Paul Morrissey, 1974
Starring: Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Vittorio De Sica, Maxime McKendry
“The blood of these whores is killing me!”
A sickly vampire, Count Dracula, is unable to find any virgin blood – the only kind he can digest – in his homeland of Romania, so he and his faithful servant Anton journey to a Catholic country, hoping to find some virgins. They wind up in Italy at the home of the Marchese di Fiore, a man with four young and beautiful daughters. The Marchese has fallen on hard time because of his gambling habit and he and his greedy wife are desperate to marry off one of the girls. Thinking the wealthy Count is a likely target, they give him free reign of the household. Unfortunately a studly servant has had this way with two of the daughters, so when Dracula samples some of their blood, he almost dies. Two sisters remain, but will Dracula or the lusty servant get to them first?
Also known as Andy Warhol’s Dracula, Young Dracula, or Dracula cerca sangue di vergine e… mori di sete (Dracula is Searching for Virgins’ Blood and… He’s Dying of Thirst!), this was shot back to back with its predecessor, Flesh for Frankenstein and contains much of the same cast, crew, locations, and themes. This gory, funny, and imaginative take on Dracula is perhaps more clever and accessible than director Paul Morrissey’s interpretation of Frankenstein. Here, the famous Count suffers and is nearly dying because he must drink virgin blood, but can’t seem to find one anywhere – an equally hilarious and disgusting conceit.
This Italian-French co-production by an American director with a mostly European cast feels solidly like some of the Eurohorror being made during this period, though perhaps with more of an emphasis on camp, farce, and comedy. It is also set apart by a fabulous performance from Flesh for Frankenstein’s star Udo Kier. He is again incredible, though he plays a very different character from the Baron in Flesh for Frankenstein. He is sickly (and allegedly lost 20 pounds for the role), repressed, and contained in a way the hysterical, almost bombastic Baron was not. His Dracula is a tragic, sympathetic, and pathetic figure, and the camera presents him as fragile and beautiful, a being from another age.
Kier is sort of forced into the role of hero or protagonist because his rival, Joe Dallesandro’s Marxist gardener/servant Mario, is incredibly unlikable. He talks about raping the youngest daughter and does so later in the film to allegedly protect her from Dracula’s vampiric wiles. As with Flesh for Frankenstein, Dallesandro is incredibly virile and spends much of the film nude or having sex. He also makes the film far more ridiculous with his persistent and out of place Brooklyn accent. It makes me wince just to think about it.
Arno Juering returns from Flesh for Frankenstein to reprise a similar role as Kier’s sidekick, though he is far creepier and more hilarious here. There are a number of familiar faces, including Stefania Casini (Suspiria) as the most promiscuous of the daughters, director Vittorio de Sica as the Marchese, director Roman Polanski as a clever villager, and genre actresses Silvia Dionisio (School Girl Killer) and Milena Vukotic (The Monster of the Opera) as two of the daughters.
Overall Blood for Dracula is a tighter film with fewer plot holes. It will probably be more accessible for newcomers as it lacks the explosive gore and semi-explicit sex of the first film. While Flesh for Frankenstein was heavily censored, initially given an X-rating in the U.S., and dubbed a video nasty in the U.K., Blood for Dracula was barely touched and mostly passed over by censors. For those who loved the first film, never fear – there is still plenty of offensive sex, violence, comedy, and gore. There are a number of excellent set pieces -- for example the scene where Dracula vomits up non-virginal blood is quite lengthy and graphic.
There are a number of ‘80s horror films that use HIV and the AIDS outbreak as a theme and though Blood for Dracula is too early to be included in this loose subgenre, it seems like an obvious precursor. In addition to this subtle theme (that I am perhaps reading into the film after the fact) and Morrissey’s odd conservatism, Blood for Dracula is a more political beast than Flesh for Frankenstein, though no less beautiful. While Flesh for Frankenstein might be my favorite for its sheer insanity and balls-to-the-wall offensiveness, Blood for Dracula comes highly recommended. There’s a wonderful DVD from Criterion, though it has long fallen out of print and is quite expensive used. You can find it streaming on Amazon or rent the disc on Netflix.