Back for our completely superfluous second week of recap for 1971’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein. As you may remember, Judith Fontaine, Vegas lounge singer, had headed to Malibu Beach in search of her missing sister, Joan. She is aided in her search by aging hipster Mike and teen hippies Strange and Samantha, who is in trouble with a local biker gang.
Joan was a victim of the mad scientist Dr. Duryea (J. Carroll Naish), who is using the blood of pretty teen girls to make a serum which he hopes will do, um, something. He is aided by his imbecilic, puppy-and-axe-loving assistant Groton, played by Lon Chaney Jr.
Meanwhile, Duryea has also been informed by Count Dracula that he is the last of the Frankensteins, and so he helps the Count revive the Monster that his ancestor created.
If it sounds like the story is kind of random and all over the place, there’s a reason. Welcome to the world of low-budget exploitation filmmaking.
See, Al Adamson originally wanted to make a sequel to his film Satan’s Sadists. So he brought back star Russ Tamblyn as the biker gang leader. But somewhere along the way, he changed his mind and decided to do a straight horror picture about the mad doctor collecting blood for the serum, to be titled Blood Seekers. So the biker angle was almost completely lost.
At some point, it became evident that the movie just wasn’t working, so Adamson brought back Naish and Regina Carroll (his wife at the time, who was starring as Judith) to shoot new scenes with Dracula and the monster.
So back to the story. As Mike and Judith screw on the beach, Dr. Duryea is back in his lab, giving another incomprehensible monologue to Groton, although we do learn that the serum is intended to enable Duryea to walk again, as well as cure Groton of something. As Duryea talks, Groton goes through the transformation he normally experiences when Duryea gives him his shots (although he prudently puts the puppy back in its cage before turning into a homicidal maniac). Duryea scolds him for transforming prematurely, then gives him a shot of serum.
Back on the beach, Mike and Judith smoke in fully-clothed, but seemingly post-coital bliss. Mike suspects there’s something going on with Duryea (and Judith mentions something about a parchment that has never been mentioned before–apparently something from Blood Seekers that was cut out). Meanwhile, the Monster kills a couple of teenagers necking in a car as well as a couple of passing cops for no other reason than that nothing interesting has happened in a while. The actor playing the Monster is wearing these glovelike rubber monster hands that don’t quite go up his sleeve.
Mike and Judith explore underneath the pier that night.They find a trapdoor that might lead up into the Creature Emporium, but Judith is frightened so they retreat a ways to have a conversation on the beach.Meanwhile, Samantha is eating fried chicken on the beach when Rico and his gang show up. They chase her under the pier (terror makes her shirt come unbuttoned) and are getting ready to rape her when Groton kills them all with his axe. Mike and Judith hear a noise and come back to find Groton already gone up through the trapdoor. But they find Samantha’s locket.
They race up to the front entrance, push past the creepy dwarf and into the Creature Emporium. Once inside, they make their way down to the basement lab (yes, the basement of the building on the pier with the trapdoor that leads down to the beach below–and it has stone walls), where they find the doctor and Groton with his latest catch.
Yes, even though this film is the equivalent of a modern PG, they show a boob in it. Apparently, it was okay as long as the boob in question wasn’t being shown in a sexual context, like on a dead body.
Duryea tells Mike and Judith that Samantha’s shock at her death caused a cellular reaction that’s necessary for his serum. And he plans to kill them next, in front of each other, to make more serum, enough to cure himself, Groton and the creepy dwarf. Which leads us to the extremely silly climax, as the dwarf accidentally falls through the trapdoor and impales his head on Groton’s axe, and then Duryea gets lost in his own exhibit and manages to accidentally behead himself with his guillotine.
Groton has pursued Judith outside and onto the roof of the Creature Emporium. But noble Sergeant Martin arrives with Strange (who’s rocking the wacky poncho). Martin strikes a heroic pose as he shoots Groton on sight.
Groton falls off the roof, and Martin and Strange fall out of the picture.
Judith runs into Dracula, who plans to use her blood to make Duryea’s serum so he can be invincible or something. Mike arrives and fights off the Monster with a road flare. The Monster, blinded, then attacks Dracula as Mike frees Judith and they escape. But before they get too far, Dracula fends off the Creature and shoots his magic ring lightning.
Yeah, notice how his make-up has changed? See the black squares around his eyes? That means one thing: a reshot ending, with a new actor playing the monster, or I should say, the Creature. Mike bursts into flames, and Judith faints.
When she comes to, she’s all tied up in an abandoned church out in the woods. I’m struck by how pulp-coverish the bondage pose is.
The Creature is struck by the sight of her cleavage and decides he doesn’t want to kill her. And BTW, not only has Dracula’s make-up changed drastically, but instead of the wrinkly hands with the dirty split nails that the Monster had in the scene with the teenagers, the Creature now sports huge black claws sprouting from the ends of his fingers.
And so now, Dracula and Frankenstein finally have their final bout, which is a little more satisfying than the wrestling match they had on the roof earlier.
They fight their way out of the church and into the woods for a finale that’s hard to make out in the darkness. But it seems that the Monty Python guys might have watched this before making Monty Python and the Holy Grail, because it’s literally the Black Knight scene without the witty dialogue or decent lighting. Dracula rips off the Creature’s arms one at a time, and when the Creature keeps coming, Dracula pulls off its head and tosses it away.
But Dracula hasn’t actually won, because as they’ve been fighting, the sun has come up, so that Dracula gets caught in the sunlight before he can make it back inside the church. And we get a long close-up of his ridiculous make-up. Seriously, it’s like he’s a member of the KISS army before the group even formed.
Through a series of dissolves, Dracula ages and burns away. Vorkov tries to contort his face into the aging expression Christopher Lee used in Captain America II, but without any talent or training (and with the shot held for too long, so it looks silly rather than scary). And as he gets more burned, it looks like they’ve just dumped dirt and cigarette ashes on his face. Judith finally fights her way free of the ropes and goes outside to find the Count’s empty clothes and his ashen remains (which seriously looks like dried grass clippings or something).
And that’s the end. And you might seriously be wondering why I spent a second week covering this thing in such detail. Well, there are a few reasons. First, the film is such a trove of fan love, with its classic actors, classic mad scientist equipment, even classic music (the final parts of the film use the soundtrack from Creature From the Black Lagoon). Second, it’s fascinating that the layers of discarded scripts and approaches are still visible in the final film, like palimpsests. It’s so instructive of how low-budget movies are made.
And third, as inept as it is, there are tiny moments in the film, flashes of ambition that give you an idea of the film Al Adamson saw in his head as he was making this. Like this shot from early on, in Judith’s Vegas dressing room.
And I realize that there’s cleavage in the shot, but try to tear your eyes away for just a moment to take in the wig head on the right. Judith is reading a telegram about her missing sister, whom we saw beheaded just a couple of minutes before, and now here’s a wig head with a red line circling its neck. It’s a moment of subtle symbolism that seems to indicate a filmmaker who’s attempting to do more than just walk people past the front of the camera.
It’s fascinating to see that and think that Adamson was actually trying to make something good, trying so hard that he took the film through three iterations and a reshot ending before finally releasing the thing. And that the finished film is so utterly bad must have been heartbreaking on some level.