulda stayed in bed.
Dracula's son, "wittily" named 
Count Downe, has returned to London for his coronation as Overlord of the Netherworld -- what we in America call Speaker of the House. Unbeknownst to Downe, Baron Frankenstein covets the title for himself. 

But Downe falls in love with Amber, the assistant to Dr. Van Helsing, triggering his desire to become fully human. While Van Helsing offers to perform a vampire-ectomy, Baron Frankenstein plans to make the surgery go fatally wrong. But unlike other Dracula movies, Son of... features a happy ending for the lovers. And audiences, too, because it finally ended.

Trick or treat!
It's difficult to know what exactly Son of Dracula's creators had in mind. The poster sells it as a rock & roll horror comedy, but is played almost completely straight. Downe walks the streets of 1970s London just so he can gaze at the Nilsson album Son of Schmillson in a record store window. Creatures like the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's monster make appearances, wearing make-up out of a high school play. Son of Dracula is a horror movie, alright, but not in the right way.

David Baille (left) looks for a way off the set.
Further muddying the waters is the cast. Nilsson plays his part very seriously, as if planning on a future in the movie business, but is hopelessly outclassed by British co-stars Freddie Jones, Dennis Price, Suzanna Leigh, and David Baille, who are all way too good for this picture. 

Then, of course, there's Ringo Starr as Merlin, who proves that being an ex-Beatle can take you just so far as an actor -- like playing Ringo Starr in A Hard Day's Night and Help!.

Admittedly, it's kind of clever that the movie is willing to upend the Dracula legend by making Van Helsing the vampire helper rather than hunter. (SPOILER ALERT: It turns out Van Helsing is really Merlin in disguise.) And whether intentional or not, Son of Dracula is something of a (very) slight remake of the great 1934 Fredric March movie, Death Takes a Holiday, only with a second-rate script, cheesy monsters, and Keith Moon on drums.

Roll over Beethoven, and tell Bram Stoker
the news.
Son of Dracula's excuse for being a musical is that Count Downe has been studying music for the last century or so, allowing him to occasionally break out in song. Of the seven numbers, only the goofy "Daybreak" was written for the movie; the others originally appeared on earlier Nilsson albums. 

Shot in 1972 but bound & gagged on the shelf for two years, Son of Dracula -- one of eight releases from the Beatles' Apple Films -- is one of those productions that screams "midnight movie," i.e., low budget, badly-made, and meant to be watched under the influence. 

But no amount of insomniac stoners in college towns could make it a cult favorite (another dubious cinematic term), and it soon disappeared into the Netherworld. A faded, slightly damaged VHS copy can be yours to behold on YouTube. 

Or you can just listen to a playlist of Son of Dracula's songs and skip the movie entirely. Otherwise, you'll probably wind up driving a stake into your own heart.


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