From one end of the spectrum to the other. BBC turned Dracula into an adolescent schoolboy who just wanted to play well with others. Makes sense that someone else would experiment with turning Count Dracula into an aging, lecherous creeper. And you know what? Someone did!Old Dracula (1974) features David Niven, of all people, as a dirty old vampire–Hugh Hefner with fangs, if you will. A thoroughly Seventies concept, and one that should remain in that decade. Let me just declare up front that this film has finally cured me of watching random Dracula films. I’m planning a handful of summary posts to pick over the numerous sequels from Hammer and Universal, and we’ll leave it at that. Let all unknown quantities remain unknown, for this film proves that Dracula has been done to un-death. That said, let’s strip the flesh from this carcass.
It’s the Swinging Seventies, and spry old Count Dracula trades on his infamy by hosting groups of tourists at his castle, celebrating vampire kitsch. The kicker? The Count’s a genuine bloodsucker and he extracts blood from tourists to fuel his own experiments. He and his servant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) seek a perfect match to transfuse the Count’s comatose wife, who has been laid low for decades by blood from an anemic peasant. A transfusion from a black tourist transforms the Countess into a black woman named Vampira (Teresa Graves)–because yeah, that’s exactly how blood works. This development leads to a predictable litany of racist humor right up until the final frame. Go, Seventies. Vampira is done with sleeping and wants to go out disco dancing, but the Count is a wet blanket despite (or perhaps because of) ogling Playboy centerfolds at every opportunity. Woohoo, Seventies. Dracula enlists a young tourist named Marc (Nicky Henson) to collect new blood samples from nubile lasses in an attempt to restore Countess Vampira to her white skin color. Oof. Several incomprehensible developments later, Vampira bites Dracula and turns him black, too, so they can fly off to Rio in time for Carnival. No, I’m not making any of this up. Drugs, bare breasts, psychedelic music, David Niven in blackface. You know whether this is your decade or not.I’ve commented before on Seventies films and their language and attitudes. Some find them offensive while others feel they’re refreshingly honest. I consider them an awkward mixture of the two, and too self-conscious to be enjoyable. Not that there’s much to like here sans offensive humor. British director Clive Donner and writer Jeremy Lloyd truly laid an egg with this one. Niven slums his way through the material with some charm, but no explanation is given as to why the Count is elderly. I expected some sort of comment on ageism, but the main reason appears to be that David Niven was somehow blackmailed into taking the role, so Dracula became elderly. The film’s never bad enough to merit enjoyment, it’s just bad without qualification. Skip. If you jones for some Niven, go find a Pink Panther film instead.
And with that I’m closing the door on random Dracula movies. I’ve seen enough duds in a row recently to convince me we’ve found the gems and are left with coffee grounds. I plan on blasting through the various Hammer and Universal sequels before driving a stake through this project, but otherwise we’re ready for sunrise.
Old Dracula squeezes out 0.25 out of 2 fangs out. Pulse is dropping rapidly.
Next up: The sequels!