DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN: Why I Love It Even Though You Probably Don't
First, an admission, not a confession: There are lots of valid reasons to hate Al Adamson's 1971 monster mash and condemn it to b-movie hell. It features appalling make-up, it exploits struggling actors like Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish, it consigns once proud Universal monsters to a boardwalk setting, and it just looks plain ugly. So, hate away if you will, but I find it eternally charming. Want to distract me? Start this going on the DVD player, and I get lost in its sleazy, grindhouse world. The horror blogosphere has had its fair share of debate lately regarding critical standards, and I'm afraid I just won't offer anything here to allay the impression that some horror viewers will watch anything. This film is like a sticky, greasy plate of fries: it ain't great cuisine, and nobody needs to go to culinary school to learn how to make them, but I like them anyway.
Nostalgia has a lot to do with it. I first saw this film at a rather young age, already full-on versed in Universal lore, but coming across this film on a Saturday morning both enthralled me and upset my sensibilities. Its use of color looked garish and ill-fitting, much like the characters themselves and their counter-culture clothing and attitudes. Without knowing anything about grindhouse cinema, though, I'm somehow got it and realized that the film HAD to look this way to work.
Now, the film seems almost quaint, and despite his incompetence, Adamson directs with a sense of assurance that all this somehow works. And, in fact, on some inane level it does. Of course, Dracula has big hair and barely functioning make-up. The important thing is that he a ring that can fry anything, even the character who we have accepted as the hero for much of the narrative. Yes, the Frankenstein monster has a rubbery face that barely resembles anything human, but look at how Dracula so easily tears him apart in the film's climactic battle (over a sexy, bosomy blond tart no less!). Yes, Lon Chaney looks like a bloated alcoholic shadow of his former self, but he gets to terrorize people with that ax!
Placed in the context of its grindhouse brethren, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN comes across as the cleanest sleaze movie of all time, a porn film with no pornography and only the slimmest hint of any nudity. Despite its inadequacies, I'd take it over almost any feature currently making its way through the multiplexes. How's that for standards?