Vampira (1974, Clive Donner)

TG-OldDrac (2)

An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Note: In order to trade on the success of Mel Brooks’s comedy Young Frankenstein, this movie was released in America under the title Old Dracula.

Setting: Transylvania and London, 1974.

Faithful to the novel? No, it just uses the character of Count Dracula (played here by David Niven). He wants to resurrect his long-dead love, Vampira, and needs some blood. So he invites a party of Playboy Playmates over to Transylvania – they think they’re there for a photoshoot with a writer – and takes samples of their blood. However, due to a mix-up, Dracula and his loyal manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) use the blood of the one non-white Playmate. So when Vampira awakens she’s now black (and played by Teresa Graves). No, seriously, this actually happens. She’s a fan of her new look, but Dracula sets about reversing the process. To do this he flies to London with Vampira and Maltravers to track down the other Playmates and to acquire their blood. The writer from the photoshoot, Marc (Nicky Henson), gets mixed up in it all, as does his friend Angela (Jennie Lindon). Eventually, after much busking about, the plot resolves when Vampira bites her husband… and changes his ethnicity too. (For the final scene, I’m sorry to report, Niven is blacked up.)

Best performance: Despite the dodgy finale, David Niven is effortlessly entertaining. He’s giving the David Niven performance of cool, unfussy charm. (By the way, this is a Vlad-is-Dracula movie: we’re told that the count used to be Vlad the Impaler and he even uses the name Count Vladimir at times.)

Best bit: There’s a neat trick when Dracula hypnotises Marc and Niven takes over the role for a scene. The switch between actors comes in a fun dissolve as Marc looks at himself in a mirror.

Review: Hmm… There are two films here, operating side-by-side and in conjunction, and they need reviewing separately. One is a madcap, rough-round-the-edges, schlocky comedy horror with some oddball casting choices (David Niven! Bernard Bresslaw! Carol Cleveland!), plenty of attractive models trying to act, lots of impressive incidental music, and some likeably silly gags. Sadly, the other movie is an embarrassingly dated mess of antiquated gender, sexual and racial politics. Teresa Graves is very watchable presence as Vampira, but she has to gamely ignore a plotline that’s based on her skin colour being an unwanted aberration and something different from the ‘norm’. If you can excuse that as naivety, the film has an enjoyably quirky tone and it’s clearly not taking itself too seriously. So maybe we shouldn’t either.

Six fake fangs out of 10

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