Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man/Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (1972)

‘Renato the hippie is sweating profusely.’

An elderly professor receives an anonymous death threat and asks advice from his niece’s boyfriend, the famous wrestler Santo. The academic believes the letter is linked to his family history and an ancient curse. When he suddenly vanishes, Santo calls in his old friend Blue Demon to help him investigate…

More South of the Border mayhem featuring the world’s favourite luchador tag-team, this time combining to face off against two icons of horror. Director Miguel M. Delgado referees from a script by Alfredo Salazar.

After a life spent hitting the books, Professor Luis Cristaldi (Jorge Mondragón) may have experienced the occasional difference of opinion on academic matters, but he’s certainly not used to getting threats in the mail. Unfortunately, he has reasons to take the warning seriously and is mainly concerned for his family; daughter Laura (María Eugenia San Martín), niece Lina (Nubia Martí) and granddaughter Rosita (Lissy Fields). The good news is that Martí’s current beau is none other than crimebusting, monster hunting, time-machine inventing Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata, and he’s happy to help. At a family crisis meeting, Mondragón reveals the source of his concern; 100 years ago, one of his ancestors defeated Dracula and the Wolf Man using the legendary Dagger of Boidros, which he is now gathering dust as an ornament on his bookcase.

That same night, Mondragón is kidnapped by hunchback Eric (Alfredo Wally Barrón) and taken to a subterranean cave where the disciple’s ancestors hid the coffins of Conde Drácula (Aldo Monti, reprising his role from earlier in the series) and Rufus Rex, El Hombre Lobo (Agustín Martínez Solares). Mondragón is duly hung upside down above each casket in turn, and his blood brings the monsters back to life. The deadly duo set about creating an army of vampires and lycanthropes to aid in their plot to revenge themselves against the remaining members of the Cristaldi family. Meanwhile, Santo has called in wrestling partner Blue Demon to help investigate the Professor’s disappearance, but little sleuthing is necessary. The monsters waste no time in putting their plans into action.

There’s little production information readily available about Santo’s film projects. More than 20 are credited as hitting the big screen between 1968 and 1973, but specific release dates are incomplete, even contradictory, making it nearly impossible to establish a clear order of production. It does seem, however, that there was an effort made at some stage during this period to market the great man as a star of serious horror films, beginning with ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1969), which was even released in a version with nudity. ‘The World of the Dead/Land of the Dead/El mundo del los muertos’ (1970) and ‘The Vengeance of the Vampire Women/La venganza de las mujeres vampiro’ (1970) were in a similar vein, but subsequent projects took on a softer approach. One of the problems with trying to present Santo’s adventures in horror as dark and edgy was rooted in Mexican cinema’s obsession with the classic Universal Monster cycle of the 1930s and 1940s. Vampires in capes and dinner jackets work in a fairytale Eastern Europe of gothic castles wreathed in creeping shadows, but not so much in the sunny streets and pueblos of modern-day Mexico.

The film opens, unsurprisingly, with Santo grappling in the square ring with a white-masked fighter called Ángel Blanco, supervised by international referee Roberto ‘Güero’ Rangel (playing himself!) The commentator (Enrique Llanes) cheerfully informs us that the bout is taking place in a ‘great arena in the capital city of Mexico’, which is ‘filled up to maximum capacity’. Unfortunately, all we get is a fixed shot of the entire ring from one side with a plain blue backdrop, and the vast crowd appear on the soundtrack only. International referee Rangel can’t prevent Ángel Blanco from fighting dirty, but Santo beats him down anyway. At one stage, we cut to Barrón in a shirt and tie, carrying on in his underground cave where two stone heads belch flames at regular intervals. These fireworks are always accompanied by heavy bursts of a church organ, which often emphasise the comedy of the situation. Sorry, I mean the horror. Obviously.

Santos girlfriend Martí has an uncle who received a written death threat from a group calling themselves ‘The Avengers’ (perhaps they’re going to bore him to death with endless CGI fight scenes?) This connects (somehow?!) with the usual generational curse because, of course, one of the Professor’s ancestors tangled with Dracula and the Wolf Man and defeated them, and his descendants will bear the brunt of the king vampire’s revenge. Santo takes the news in his stride, of course, because something like this comes up in his life every second Tuesday in the month, even more often when there’s a full moon. The dagger of Boidros will deal with the monsters, so Mondragón puts it on his 8-year-old granddaughters’ bedside table for safekeeping. Nothing could possibly go wrong there. The dagger works a little like a crucifix in a standard vampire film, although the script never fully commits to this idea.

Barrón hangs Mondragón upside down above Dracula’s coffin and uses his blood to revive the vampire in a ‘homage’ to Hammer’s ‘Dracula, Prince of Darkness’ (1966). The same procedure restores his werewolf lackey, Rufus Rex. The gore is all offscreen, but Mondragón’s blood-spattered corpse is still hanging there later on, which is the only time the film approaches Santo’s more serious excursions into horror. The evil duo begin recruiting an army of vampires and lycanthropes, Barrón lining them up for the operation in the caves of their underground lair. None of the recruits looks particularly happy about it, but then no one likes to queue, do they? Surprisingly, their grand plan to target the Cristaldi family doesn’t involve a full frontal assault but stealth and strategy. Post resurrection, werewolf Solares has reverted to his handsome human form, complete with a silk shirt, and the undead Monti assigns him to romance San Martín while he goes after Fields. One would like to think that’s because the 8-year-old is obviously a much more significant threat, rather than anything else, but the implications are far creepier than the filmmakers intended.

Most of the time, Monti’s Dracula turns out to be curiously passive, with Solares doing all the heavy lifting. The wolfman makes San Martín’s acquaintance by seeing off some supposed muggers in the street in a staged fight. Why not just kidnap her then and there? Well, because that ‘would be too easy’, of course! His oily charms soon won her over, though, and she’s not even phased by the fact that his name is Rufus Rex (yes, he doesn’t bother changing it!) Unfortunately for her, Solares is no Larry Talbot, instead being fully committed to the hairy lifestyle. Soon, San Martín is sacrificed offscreen beneath a fixed shot of the most unconvincing full moon ever committed to film, accompanied by some screams on the soundtrack. Although Santo’s cinematic adventures aren’t noted for their high production values, this effort does look better financed than most. However, this brief sequence and the bargain basement wrestling bouts feel very cheap and distinctly out of place. Also, given that blood-soaked shot of Mondragón’s hanging corpse, it is possible that the film initially also leaned toward serious horror, but these elements were removed in post-production.

Elsewhere, director Delgado displays a surprisingly acute visual sensibility. He creates some decent visual compositions rather than just pointing the camera at the action and letting it run. Unfortunately, there are still some goofy moments with rubber bats and a sequence where an old, scrawny vampire turns chatty family maid Josefina (Lourdes Batista). Presumably, this balding bloodsucker is one of the Count’s minions, but this is the first time we’ve seen him, and he doesn’t appear again. Logically, it should have been Monti carrying out the attack, and it’s interesting to speculate if the sequence was originally shot that way and later replaced. After all, he really has very little to do in the finished film.

By contrast, Martí is probably Santo’s most proactive girlfriend in the entire franchise. When the great man and Blue Demon are trapped in a warehouse and badly outnumbered, she rides in to save the day on a forklift! Mexican cinema was often ahead of the curve in portraying women in action roles, but the heroines in this series were usually little more than kidnap fodder and subjects for rescue. Also, shock horror, Santo actually gets to kiss her at one point, although, more often than not, the lovers prefer to bump noses (damn that mask!)

It’s pleasing to report that the film also has enough familiar elements to please hardcore fans of the legendary luchador’s cinematic antics. Monti and Solares show a blatant disregard for Health and Safety by having a giant pit of spikes in their cave headquarters because that seems like a good idea (clue: it isn’t!), and their army of the dead only numbers about a dozen. Mondragón and San Martín are part of this infernal task force because they are now zombies, which makes perfect sense. Barrón’s hunch and terrible facial scar both come and go and the latter moves around his face on command. Santo hilariously fails to convince us that he’s drinking a cup of coffee (damn that mask!), and events conclude with a tag team match where Santo and Blue take on El Blanco Angel and Renato the hippie, supervised by international referee Rangel. Renato fought Blue earlier in the film (against a red backdrop) and looks about as counterculture as a Sunday morning trip to your local garden centre. Both sides blatantly cheat, but the bad guys started it, and they cheat worse, so that’s ok.

Santo remains a legend in his native Mexico almost 40 years after his death, revered as a folk hero and champion of the common man. His wrestling career stretched from 1934 to his retirement in 1982, during which time he appeared in more than 50 films, battling monsters, spies, and international crimelords. Despite allegedly being the better wrestler, Compatriot Blue Demon never quite attained the level of Santo’s popularity. As well as backing up the great man on the big screen, he appeared in his own series of feature films from 1965 to 1979, often assisted by other famous luchadors of the day such as Mil Máscaras, Superzan and La Sombra Vengadora. In later life, he concentrated on passing his grappling skills on to younger fighters. Sadly, Rangel was forever typecast as an international referee and never acted again.

Truly a box of delights for the dedicated Santo fan. Everyone else? Well…just get with the programme, ok!?

The Empire of Dracula/El imperio de Drácula (1967)

‘They are living dead, bloodthirsty beings.’

With her final breath, a sick woman tells her son that his father died while ridding their castle of a nest of vampires many years earlier. He doesn’t believe her story, and takes possession of his ancestral home after her death anyway. However, the undead will not sleep quietly…

Another cinematic riff on the familiar Dracula story from South of the Border, directed on this occasion by Federico Curiel. For once, Bram Stoker’s name appears in the opening credits, but the author would not recognise a great deal in this adaptation beyond the central concept and a couple of nods to his original novel.

Attending the deathbed of his aged mother (Rebeca Iturbide), young engineer Luis Brener (César del Campo) receives an unexpected legacy. Unfortunately, it’s not a family heirloom or a secret map to hidden treasure, but a true life horror story. Iturbide tells him that his long-dead father (Víctor Alcocer) met his end while destroying the vampire, Baron Draculstein (Eric del Castillo). The young sceptic doesn’t credit her tale, of course, and takes wife Patricia (Lucha Villa), her sister Lily (Robin Joyce) and servant Diana (Ethel Carrillo) along for the ride when he reclaims his ancestral home.

However, as predicted by Iturbide, the time of Draculstein’s resurrection is fast approaching. Recently deceased servant Igor (Fernando Osés) is still galivanting around the countryside in a coach and four, running down unsuspecting sightseers. Kidnapping the better half of the couple concerned, he suspends her over del Castillo’s coffin and uses her blood to bring him back to life. After all those centuries dead, he’s a might peckish and sends a driverless coach out to collect del Campo and his party when their own vehicle cracks an axle. After his order of ‘Meals on Wheels’ rolls up at the castle, the Baron selects servant Carrillo off the menu. Meanwhile, the spate of recent deaths in the district has the local Police Inspector (Mario Orea) baffled. At the same time, his friend, Dr Wilson (Guillermo Zetina), believes them to be the handiwork of a ‘Vampire-Man’.

Horror was a highly popular genre in Mexican cinema in the late 1960s and an almost sure winner at the box office. So it is perhaps inevitable that some examples lack quality in the flood of productions that reached theatres at that time. Curiel’s film is little more than a scribble of a movie, trotting out the familiar vampire tropes via a slapdash script from industry newcomer Ramón Obón. There is insufficient establishment of the story’s basic set-up, logical inconsistencies, and several elements that feel unfinished. The most obvious example of the latter revolves around Joyce’s character being mute. The only discussion of her condition is some passing dialogue delivered by del Campo to the effect that a change of scene may encourage her to speak again. No cause for her impairment is ever given, and it has almost no impact on the plot whatsoever.

Aficionados of Hammer Studios will also recognise a couple of obvious lifts from ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ (1966) in the story as described above. The arrival of the driverless carriage and Osés’ method of resurrecting his undead master are the most direct. There is some effort to create new lore, though, with mandrake substituting for garlic and the crucifix as a weapon to fight evil. Helpfully, Alcocer had planted a garden with it before his death, but holding out a fistful of drooping greenery to ward off the undead is somewhat less impressive cinematically than using a holy relic. There’s also the unusual conceit of the vampiric Carrillo passing through a mirror to move between chambers in the castle and a nice callback to Stoker’s original novel in the film’s final scene.

However, where the project really falls down is in the execution. In the flashback sequence at the start of the film, we see Alcocer and del Castillo in the throes of their climactic deathmatch. Despite being bereft of garlic, holy water, crucifix or mandrake, the portly, older man repeatedly fights off the vampire as they grapple around the castle, even pushing him to the ground at one point. Eventually, the dying Alcocer tears down a curtain and bathes the room in sunlight. Rather than attempt to escape, del Castillo cowers in the corner under his cape, waiting to be staked! Later on, after his resurrection, he flees from an altercation on the road. Rather than escape by changing into a bat or vanishing in a puff of smoke, he runs off into the woods in a shot that Curiel holds for far too long. All of this doesn’t really sell him as an overwhelming supernatural threat.

First-billed Villa (playing the hero’s wife, in case you’ve forgotten) is entirely surplus to requirements, with her character fulfilling no role apart from occasional exchanges of inessential dialogue. Del Campo’s hero is wonderfully stupid, simply dismissing every supernatural occurrence with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders before doing a complete 180 after a five-minute chat with Van Helsing stand-in Zetina. Also, puffing smoke in front of a model of a castle does not make it look any less like a model, although it has to be acknowledged that it’s a long way from the worst miniature in film history. But perhaps the biggest talking point of the film is why has ‘Dracula’ become ‘Draculstein’? It’s not down to the English subtitles; the Spanish dialogue is clearly using that name. It would be tempting to put this down to a legal issue of some kind; only the film’s Spanish title uses the original name. Perhaps shooting took place before the necessary permissions had cleared.

The film’s only quality element proves to be an outstanding score by composer Gustavo César Carrión. Opening with some appropriately brutal gothic piano, elsewhere, he favours a minimalistic approach that evokes the atmosphere completely lacking in Curiel’s flat direction. The orchestra bursts into life during the action scenes in an attempt to inject some urgency into the rather flaccid proceedings, and, if not totally successful, it’s a valiant effort. Carrión had an output that rivals legendary workaholic Ennio Morricone, with almost 350 film scores to his name, over 100 in the 1960s alone. Other work included ‘The World of the Vampires/El Mundo de los vampiros’ (1961), The Witch’s Mirror/El espejo de la bruja’ (1962), ‘The Brainiac/El barón del terror’ (1962), ‘Blue Demon Versus the Infernal Brains/Blue Demon contra cerebros infernales’ (1968) and ‘Santo and the Blue Demon vs. the Monsters/Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos’ (1970) as well as other more mainstream projects.

Curiel began his career with ‘Neutrón, el enmascarado negro’ (1960), one of the earliest pictures to pit a masked wrestler against the forces of evil. Subsequent projects included more in that series and some projects starring the nation’s favourite warrior of the square ring, El Santo. These included some of his more grounded earlier adventures, such as ‘Santo in the Hotel of Death/Santo en el hotel de la muerte’ (1963) as well as more outlandish escapades like ‘The Vengeance of the Vampire Women/La venganza de las mujeres vampiro’ (1970). Screenwriter Obón also featured in the future of wrestling’s ‘Man in the Silver Mask’ contributing scripts for the rather embarrassing ‘Santo vs. the Killers from Other Worlds/Santo contra Los asesinos de otros mundos’ (1973), the far better ‘Santo vs. the She-Wolves/Santo vs. las lobas’ (1976) and working on late entry ‘The Fist of Death/El puño de la muerte’ (1982). He also wrote several films featuring other well-known luchadors, including Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras and La Sombra Vengadora.

A weak and disappointing effort, enlivened by an excellent musical score but not much else.

They Have Changed Their Face/Hanno cambiato faccia (1971)

‘Can you show me the way to the Villa Nosferatu?’

An engineer working for a motor company gets an unexpected invitation to meet with the firm’s secret owner. Travelling to the remote mountain villa where he lives, the eager employee finds himself thrust into a strange adventure where he is forced to confront the true nature of the society in which he lives…

Unusual Italian update of the ‘Dracula’ story from director and co-writer Corrado Farina that uses vampirism as a platform for some surprisingly prescient social commentary. Some sources list this film as a Giallo, but it has nothing in common with that sub-genre of twisted horror thrillers beyond the country of origin and year of production.

Young engineer Alberto Valle (Giuliano Esperati) is doing good work for the M Motor A. He has his own office, a secretary and a busy work calendar. Still, he’s more than a little surprised when a series of meetings with the chain of senior management culminates with an invitation to visit the company’s owner, Giovanni Nosferatu (Adolfo Celi). Esperati didn’t even know he existed, let alone that he was a recluse living in a luxurious, isolated mountain chateau. Running out of petrol on the way, he finds the inhabitants of a local village predictably unfriendly to strangers but does pick up free-spirited hitchhiker Laura (Francesca Modigliani).

Arriving at the villa, he goes in alone and is met by Celi’s right-hand woman, Corinna (Geraldine Hooper). Despite her absence of eyebrows, she seems friendly enough and informs her that his host won’t be coming down for dinner (no surprise, there!) Yes, this is a modernised take on Jonathan Harker’s visit to Castle Dracula in the first few chapters of Bram Stoker’s world-famous novel, but this is far from a straight adaptation. Rather than live as a recluse content to snack on the occasional passing tourist, Celi has turned his wealth into a vast business empire.

To his profound shock, Esperati is offered the CEO position at his company and, with a burgeoning relationship with Hooper, everything couldn’t be better. The edge comes off a bit when she tells him that it’s her job to have sex with any guest but that she does like doing it with him more than anyone else. Further disappointment follows when he finds a nursery of babies in the depths of the building. It’s weird, and things get more bizarre when he opens the register of infants. There’s his name and his baby photographs, along with his life history so far.

The analogy of vampirism to capitalism, the consumer culture and the resulting abolition of free will is a very interesting idea. Given developments over the past half-century, the concept seems remarkably on point. It’s just a shame that a modern-day audience will probably find much of the material rather obvious now and lacking in subtlety. Naming Celi’s character ‘Nosferatu’ gives an idea of how ‘on the nose’ the film can be. Of course, it’s probable that recognition of the name would not have come so readily to the majority of viewers at the time, and the evil machinations of global corporations were not such common knowledge as they are now.

The corporate world provides the opportunity for some fine satire when Celi’s fellow conspirators assemble for his company board meeting. One team member gets in trouble because workers at his plant are reading books on the toilet during their breaks, and reading is banned. Another because two workers at his contraceptive factory have been filmed having sex. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but the woman has become pregnant as a result. Copulation is permissable, procreation is not. Finally, Celi’s solution to the poor sales of a detergent not popular with the public due to environmental concerns is not to rejig the ingredients as suggested but to repackage the exact same product with an eco-friendly design, name and marketing campaign.

So, the script by Farina and co-author Giulio Berruti is intelligent, witty and has something to say. Where the film falls a little short is with story development and structure. Unfortunately, very little happens after Esperati reaches the villa. Holding back revelations regarding Celi’s true nature is only effective if the audience is unaware of them. A halfway knowledgeable one will know what he is almost from the start. If it’s not the ‘Nosferatu’ name, then the sequences of Esperati asking for directions in the peasant village also reveal the secret. The villagers won’t speak, old women cross themselves, and a priest tells him to get out. Again, it’s not subtle.

The structure becomes a problem when almost the entire second act asks us to invest in the developing love affair between Esperati and Hooper. It’s just not very gripping, and there’s a sudden disconnect when Celi’s 10-minute board meeting arrives in one solid lump towards the end of the film. Hooper may be taking the minutes, but Esperati is absent, having apparently given his apologies. These issues are reflected to a lesser extent elsewhere and result in no consistent narrative flow or sense of escalating threat, and the conclusion when it comes, although smart, is a little too predictable.

However, there’s still a lot to enjoy. Rather than bathe the screen in the gaudy rainbow of colours favoured by Italian movies of the time, cinematographer Aiace Parolin casts everything in a pale, washed-out half-light. This is particularly effective in the brief scenes that take place in the fog-wreathed mountain village. Celi’s mansion is also pleasingly minimalist with spartan, sterile interiors and furniture and utilities that play audio advertisements when used. That might not make much sense, Celi explains that it’s for market research, but it’s undeniably clever and funny. The script also gives us a dialogue exchange when Esperati threatens to expose Celi’s secret, but the tycoon isn’t concerned. He owns all the newspapers and the government.

Neither Farina nor Berruti had a long career in movie making. The former directed mostly short subjects and documentaries, his only other feature being cult horror ‘Baba Yaga’ (1973) starring former Hollywood starlet Carrol Baker. Berruti worked as an editor more often than a writer but fulfilled both script and directing duties on two films, the second being the controversial ‘The Killer Nun’ (1979) with Anita Ekberg. Hooper also has less than ten credits, with her only featured roles apparently being in this film and as a supporting player in Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red/Profondo Rosso (1975). Of course, Celi will always be celebrated for a long, starry career in European cinema, particularly as Bond villain Largo opposite Sean Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965).

An unusual slice of horror and social commentary that manages the neat trick of being strangely prescient and oddly dated. Worth seeking out if you fancy something a little different.

Full Moon of the Virgins/The Devil’s Wedding Night/ll Pleniluno Delle Vergini (1973)

Full Moon of the Virgins (1973)‘Do your architectural investigations always begin with an inspection of ancient crypts, Mr Schiller?’

An amateur archaeologist tracks down the location of a supernatural ring to Dracula’s castle, but his irresponsible twin brother sets out to reach it first. When he arrives, he finds the estate owned by a beautiful Countess, but it turns out that she remains immortal by bathing in the blood of seven virgins every 30 years…

Somewhat underpowered Euro-Horror from director Luigi Batzella (credited as Paolo Solvay) which looks pretty good but lacks both a compelling plot and interesting characters. The story focuses on twins Karl and Franz Schiller (Mark Damon), one a serious academic, the other a suave ‘man about town’ who already looks a bit like a vampire with his black cloak and pale complexion. Karl has been hitting the (dusty) books and has tracked down the legendary ring that was the subject of Wagner’s famous music cycle. Apparently, it originally arrived on Earth as part of a meteorite and has been in the possession of every famous warlord in history; Atilla the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, among others. And now it’s fetched up at Castle Dracula. How he knows all this is a bit of a mystery, but, you know…books!

Anyway, Franz fancies a bit of this as the ring endows the owner with unearthly and superhuman powers, so he hotfoots it for the Carpathians with the hapless Karl in eventual pursuit. Franz gets the usual cold shoulder when he mentions ‘Castle Dracula’ at the local inn, but things seem to be looking up when he finds the Castle in the possession of the Countess De Vries (the luminous Rosalba Neri) who asks him to stay for a dinner that may include her for desert. Vampires! A supernatural ring! Rosalba Neri! It’s enough to make any cult movie fan start having palpitations!

Unfortunately, what the film delivers is a rather lacklustre remake of the opening chapters of Bram Stoker’s original novel followed by an underwhelming climax. Franz is just a stand in for solicitor Jonathan Harker; finding himself locked in his room at the castle, climbing out the window, creeping down cobwebbed passages, finding coffins in the crypt and stumbling across a vampire bride. Eventually, he’s attacked by some psychedelic visuals (as well as Neri, which was probably a lot more fun) and it’s up to ‘good twin’ Karl to try and save the day. This is all fine as far as it goes but the pace is very slow and the final action isn’t helped by some truly dreadful SFX, which would have been best left on the cutting room floor.

Full Moon of the Virgins (1973)

‘Excuse me, but do you know the way to Castle Dracula?’

As per most Euro-horrors of the period, the castle is appropriately gothic and there’s rich colour cinematography from Aristide Massaccesi (later to direct dozens of exploitation pictures under many aliases, the best known being Joe D’Amato). Neri looks as amazing as ever and her performance is perfectly adequate but it lacks the spark of her best work. Perhaps she was getting a little tired of the generic roles coming her way at the time.

But the main problem here is the script, which is credited to three separate authors. After the first act, the story never really develops, becoming simply a series of predictable events padded out with occasional trippy visuals and a smattering of nudity and gore, including Neri writhing about naked in a bath of blood (which is nice). Even at less than 90 minutes, proceedings seem remorselessly padded.

Damon retired from acting in 1997 but was far better known as producer by then anyway. Beginning in the 1970s, he began hitting his stride with family science fiction pictures in the following decade, including ‘The NeverEnding Story’ (1984), ‘Short Circuit’ (1986) and ‘Flight of The Navigator’ (1986). Since then his name has been attached to a variety of projects; everything from the tame erotica of ‘Wild Orchid’ (1989) to hopeless horror ‘Feardotcom’ (2002) to real-life drama ‘Monster’ (2003), which snagged an Oscar for Charlize Theron.

So, is the film just an excuse to see some tried and trusted horror tropes spiced up with a little bit of blood and some beautiful women with no clothes on? Yes, of course, it is. But it’s not really anything more.

The Return of Dracula/The Fantastic Disappearing Man (1958)

The Return of Dracula (1958)‘The flesh is only an illusion. The heart beats only when it is drunk with blood.’

Fleeing from vampire hunters, Count Dracula crosses the ocean to the United States, taking the identity of an exiled painter. ingratiating himself with the murdered man’s relatives, he begins planning a new reign of terror, but his pursuers are not far behind…

There’s little doubt that this modest b-picture from United Artists was rushed into theatres after Britain’s Hammer Studios hit box office gold with their new version of ‘Dracula’ (1958) a few months earlier. After all, this was the first time an American studio had revisited the character since John Carradine turned to dust in ‘House of Dracula’ (1945), the last of Universal’s Classic Monster Cycle. If you ignore the time he tangled with Abbott and Costello, of course!

Here the Count turns up in the person of Prague-born actor Francis Lederer, who vanishes from his cemetery crib somewhere in Europe just before our wannabe Van Helsing (John Wengraf) turns up with his stake, a cross and the forces of law and order. A quick spot of ‘light lunch’ on the train, and our toothsome hero is appearing out of thin air at a train station in small town USA. He’s met by Greta Granstedt and her family, who believe him to be her cousin Bellac Gordal. They haven’t seen him in many years (which is handy) and he’s also had the foresight not to label any of his luggage as belonging to ‘Count Alucard’ so his deception is a complete success!

The Return of Dracula (1958)

‘This will stop you biting your nails…’

What follows is a predictable series of developments from screenwriter Pat Fielder. Lederer shows more than a fatherly interest in daughter of the house Norma Eberhardt while blind brunette Virginia Vincent serves him as a quick appetiser. The complacent Granstedt accepts Lederer’s reclusive behaviour with indulgent smiles, while baking apple pie in her kitchen and gently scolding irritating young brat Jimmy Baird.

Of course Eberhardt gets her head turned by the tall, dark stranger and becomes increasingly frustrated with insensitive boyfriend Ray Stricklyn, who drives an open top jalopy and probably plays on the high school football team. Yes, all the clichés of 1950s American life are here but it’s noticeable how little they affect the story, which could just as easily be taking place in Victorian London or 19th Century Europe. Still, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time the Vampire King appeared in the modern day and it does avoid any clumsy attempts to ‘update’ the legend, such as demonstrated in Hammer’s unfortunate ‘Dracula A.D.1972’ (1972). The one concession the film does makes to its contemporary setting is to have two high school teenagers as the hero and heroine, but this sign of the genre’s future is not as groundbreaking as it might have been. Eberhardt was 29 at the time of shooting and Stricklyn was 30!

What we get instead is a fairly unambitious, minor project but not one without points of interest and some things to enjoy. For a start, there are the performances. Lederer is a very persuasive Count, oozing an oily, old world charm that softens the stateliness of Lugosi’s portrayal and the removed, noble bearing of Lee. Lederer is a vampire who has moved with the times, learnt how to blend in and hide in plain sight. Perhaps he’s a little too refined to be an impoverished artist, but his conduct and behaviour attract little suspicion at first. He’s likeable, if a little remote. Although only boasting a brief movie career, Eberhardt holds her own in their scenes together, which is crucial to maintain audience investment in her fate. The other players, particularly the suave Wengraf, also provide solid support.

The film’s other main virtue is the Hollywood hills. Although it seems unlikely as a venue for such a tale, the bleak landscapes and abandoned mine workings prove to be an unusual and engaging backdrop. Director Paul Landres also exhibits some nifty camera moves, and conjures a notable scene where we’re not sure if Eberhardt is dreaming of Dracula or getting bitten (and I’m still not entirely sure!) The SFX are small scale but efficient and it’s nice to see a vampire making a kill in the form of a large white dog, instead of as a plastic bat on a wobbly string. However, some of the ‘day for night’ shooting is a little unconvincing and we do briefly catch a glimpse of Lederer’s shadow on the ground.

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Smoking in bed was a dangerous habit…

The main flaw is the lack of originality and there are also some moments that strain credibility. Wengraf is an agent of the ‘European Police Authority’ (whatever that is!) and one flash of his badge seems to be sufficient to get everyone in authority believing in the undead almost without question.

Additionally, the family crypt containing Lederer’s new bride is surprisingly spacious and, by the looks of it, has a very efficient cleaning crew. Finally, Eberhardt finds all of Lederer’s canvases are blank when he’s supposed to have been out painting all day. Apart from one that shows her lying in her coffin! It doesn’t make any real sense and it’s a pretty cheap shot, but I guess it looked good in the trailer.

Overall this is only a rather modest and mildly diverting picture, but it is anchored by an excellent central performance and a decent supporting cast.

Doctor Dracula (1978)

Doctor Dracula (1978)‘A prescription of terror – blood donors wanted!’

The reincarnated spirit of Svengali occupies the body of an academic, writes a bestselling book about it, and becomes a celebrity. Some local Satanists try to grab a piece of the action while Dracula cruises the local bars for victims posing as a psychiatrist…

As is often the case in the world of low-budget cinema, the origins and circumstances surrounding this production are somewhat obscure. Apparently, it began life as ‘Lucifer’s Wives’ (1974), a low-budget film about devil worship, directed by Paul Aratow with technical advice from Anton LaVey. He was a well-known occultist, founder of the Church of Satan, and author of ‘The Satanic Bible.’ However, despite the existence of press and advertising material, it seems likely that the film was never completed. The footage was picked up by notorious exploitation director Al Adamson, who shot new scenes in 1978 with a fresh cast including old friend John Carradine. Brand new plot elements including Count Dracula and re-incarnation were also introduced, and the finished product finally saw the light of day in 1981.

Inevitably, the results are a little muddled. The film opens with a demonstration by Larry Hankin, who claims to be the reincarnation of Svengali. This involves hypnotising a room filled with people as he saws a woman in half. Already things seem to be a little confused. After all, wasn’t Svengali a fictional character, rather than a real person? And was he supposed to have a magic act? Never mind. After all, the suave psychiatrist in the crowd (played by Geoffrey Land) seems to be none other than Count Dracula and he was fictional too, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. Also presents are some satanists led by John Carradine (who compiled this guest list?!) and Regina Carroll who wants to find out the truth behind her mother’s murder (hint: there were two strange puncture marks in her neck). Oh, and Svengali’s publisher is another reincarnatee who needs to move on from his sick body. He rather likes the look of Jane Brunel-Cohen, but the man whose body Svengali is using rather likes her too…and so on. Confused yet?

Doctor Dracula (1978)

‘What do you mean I’m fictional?’

Unfortunately, if this all sounds like a recipe for a ‘so bad, it’s good’ experience, then think again. It’s just rather dull. Even throwing in some satanic rituals (presumably from ’Lucifer’s Wives’) fails to liven things up, and a family reunion between Carroll and the corpse of her dead mother also ignites few sparks. The acting is generally rather poor, the dialogue never gets beyond the usual claptrap, and the camerawork is lifeless and static.

Unusually for this kind of film, there is actually too much going on, rather than too little, and there seems to be no excuse for it, given that there seems to be limited footage from ‘Lucifer Wives’ to stitch into the narrative. Dropping either the Dracula or the Svengali angle and focusing on the one that remained would have helped, but there were probably circumstances that dictated the inclusion of both; availability of actors/money, etc.

Carradine gets more screen-time than in some of his appearances of the period, but doesn’t actually do very much, apart from pontificate at ritzy parties. Land’s Count is handsome but has zero charisma, and, although Hankin’s wide-eyed performance as the legendary mesmerist provides what little entertainment there is, it’s hardly award winning. He did go onto bits in some huge hits, though, most notably ‘Home Alone’ (1990), Billy Madison (1995), and ‘Pretty Woman’ (1990).

Adamson did a lot, lot worse than this; ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970) and ‘Dracula Vs Frankenstein’ (1971), but rarely was he this dull. When Svengali tells Carroll to ‘Look into my eyes, you are getting very sleepy’ we know exactly what how she feels.

Count Dracula’s Great Love (1972)

Count_Dracula's_Great_Love_(1973)‘The old sanitarium will be coming into view real soon now…’

After a stagecoach accident on a mountain road, a group of young tourists are forced to take shelter in an isolated sanatorium which has just been bought by an Austrian doctor. He proves to be a charming host; however, in reality, he has his own agenda…

Paul Naschy (real name Jacinto Molina) was a horror star in Spain and mainland Europe, whose career was at its peak in the 1970s. He was most famous for playing werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in a long running series of films, but had allegedly also played the other classic Universal monsters (uncredited) in the ridiculous ‘Assignment Terror’ (1970). Returning to the role of the most famous vampire of them all, here he came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay; which has a couple of unusual twists on the more familiar legend.

This begins as a fairly standard vampire film. The touring group comprises one guy and four hot young women (who would have guessed?) and their reception from the suave doctor is appropriately charming. But we’ve already seen two labourers come to a sticky end when delivering a mysterious crate (wonder what was in that?) and the doc’s lack of alternative transportation is predictably suspicious. The vampire effects are pretty laughable when they arrive, but are kept to a minimum early on and there are a few quite creepy moments. Also there’s some girl-on-girl bloodsucking action as the film nods its head in the vague direction of Hammer Studio’s excellent ’The Vampire Lovers’ (1970) and Jesús Franco’s ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1971).

Through no fault of his own, Naschy isn’t a great fit for Dracula; being well-built, dark and full in the face. Physically, he’s far more suited to his lycanthropic pastimes, in much the same way as Lon Chaney Jr, who never quite looked the part as the ‘Son of Dracula’ (1943). The supporting cast struggle to make much of an impression, although Rosanna Yanni has a nice line in sarcasm. The wild, forested locations are quite impressive, but we don’t see enough of the old sanatorium. It’s a location with plenty of atmospheric possibilities, but few of these are realised. It might be any old abandoned big house.

However, there is a far more serious problem. The English language version of the film is atrociously dubbed, and appears to have been edited by our old friend; the blind man with a chainsaw. This isn’t too obvious over the first hour; with the action building slowly until the point where most of the girls have grown fangs and adopted blood as their beverage of choice. After that, however, the final half hour seems to have been cut down from footage that may have lasted twice as long. Day follows night and night follows day at such an alarming rate that it appears the Earth may have spun off its axis. Scenes are laughably short, and the film disintegrates into almost complete incoherence.


It was going to be a Cruel, Cruel Summer…

Suddenly, there’s some palaver about using the blood of village virgins to revive Countess Dracula (the old man’s daughter), but this seems to have popped in from another film, as it’s the first we’ve heard about it. Worse still, we never get any sense of the developing relationship between Dracula and pretty young Haydée Politoff which is central to the plot and informs the film’s unusual climax. Without that, the ending just comes across as a bit silly.

Many Spanish horrors of the period suffered from collapsing budgets; the final results often being fragmentary and confusing. Perhaps that was what happened here; but it looks far more likely that the film was casually butchered to fit a 90 minute slot on stateside release. The footage that remains isn’t of a quality that suggests a lost classic by any means; merely a different take on an old tale, made with serious intentions. But it would be nice to see the film in a more complete version.

Drakula lstanbul’da/Dracula In lstanbul (1953)

Drakula_Istanbul'da_(1953)‘I read your book on vampires. I think Miss Sadan is a sucker.’

A young lawyer travels to Transylvania to close a business deal with the mysterious aristocrat, Count Dracula, only to find that the local villagers live in fear of him and shun his castle. Later on, after spending a few days enjoying the not so nobleman’s form of hospitality, he finds out why…

Fairly stately and faithful adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic, which offers little new and delivers it on a fairly limited budget. The most obvious shortcoming of this lack of finance is that we see nothing of the Count’s trip from the Carpathians to lstanbul (bravely standing in for Whitby), we only hear of a shipwreck and the mysterious deaths of the crew. Similarly, set dressing is rather minimal, which works fine for the early castle scenes, of course, but is somewhat less effective later on.

The only real departure plot-wise from the novel concerns the heroine, played by Annie Ball. She has a few other credits and there’s no biographical information to suggest otherwise, but obviously her name could have been anglicised in anticipation of a possible release overseas. Here, she is a dancer at a local theatre, engaging in some pretty tame ‘follies’ rather brilliantly sponsored by ‘Minerva Sewing Machinery’! In fact, the Count likes her performances so much that he demands a private show, although this does tend to make him look like a dirty old lech rather than the king of the vampires.

The Count also gets a strange servant in the castle scenes; a weird looking man with bushy facial hair and a huge nose, although exactly who he is supposed to be remains unclear. He’s standing in for Renfield of course but, as he doesn’t make it out of Transylvania, his presence seems rather pointless. The one definite nod to the novel is that the Count (in the person of Atif Kaptan) is a much older man than usual, with white hair (what’s left of it).


The dentist had already left town…

Elsewhere the film has as much in common with F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) as it does the all-conquering version starring Bela Lugosi as ’Dracula’ (1931). The vamp is interrupted mid-bite by a cock crow, the lid of his coffin replaces itself while he rests inside and a few shots of the lawyer’s approach to the castle are partly shown in negative – all elements of the earlier German classic.

But, despite their mutual – and completely blatant – disregard for copyright law (Stoker doesn’t even appear in the credits here!), there’s no record of this version falling into the same kind of legal swamp that threatened to destroy ‘Nosferatu’ (1922).

Unfortunately, what it has in common with the 1931 version is the theatrical staging and a very laboured pace, not assisted by the 102 minute running time. Kaptan makes very little impression in the title role, the SFX techniques are pretty basic (Dracula’s fangs aren’t even straight!) and the ending is a total anti-climax. The print that I saw also had some rather dodgy English subtitles which leant an unfortunate comedic aspect to proceedings: ‘Doctors are suspicious of brain shivering’,’Therefore, write three emails now and get prepared’, and, referring to the Van Helsing character, ‘He is the best shriek in Turkey and Western Europe’!

A curiosity then, with neither enough money nor talent involved to overcome a suffocating lack of originality. Probably the story behind the making of the film is far more interesting than the film itself.