Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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?


Douglas A. Waltz said...

This is a magnificent flick. I remember being a youngster and watching this on Shock Theater. Scared the crap out of me! :0)Great blog!

Carl (ILHM) said...

this is a different film from the Naschy version, right? I really want to see both

The Headless Werewolf said...

Douglas, thanks for chiming in and letting me know that I'm not by myself on this one!

Carl, it is different from the Naschy film, which is also loads of fun.

CRwM said...

Over any movie in the multiplex?

Even the interracial hottie catfight pic?

Or the one that's like "A Christmas Carol," but its the ghosts of the dude's ex-girlfriends?

Or that one with the High School Musical kid as the dude who relives his teenage prime?

Or the movie that's essentially Grand Theft Auto, but with even less of a storyline (somehow)?

Considering what's playing these days, saying you'd take this flick over anything currently in the multiplexes is damning it with some pretty faint praise.

The Headless Werewolf said...

Well, that's why I say I point out the film's inadequacies as well as Adamson's incompetence as a director. What you refer to as "damning with faint praise" is actually praising with damnation. The former would mean using the voice of a mainstream critic, which isn't my intention here; nor would I even bother with something like that in the case of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (to do so would be like picking on the slow kid at PE.)

PS. Don't get wrong. I loves me an interracial hottie catfight.

CRwM said...

I dig.

I've got dozens of movies in my collection that would have to be prefaced with some sort of "This is a love issue, not a quality issue" disclaimer.

Plus, your write-up was top notch.

I was just comment on the supremely sad state of what's in theaters at the moment.

The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

Nice thoughts, Wolfie. No shame in loving this movie! It's a rather sweet reflection of a more innocent, icon-centric, internet-less time. We Maciste Brothers miss the days when Frankenstein or Dracula MEANT something to kids (and adults for that matter). Movies used to be fun -- extra toys.(Oh, how an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS used get us so PSYCHED for every monster and actor who played them, as if they were good friends to welcome into our homes.)Now they're just...stuff to review on a blog and either ridicule and love or ridicule and hate. Times have changed indeed. We love DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and we're dern proud of it. To us it's a blanket mom just pulled out of the dryer. Sad that so few people allow themselves to be warmed by it today.