Friday, June 30, 2017

184. Mama Dracula

184. Mama Dracula (1980)
Director: Boris Szulzinger
Writers: Pierre Sterckx, Boris Szulzinger, Marc-Henri Wajnberg, with English dialogue by Tony Hendra
From: Drive-In
Countess Dracula, a vampire who survives by bathing in the blood of virgins, becomes a patron of the scientist Professor Van Bloed in hopes of developing a synthetic blood that will protect her immortality.
We start with Van Bloed (pronounced “Blood” which indicates the caliber of comedy here) doing a mad scientist rant while petting a bunny. He’s trying to develop synthetic blood. His work must have caught someone’s attention because he’s been invited to the “Congress of Blood” to share his findings. He sets out immediately and we’re given a montage of boats coming into Ellis Island, punctuated by a shot of the Statue of Liberty growing fangs. That’s the only time we get animation like this so I don’t know why the moment is there.

Nor do I know why we’re being shown boats around New York when Van Bloed is going to Transylvania. That was my first point of confusion. The movie seemed to be set in modern day America, and then it’s in a seemingly medieval Eastern Europe. Turns out it was just sloppy editing. The movie takes place in modern Transylvania.

Van Bloed arrives at the castle of Countess Dracula where he’s immediately harried by twin vampires (the Wajnberg brothers who play it very broad and later do an extended Vaudeville-style mirror routine where they mimic each other’s actions) and is saved at the last minute by the Countess. She reveals that there is no Congress, but she wants to support his work to the tune of $1,000,000. He accepts.

And from here the movie should be him growing suspicious of what’s going on and who his patrons are, but it doesn’t. Instead we see the Countess and her two vampire servants running a high-fashion shop called Vamp from which they kidnap virgins. The virgins are kidnapped from the changing room which gives the movie many opportunities for cheap nudity, which it takes advantage of. They finally reveal to Van Bloed that they’re vampires and he’s completely on board, growing into more of a Renfield character. He gets frustrated in his work and demands ten virgins to complete the project. The twins get to work on gathering them.

Halfway through the movie, the Inspector shows up, but he’s a buffoon and it’s really his female assistant who’s doing all the work. These, I guess, are supposed to be our heroes, but it’s still not clear. Whose story are we following? Whose goals do we want to see fulfilled?

The assistant inspector catches the attention of the vampires and Van Bloed so they kidnap her. While she’s confined, the Countess visits her and seemingly convinces her to become a vampire. I think. This whole part is unclear.

The Inspector apologizes to the Countess for all the unrest and suspicion around her and she tells him to invite all the townspeople to the castle for the twin’s fashion show where they’ll be unveiling their new designs. The mob arrives and… is really impressed by the fashion. While the show’s going on, the assistant inspector starts chasing one of the twins because she’s been turned, I think (?), and Van Bloed perfects his synthetic blood formula. The assistant inspector chases one twin across the stage, Van Bloed comes forward to announce his success, and the vampires announce to everyone that they are vampires and now, thanks to the blood, everyone can be vampires and live forever. The townspeople erupt in applause.

The coda is the assistant inspector as the new Countess marries both the twins and they have a brood of baby vampires. The final shot is Van Bloed, gray and old, taking their picture while the original Countess says the picture is, as always with him, too red. THE END.

This is a strange film. It’s trying to be a farce, but it’s never clear what it’s a farce of. It also doesn’t have a traditional protagonist/antagonist situation. In fact, there’s never really a hero or main character. It’s just a muddle of stuff. It’s obviously trying to be a comedy on one level, but the kind of jokes it’s trying to tell is never clear. The movie ranges from being cartoonishly slapstick with the Inspector constantly falling over and shouting “Sabotage!” to weirdly bawdy with a woman who keeps trying to lose her virginity to be protected from the Countess. When she finally does, an orgy breaks out causing the building she’s in to literally explode. Then the investigation starts halfway through, but it’s not clear if that’s just supposed to be another opportunity for comedy or is part of a rising threat to Van Bloed’s work or the Countess.

It is, admittedly, kind of fun to see Van Bloed when he’s investigating or getting deep into his experiments. The actor looks like a cross between Buster Keaton and Annie Lennox, and the movie’s at its best when he’s being androgynous and New Wave-y. When he gets into his more slapsticky bits, including a scene where he’s essentially doing a silly walk, the Keaton resemblance is clearer and the movie’s weaker. That tends to be true for the movie as a whole: When it’s aiming for style, atmosphere, or strangeness, it’s approaching something interesting. It so often isn’t in that space, though, which diminishes the fun.

This movie is apparently in the public domain, but, unfortunately my copy has the Mill Creek logo graffitied onto it so I can’t upload it. Furthermore, there are no copies currently available on the Internet Archive, which is unusual for a movie like this. You can find copies with a simple Google search, though. I wouldn’t really recommend it, but it’s not offensive either. It just never rises to be much of anything.

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