Monday, November 12, 2007

blood for dracula, by paul morrissey

Continuing with the theme of offbeat films about the undead, this week Skunkcabbage chose Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula (1974). The gloriously weird Udo Kier plays Dracula, and as the film opens, he is (as the title might imply) desperate for fresh blood. This is a familiar enough vampire-film narrative device—it effectively does the work of setting up a basic conflict—but Morrissey uses it as an opportunity to have the narrative take an odd left turn right out of the gate. See, it turns out that the Romanian people have grown suspicious of Dracula, making it harder for him to get the particular kind of blood he needs (more on this later). The solution? Pack up the old coffin and head on down the road to Italy!

This makes just about no sense whatsoever—I'm not sure if it was just because it was easier to fess up that they were filming in Rome than to try to make a convincing fake Romania—but it does give them the opportunity to present Dracula as a kind of tourist. And as a tourist, Kier's Dracula is entertainingly moody and fussy, griping about the oil-heavy Italian cuisine, the weird vegetables, and the bad accomodations. See if you can spot two things that Dracula is going to complain about regarding this room:

Anyway, on this journey Dracula adopts the pretense of being a widower looking for a young Italian bride. The pretense is necessary so that Dracula can gain access to young girls—the particular kind of blood he needs is virgin blood. (This is part of why they choose Italy: because it's so religious the number of virgins per capita should, theoretically, be higher.)

Theoretically is the key word there. Dracula eventually settles on the Di Fiore family, an aristocratic family fallen on hard times and desperate to marry into a better lineage. They've got four young daughters, two of whom are in their prime marrying-off years:

Only problem is they've been sleeping, for some time, with the farmhand. Establishing this gives the movie plenty of opportunity to indulge in softcore episodes:

Dracula, of course, doesn't have access to these episodes, and so he spends the bulk of the movie fervidly machinating to get the girls alone and convincing himself of their virginity, only to drink their impure blood (a poison to him) and having to pay the consequences:

There's something ghoulish about watching Udo Kier vomit up stage blood, but also something comic about seeing Dracula presented so haplessly. In fact, at around this point the movie takes on something of the flavor of a sex farce, or even a dirty joke: did you hear the one about the vampire looking for a virgin? He goes to this farmhouse and meets these four beautiful daughters...

Just to add to the mix, the movie also throws in some elements of political allegory:

Yep, the farmhand is also a Communist. Since pretty much everybody else in the movie is an aristocrat, this gives him lots of opportunities to excoriate them, talking about how they'll all be up the creek once the revolution comes. This could pass for Morrissey's attempt to sneak in some radical prostelytizing if this guy weren't also presented as such a tremendous brute, seen again and again visiting violence upon the daughters:

So I don't know what's going on here. Either Morrissey is taking the same tack Robert Zemeckis took in Forrest Gump (1994)—where the radical male gets neutralized by also being a woman-hater—or he's guessing that the average soft-core filmgoer is going to identify with the male who is sexually dominant, and so making this figure the one who has the Marxist ideologies is actually intended a very, very sly bit of indoctrination. Your guess is as good as mine.

In conclusion: Blood for Dracula is a horror film that's not really scary, a sex farce that's neither funny nor particularly sexy, and a class-warfare allegory that has no coherent stance. So: a mess. But a unique mess, and worth seeing in that regard: I'm hard-pressed to think of another film like it. That said, Michael Almereyda's postmodern vampire film Nadja (1994) might give it a run for its money, so that'll be my pick for next week.

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