Super Movie Monday – Dracula vs. Frankenstein

So for the next couple of weeks, something a little different. The late 60’s and early 70’s were a tumultuous time for the nation, but a great time to be a kid. On Saturdays, you could watch shows like Space Ghost and Jonny Quest, and during the week, you could come straight home from school and turn on Dark Shadows, the only soap opera with vampires and ghosts. And during the commercial breaks, they’d show commercials for all sorts of movies that sounded totally awesome, if only you were old enough to watch them.

Well, now I am old enough, and thanks to Hulu in particular, I’m able to see some of the obscure movies I could only imagine from their commercials decades ago. First up: Dracula vs. Frankenstein, from 1971.

I actually saw a bit of this in college, enough to know that it was decidedly not awesome. But until now, I had never watched the entire thing. So let’s experience the joy and agony (mostly agony) together, shall we?

First things first. Look back up at that title card above. See the rating? When the MPAA first adopted their movie rating system on my sixth birthday  (replacing the Hays code which acted as a censor until 1968), the four ratings were G, M, R, and X. But that M for “Mature” apparently confused people, because within a couple of years, the rating changed to GP to reflect its nature as the first step up from G.

A couple of years after that, in 1972, the MPAA apparently decided that “Guidance of Parents” was too convoluted, so they changed the rating once more to PG, which had a more memorable mnemonic (“Parental Guidance”) and was also more easily distinguished from G. Third time was the charm; PG stuck.

The only thing I really remember from the commercials I saw as a boy is a shot of Dracula with no irises, only white eyeballs, and blood dripping from his mouth. That shot occurs in the very first scene, as we see Dracula open the grave of the Frankenstein monster and then attack a night watchman.

The scene then shifts to a beach at night, where we see a pretty girl duck under a pier into total blackness. Which in the next shot is super-freaking-bright. Seriously, not only are they pumping serious footcandles on that under-pier set, but they’ve got the place filled with fog, so she’s literally walking through a wall of white. Which is when Lon Chaney Jr. shows up and kills her with an axe.

Vegas, baby! We see this blonde with big hooters doing this silly musical number about overpacking when she travels because, women, right?

It seems like they’re doing the number in this big empty theater, but we keep cutting to reaction shots from 4 or 5 people seated in the very back. The actress here can’t really dance or sing or act, but if you’re thinking she only got the part because of her big boobs, you’d be wrong, although if you’re thinking she got the part because she was sleeping with the director, you’d be right. Her name is Regina Carrol, and she was director Al Adamson’s wife.

Her character’s name is Judith Fontaine, and her sister Joan has disappeared. Hope she’s not the girl under the pier, although come on, what are the odds? Right?

Judith goes to see a police detective named Sgt. Martin, played by a gruff Jim Davis, better known nowadays as gruff partriach Jock Ewing from Dallas.

Sgt. Martin tells Judith that Joan used to hang out with a lot of hippies down on Venice Beach, at an amusement park there. He warns her not to get mixed up with that crowd, and suggests she just sit at home and wait for her phone to ring.

Meanwhile, a couple of hippies are at the amusement park. The guy is weird, dressed in this bright red buccaneer shirt and striped bell bottoms, like if Gilligan had been a pirate. His girlfriend Samantha spots some menacing bikers and steers them into the nearby house of horrors, run by a creepy dwarf.

Angelo Rossito is the actor here, and he was a familiar face, appearing in over 70 films. He was apparently the guy you hired if you couldn’t afford Billy Barty or Michael Dunn. One of his last roles was Master of Master/Blaster in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. To impress the rubes here, he pretends to eat their dollar before showing them inside.

The house of horrors showcases some really bad animatronics (played by live actors, since this is a low-budget movie), and then mad Doctor Duryea appears in his wheelchair to talk philosophy to the hippies.

Duryea is played by J. Carrol Naish in his last film role. Naish played tons of roles over his long career, but to me, he will forever after be first and foremost Prince-Doctor Tito Daka, Japanese saboteur and master villain of the original Batman serial.

After the hippies leave, Duryea travels down a secret elevator to his underground laboratory, where he has sewn Joan’s head back on and brought her back to life (although it’s a catatonic kind of life; she just lies there and stares). He gives a long monologue to his mute assistant Groton, played by a very ill Lon Chaney Jr.

Duryea tells how the blood produces an enzyme or something in a moment of extreme shock (like having your head cut off) that he needs for a serum. The monologue is hard to follow, containing not even a semblance of real science, and to make matters worse, he’s obviously reading everything off of cue cards. Thing is, Naish had a glass eye, so one eye is tracking back and forth constantly while the other stays fixed straight ahead, It’s distracting.

At the end of all this, Duryea gives Groton an injection to turn him into a homicidal maniac so that he can procure more bodies with more shocked blood for Duryea’s serum.

And just as you’re wondering what all of this has to do with Dracula or Frankenstein, the Count appears to Duryea and informs him that he is the last remaining heir of the line of Frankenstein. Dracula is played by an accountant with a white man ‘fro who adopted the exotic name of Zandor Vorkov to play this role. He has no trace of an accent, but his voice is dubbed in all echoey to make him sound spooky and powerful.

The Count wants Duryea to bring the creature back to life as the Count’s servant and promises Duryea revenge on those who’ve wronged him.

Later, Judith visits a hippie club and asks the waiter about Joan. The waiter runs to tell the bikers, and the head of the gang (who looks very familiar) tells him to drug her drink. Judith drinks her coffee and begins tripping, stumbling around while we see quick cuts of her writhing on a circular bed and running down a beach. Damn, even her hallucinations are boring.

She finally passes out, and the two hippies from the amusement park drag her out.

Now it’s time to bring the Monster back to life (or the Creature, if you prefer–the credits list two actors in the role, one as the Monster and one as the Creature)! And here’s an interesting bit of trivia: aside from Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish (who had a major role in House of Frankenstein), there’s a third veteran from the old Universal monster pictures present: Kenneth Strickfaden, who designed the buzzing, zapping equipment for Frankenstein’s lab. He brings back some of the old favorites to decorate Duryea’s basement.

The Monster is brought back to life, although it’s hard to tell at first. The make-up is this big puffy mask that’s so misshapen, it’s almost hard to tell it’s a human face. But Duryea is excited, because at last he can have his revenge on Dr. Beaumont, the man who ruined his promising medical career. Doesn’t look good for Dr. Beaumont, whoever he is.

Oh and look who it is! Forrest Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland and the world’s biggest sci-fi/horror fan!

What the hell is going on with his mustache? Seriously. The Count appears in Beaumont’s car and taunts him for a while, and then the Monster appears and hugs him to death. Bye-bye, Forrie.

Next morning, Judith awakes in the beach home of aging hippie Mike Howard. But the scene starts off with a curious close-up.

Those are two things you never see anymore. That slogan on the bottle, “It’ll tickle yore innards,” means it’s a bottle of Mountain Dew. People born after the 1970’s may not know that Mountain Dew, which got its name from slang for moonshine, was originally branded as a kind of hillbilly drink. All that “Do the Dew,” extreme sports stuff was a much later rebranding.

The bottle itself is also interesting. Back when glass soda bottles were more common, you would see those stretched-out soda bottles offered as prizes at fairs and carnivals. I’m guessing their presence here is supposed to make the audience think about the amusement park nearby or something.

Mike knew Joanie and tells Judith about her fascination with grotesquerie and that “creature emporium” down on the pier. Judith decides she needs to ask Dr. Duryea about Joanie. They are accompanied by the hippies, Samantha and Strange. Strange asks Mike to protect him from Duryea, so Samantha asks what about her?

“You know how to go invisible,” Strange explains.

“Only from the waist down,” Samantha replies, which, what the hell does that even mean? Is that supposed to be a double entendre, or just to show how messed-up on drugs these two are?

Anyway, they visit the exhibit, and once again, Duryea shows up. Judith shows Duryea Joanie’s photo, but though he claims never to have seen her, Naish’s performance is so over-the-top, his eyes might as well have stretched out of his head while an old car horn went “A-OOGAH!”

Once they leave the exhibit, they run into the bikers (the ones Samantha was avoiding, and the ones who drugged Judith). And look who the gang leader is.

It’s Russ Tamblyn, who started out as a child actor, then graduated into musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and West Side Story, before sliding down into exploitation roles like War of the Gargantuas and Satan’s Sadists.

Things look grim for Samantha and Strange and Russ Tamblyn’s career until Sgt. Martin shows up and chases the bikers away. He warns Judith again to stop investigating, and especially to stay away from the beach, since there’s a homicidal maniac killing people there.

So of course, Judith and Mike go for a stroll on the beach and make out for a while. And while the waves roll in, let’s pause until next week for the big finale. Yes, I know, this movie is SO not worth spending two weeks on, but I’ve got a ton more screencaps to go, so let’s just grit our teeth and get through it.

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