Horror on the Lens: Dracula vs. Frankenstein (dir by Al Adamson)


Zandor Vorkov is Dracula!

John Blood is Frankenstein’s monster!

Together … THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  If anything, they cause crimes to happen.

First released in 1971 and directed by Al Adamson, Dracula vs. Frankenstein may not be a good film but it’s definitely an unforgettable film.  Yes, it may be thoroughly inept but it’s also perhaps the strangest take on the Dracula/Frankenstein rivalry that you’ll ever see.

Plus, it’s one of the final films of Lon Chaney, Jr.  Unfortunately, Lon doesn’t exactly look his best in Dracula vs Frankenstein...

Speaking of slumming celebrities, long before he played Dr. Jacoby and inspired America to shout, “Dig yourself out of the shit!,” Russ Tamblyn played a biker named Rico in this movie.

Also, like every other exploitation film made in 1971, Dracula vs. Frankenstein features hippies, leading to the age old question: who needs the supernatural when you’ve got LSD-crazed hippies running around?

Another age old question: Is Dracula vs. Frankenstein merely inept or is it a classic of bad filmmaking?

Watch below and decide for yourself.

Enjoy!

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The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Dark (dir by John “Bud” Cardos)


Some of y’all may have noticed that, whenever I don’t have much to say about a movie, I’ll usually start things about be praising either the film’s title or its poster art.

With that in mind, the 1979 film The Dark has got a great title.  I mean, what self-respecting horror film could actually resist a movie called The Dark?  It’s a title that promises horror and blood and no holds barred morbidity!  And really, the title is so brilliant that it almost doesn’t matter that the film itself come no where close to delivering.

And finally, just check out the poster art!

the-dark

Seriously, that’s a great poster!  If I had been alive in 1979, I totally would have wanted to see this movie just because of the poster.  Not only is the film called The Dark but the poster literally promises that this movie is going to be — and I quote — “A chilling tale of alien terror!”

Woo hoo!

Of course, The Dark didn’t start out as a chilling tale of alien terror.  The Dark is one of those films where what happened behind the camera is far more interesting than what was actually filmed.  The story behind The Dark is a classic tale of low-budget, exploitation filmmaking:

Originally, The Dark was going to be a story about a zombie decapitating people in Los Angeles.  The zombie had once been a Confederate soldier who ended up resorting to cannibalism.  As originally envisioned, the Dark would feature numerous scenes of that dead Confederate wandering around with a big axe that it would use to chop off heads.

Tobe Hooper, who was hot as a result of having directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was brought in to direct.  However, after just a few days of shooting, he was replaced.  Depending on which version you read, Hooper was either fired or he walked off the set.  Either way, all accounts seem to agree that Hooper didn’t see eye-to-eye with the film’s producers.  (One of those producers was Dick Clark, the same guy who always used to host ABC’s New Year’s special.)

With Hooper gone, a new director was brought in.  That director was John “Bud” Cardos, who had previously had a drive-in hit with Kingdom of the Spiders.  Cardos finished the film but he had no emotional investment in it and that’s obvious when you watch The Dark today.  Visually, The Dark looks and feels like an old cop show, the type that you might expect to turn up on a cable station that is specifically programmed to appeal to the elderly.

The film that Cardos completed featured a Confederate zombie with an axe.  However, the producers showed that film to a preview audience and quickly discovered that nobody cared about a Confederate with an axe.

So, they made some changes.

At the time, Alien was the most popular film at the box office so the producers thought, “Why not add some special effects, redub some dialogue, and make our Confederate zombie into an alien?”  Sure, why not?

Hastily, The Dark was reedited.  All shots featuring the zombie with an axe were removed from the film.  Instead, whenever the monster attacked, the film now featured a freeze frame of the monster’s face with some hastily added laser beams shooting out of his eyes.  This would be followed by a freeze frame of the victim and stock footage of an explosion….

(That said, there’s still plenty of references to the alien removing people’s heads…)

Interestingly, there’s still a scene in the film in which a police detective suggests that the creature might be a zombie.  “Zom-bies!?” his superior yells, “I don’t want to hear those two words again!”  Well, don’t worry.  It’s not a zombie!  It’s an alien!

(You do have to wonder why an alien would be wearing jeans and flannel shirt but, then again, why would a Confederate zombie be wearing jeans and a flannel shirt?  It’s a strange world.)

As you’ve probably already guessed, The Dark is a bit of a mess.  The alien is going around Los Angeles and blowing people up.  (Though a few times, he also rips off their heads because … well, we already went into that.)  The father of one of the victims is a burned out writer and he’s played by William Devane.  (This is the same William Devane who has played the President in nearly every movie and TV show ever made.  Words cannot begin to express how bored Devane appears to be in this movie.  Oddly, with his hair long and graying, Devane bears an uncanny resemblance to Law & Order SVU‘s Richard Belzer.)  The father is investigating, even though the lead detective (played by Richard Jaeckel) tells him not to.  A reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby) is also investigating.  And then there’s a psychic (Jacquelyne Hyde) and the psychic somehow knows what the monster is and who is going to die next.

The characters do eventually cross paths.  When the detective meets the reporter, the detective announces that he’s going to kill the killer.  “38 caliber justice?” the reporter replies.  “If he’s dead, he can’t kill again!” the detective explains and he kind of has a point.

(Making it even stranger is that, while the detective and the reporter talk, there’s a political protest gong on behind them.  The protest consists of people jumping up and down.)

It’s all really messy because, while watching the movie, you get the feeling that none of the actors knew what anyone else was filming.  It’s like six different films with six different tones and they’ve all been smashed together.  It’s also not particularly scary because ultimately, the zombie alien is just a freeze frame with some hastily added laser beams.  (It doesn’t help that the lasers occasionally go “pew pew” when they’re fired.)

But still, The Dark is a great title for a movie.

Film Review: Casino (dir by Martin Scorsese)


(Minor spoilers below)

Casino, Martin Scorsese’s epic, Las Vegas-set film from 1995, is one of my favorite films of all time.  It seems to show up on cable every other week and, whenever I see that it’s playing, I always make it a point to catch at least a few minutes.

Casino opens with veteran Las Vegas bookie Ace Rothstein (played by Robert De Niro) getting into a car.  He starts the engine and the car explodes.  The rest of the movie is an extended flashback as both Ace and his friend and eventual rival Nicky (Joe Pesci) explain how Ace went from being the most powerful man in Vegas to getting blown up in his car.

We are shown how Ace was originally sent to Vegas by a group of mobsters who are headquartered in the far less flamboyant town of Kansas City.  Ace keeps an eye on the city for the bosses and, as long as the money keep coming in, they leave Ace alone to do whatever he wants.  When Ace isn’t bribing government officials (including one particularly sleazy state senator who was reportedly based on future U.S. Sen. Harry Reid) and breaking the fingers of the unlucky gamblers who have been caught trying to cheat the casino, he’s busy falling in love with the beautiful prostitute Ginger (Sharon Stone, who was nominated for Best Actress for her work in this film).  Though Ginger warns Ace that she doesn’t love him and is still hung up on her manipulative pimp Lester Diamond (James Woods, who is hilariously sleazy), Ginger and Ace still get married.

Everything’s perfect except for the fact that Ace’s old friend Nicky (Joe Pesci) has also moved to Vegas.  As opposed to the calm and low-key Ace, Nicky has a violent temper and soon, he starts drawing unwanted attention to both himself and Ace.  When Ace attempts to control Nicky, Nicky responds by turning on his friend and soon, the two of them are fighting an undeclared war for control of the city.  Meanwhile, the bosses in Kansas City are starting to notice that less and less money is making its way back to them from Las Vegas…

There are so many things that I love about Casino that I don’t even know where to begin.

First off, I love the film’s glamour.  I love the way that the film celebrates the glitz of Las Vegas, presenting it as an oasis of exuberant life sitting in the middle of a barren desert that, we’re told, is full of dead people.  I love seeing the tacky yet stylish casinos.  I love seeing the inside of Ace’s mansion.  And Ginger’s clothes are just to die for!

I love that Scorsese’s signature visual style perfectly keeps up with and comments on the natural flamboyance of Las Vegas.  Consider how the film starts, with the shadowy form of Ace Rothstein being tossed through the air and then descending back down to Earth.  Consider the image of Ace standing in the middle of the desert and being submerged within a thick cloud of dust as Nicky’s car speeds away from him.  Consider how Scorsese’s camera glides through the casino, letting us see both the people who cheat and the people who are watching them cheat.  Consider Nicky standing outside of his jewelry stare and freezing the movement of the camera with his reptilian glare.  Consider the scene of cocaine being snorted up a straw, seemingly filmed from inside the straw.  Casino is a film full of the type of images that all directors promise but few ever actually deliver.

I love that Casino is built around a brilliant lead performance from Robert De Niro.  De Niro gives a performance that mixes both tragedy and comedy.  My favorite De Niro moment comes about halfway through the film, when Ace finds himself hosting a wonderfully tacky cable access show called Aces High. Ace interviews “celebrities” like Frankie Avalon, introduces the Ace Rothstein Dancers, and even finds the time to do some juggling.  De Niro makes Ace into an endearing and awkward character in these scenes, a permanent outsider who has finally managed to become something of a star.

It’s easy to compare Casino to Scorsese’s other classic mix of gangster film and social satire, 1990’s Goodfellas.  Both films feature De Niro, Pesci, and Frank Vincent.  (In a nice piece of irony, Casino features Vincent getting a little revenge after being attacked twice by Joe Pesci in two different Scorsese films.)  Both films are based on nonfiction books by Nicholas Pileggi.  Both films feature nonstop music playing on the soundtrack.  Both films feature multiple narrators who explain to us how the day-to-day operations of the  Mafia are conducted.  When Scorsese shows us Ace and Ginger’s wedding day, it feels almost like a scene-for-scene recreation of Henry Hill’s wedding in Goodfellas.

At the same time, there are a few key differences between Goodfellas and Casino.  Whereas Goodfellas was all about being a low-level cog in the Mafia, Casino is about management.  Casino is about the guys who the Goodfellas made  rich.  Goodfellas was about the drudgery of everyday life whereas Casino is about the glitz and the glamour promised by the fantasy world of Las Vegas.  Whereas Goodfellas was almost obsessively anti-romantic, Casino is a gangster film with heart.  No matter what else you might say about him as a character, Ace’s love for both Ginger and Las Vegas is real.  On a similar note, when Nicky turns against Ace, it’s because his feelings have been hurt.  In the end, Ace and Nicky come across like children who have, temporarily, been given the keys to the world’s biggest playground.

Casino is a glossy, flamboyant film that literally opens with a bang and ends on a note of melancholy and loss.  Not only is Ace reduced to being an anonymous old man working out of a nondescript office but our last two views of Vegas are of the old casinos being dynamited and an army of overweight tourists emerging from the airport like the unstoppable zombies from Dawn of the Dead.  This, then, is Scorsese’s view of the apocalypse. The world isn’t destroyed by a cataclysm but instead by an invasion of terminal middle American blandness.