Dracula vs. Frankenstein (Al Adamson, 1971)

by Douglas Buck October 14, 2019 4 minutes (960 words) 2K Digital Restoration JA DeSeve Theater, Fantasia Festival _and_ Egyptian Theatre, Beyond Fest

Count Dracula (the pseudonymously monikered Zandor Vorkov) makes a pact with mad scientist, and last descendant of tribe Von Frankenstein, Dr Durea (J. Carrol Naish), promising he’ll revive the Frankenstein Monster if in return the doc will hand over the life-giving blood serum (that Drac hopes will cure him of that whole sunlight/vampire problem) the doc has been developing with the help of the corpses of various young woman that his mute wreck of an assistant, the amusingly, yet appropriately, named Groton (Lon Chaney Jr) is collecting for him (when not busy snuggling his cute puppy, and I don’t mean that metaphorically), with the help of a sharp axe, on the beach below the boardwalk amusement park the doc operates as a cover for his insidious experiments.

I remember well the night alone in the dark of the family den, my young pre-teen mind transfixed by a Saturday night Chiller television presentation of Dracula vs. Frankenstein; watching in wide-eyed wonder, with that hidden, early sexual thrill of being carried along on that journey without shame into taboo terrain where no self-respecting society would dare tread; a place of body transplants, axes in heads, underlying perversions… all culminating, in rip-roaring fashion, with the two titular titanic icons of myth and lore duking it out to the death, with the head vampire ripping the hulking monster apart limb from limb.

J. Carrol Naish

So… seeing it again for the first time in what had to be at least 40 years, a plethora of the images came flooding back, through eyes that could now decipher all of the oddball qualities, the plodding directing, the absurd dialogue and generally inept qualities that somehow entirely escaped my obviously less discerning, magic-believing mind (hell, I remember practically gasping as Dracula shot electricity out of his ring — shocked that no less than our damsel-saving hero was incinerated to mere ash, with nary even a final goodbye – somehow never noticing the clumsy freeze frame on Drac in order to sketch in the primitive electric rays!).

But… even with the sight of the way-past-his-prime wheelchair bound Naish, his dentures constantly clicking and single good eye moving left to right as he reads his endless monologues as if for the first time, and the sad sight of the mute, brain damaged, alcoholic wasteland that was Chaney Jr at that point, and the amusingly stiff Volkov (who was actually director Adamson’s accountant!), playing Drac with an enhanced telepathic voice, and the sudden onslaught repeating of the blaring riff ripped straight from the gill monster’s appearance from Creature from the Black Lagoon as the police chase lumbering, barely coherent Chaney’s Groton across some building rooftops (I mean… how did they get away with using that score??), perhaps I’m colored by nostalgia (likely), and maybe more than a bit seduced by the very notion of an oddball and determined filmmaker like Adamson (even more probably), still – acknowledging all of that – I say that Adamson unequivocally manages with Dracula vs. Frankenstein a fascinating, consistent and ethereal atmosphere; it’s a bizarre singular world we enter.

Lon Chaney Jr.

It’s got a vibrant heart, from a filmmaker who may lack in talent (and financial wherewithal) but certainly not in commitment, who through all the weird construction, manages to provide a fascinating glimpse through some off-kilter portal of shifting time and place, straight into a bizarre and decidedly (if entirely accidental) other-world of the perverse avant-garde.

Screening directly as it did after filmmaker — and caretaker to many a charmingly trashy exploitation film from yesteryear through his distribution company Severin Films — David Gregory’s latest grand opus doc, the wildly entertaining and fascinating look back at a film distribution landscape that actually allowed the endearingly stunted visions like those of Al Adamson a place, however small, at the table, and on into recounting the brutally tragic fate that ultimately came to Adamson, a doc with the mouthful of a title Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (I’m starting to wonder if Monsieur Gregory wasn’t trying to outdo himself from the treacherously long title of his previous equally wildly entertaining doc on studio moviemaking madness, out of control Hollywood stars and a colorfully eccentric director, titled – take a deep breath before saying it — Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau), I just had to stick around yet again (after having done it at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival just a month or two earlier) with a similarly thinned out crowd, dotted with mostly lonely singular presences, to enjoy the tasty 67 minute morsel of oddness that is Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Zandor Vorkov, Regina Carrol, John Bloom

My heart has only grown fonder for Dracula vs. Frankenstein. I’d gladly sit through it again if I could catch another fest showing it. Though I can’t wait to have within my mitts all the Adamson oddities (apparently almost 40 plus films!) to be found in the rumored upcoming box set of the restored entire oeuvre of the auteur (yep, I’m calling him one) – it’s the kind of epic, out-of-control release that has a film obsessive like myself falling under the Severin spell even that much more than I already am – I’ve been warned that – even with films with such heartwarmingly evocative titles as Satan’s Sadists, Psycho a Go-Go and Lash of Lust – none of them quite measure up with the uniform pleasures to be found in Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Whatever that exactly means, it’s okay. When the set arrives in the mail, I’ll certainly settle in and go another round with that epic and truly cinematically unique battle of those two titans of horror lore on my large screen at home. At least once.

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (Al Adamson, 1971)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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