Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dracula in a Comedy Vein by Charles E. Butler/Final Day of Halloween Giveaways

Okay guys and ghouls!  The big day is finally here.  I want to thank all those who have stopped by to support the authors and enter the giveaways!  If you haven't entered, you have to 11 p.m. EST. Links are at the end of the post!  

Dracula - In a Comedy Vein!

By Charles E. Butler

First, I would like to thank Denise for asking me to write something for her blog. As my fanaticism is very limited, I find it harder to actually think what more to write about the canny Count? I thought that I would concentrate here on the movies that lean towards humour as opposed to the regular blood-letting. Nosferatu (1921) is a movie that is very, very dark. There are only a few shots of the monster, Graf Orlok, that survived the match that destroyed the original negatives way back in 1929. Played today, they take up around all of fifteen minutes. Although the film is my favourite vampire movie, it is creaky today and does send itself up for unintentional laughter. I would love an aspiring film maker to blend those snippets of film to happy music in the way Walt Disney did in the forties and fifties on his celebrated wildlife shorts. Max Schreck, bopping with his coffin under his arm, dancing to the strains of ‘grab your partners’,  is a surreal image that I just have to see…one day!

Now, more serious work.

Dracula was first parodied internationally in the  ground-breaking movie, Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein (1948), directed by Charles Barton for Universal. Fans queued around the block in England to see the new dynamic duo, advertised as A&C meet the Ghosts! The film itself had been assembled as straight horror with the title, The Brain of Frankenstein, but the studio’s new discovery had to be unleashed. As Lugosi pats Costello on the head - ‘What we need today, is young blood…and brains!’, his comic turn literally brought the house down. It is perhaps the last time that Lugosi was taken seriously in a movie. He would continue in comedy both intentional and unintentional, in such fare as Old Mother Riley meets The Vampire (1952) and Spooks Run Wild! Not forgetting of course, the very dire contributions of Edward D Wood Jr.

Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein had touched an impressive nerve and Lugosi gives his best performance as Dracula in Clown white make up and satin cape. The perfect straight-man foil for the bungling boys from burlesque. The comedy set a standard that would be repeated often in films like Fright Night (1985) and The Monster Squad (1987), in which Duncan Regehr’s very serious Count is laid out with garlic pizza! At the end of this scale is the bullseye from Stan Dragoti. Love At First bite (1979), is a wacky metaphor on urban life in Los Angeles, as the Count is ejected from his ancestral home by jack-booted authoritarians who want to turn the Castle into a training facility for the Country’s gymnastic prospects. When Dracula romances a hopeless nymphomaniac, he easily drags us into his broken world better than any of the serious ‘lost love’ movies that would follow, whilst still keeping his power and his dignity. Christopher Lee stressed that, ‘You may laugh at things in the film, but you never laugh at Dracula!’ All the above movies adhere to this quote.

“Oy, vey! Have you got the wrong Vampire!?” Alfie Bass shirks the crucifix with this quote in the biggest cult vampire movie, The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Directed by Roman Polanski, this schizoid addition to the myth hangs on a knife thread as many set pieces leave us wondering whether to be horrified, or to laugh out loud! He makes many nods to Stoker and previous vampire classics, and I got the impression that, although the film was heartfelt, he wasn’t totally at ease with the material and had his name taken from the credits when producer, Martin Ransohoff, re cut and re-edited his opus. It was Polanski’s version - titled, Dance of the Vampires - that gave the picture the adulation that it holds amongst fans today. A more notable movie of this period is the excellent Harvey Kurtzman brainchild, Mad Monster Party (1967), that has Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Creature From the black lagoon, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Invisble Man and Baron Boris Von Frankenstein on its roster of famous fright figures. Topping it all off with a guest spot by It, a sculpted Claymation mannekin of King Kong!

Christopher Lee himself, although he hated making many of his Dracula movies, has never laughed at his most famous creation. In 1959, he did a comedy titled Tempi Duri Per I VampireUncle Was A Vampire/Hard Times For A Vampire. In this Italian production, Lee was Baron Rodrigo who returns from the grave to bite his aristocratic cousin, Renato Rascel. Rascel begins imitating Bela Lugosi with fangs and indulging in some serious slapstick comedy. Lee’s next comedy vampire movie is the fabled Dracula, pere et fils/Dracula, Father and Son (1977), in which, despite the title, he is actually called Le Prince Des Tenebrae, a peri-wigged throwback of French Aristocracy.  Directed by La Cage Aux Folles Edouard Molinaro, it is the deplorably dubbed USA cut that announces Count Dracula as the real villain. The French release is a very amusing whimsical fantasy with Les Prince letting nagging brides walk into the sunlight without warning them first.

Throughout the 70s - who can forget David Niven as Dracula in the terrible Vampira/Old Dracula? Or Ferdy Mayne losing his trousers in The Vampire Happening?- and 80s, many movies touched on the vampire as straight comedy material such as Saturday the 14th , with husband and wife team Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss living in a house over-run by ghosts and vampires. Teen Vamp and Once bitten were very dire teen nerd comedies of the worst order. It is also hard to believe that Nicolas Cage was playing it straight in the oddball, Vampire’s Kiss. When Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula held a thousand unintentional laughs, it is no wonder that Mel Brooks found it a hard movie to send up. Winning the day as Van Helsing in the acting stakes, Brooks peppered his screenplay with some great one-liners, “Yes, we have Nosferatu! We have Nosferatu today!” Leslie Nielsen’s fatherly approach to everyone’s favourite Count wins simply because Nielsen is always amusing and watchable. The film itself finds very few things to laugh at.

As my typing commences, the cinema is opening its doors for the eagerly awaited Hotel Transylvania starring irritable slapstick comedian Adam Sandler as the voice of Count Dracula. As the film is lovingly animated in the The Incredibles mold, I can see a sure fire winner at the box office!

Charles E. Butler resides in the UK and is the author of The Romance of Dracula.  You can follow Charles and chat about the Count at this Facebook page: Count Dracula

Okay, kiddos!  Here are the links to all the Halloween Goodies!  It's easy as pumpkin pie to enter.  You just need to leave comments at the various posts or enter the Rafflecopters (for my Bitten By Books Giveaway and B.K. Walker's Halloween Basket. (These are run separately and have different rules so please check).  Leave a comment here for Charles and you'll be entered to win one of the five copies of Annals of the Immortyls I'm giving away!

Good Luck!


Freyasvin said...

Abbot and Costello...gawds, that takes me back. I never knew about so many comedies about the blood-sucker though. Thanks. I may have to watch some after work.

bn100 said...

How was your Halloween?

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing..