Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979, Harry Tampa)

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day (1979). We begin at Hotel Transylvania – ie, the former Castle Dracula. After half an hour, the action moves to New York City.

Faithful to the novel? This camp comedy has to be seen to be believed. A disco-scored horror film where Count Dracula (John Carradine) is a bitter geriatric and his granddaughter finds happiness through the power of dance? This was actually made?!
* As the story begins, Count Dracula’s granddaughter Nocturna (Nai Bonet) has converted their castle into a hotel to help him with his tax bill. She hires hip, young musicians to entertain the guests then sleeps with guitarist Jimmy (Tony Hamilton). She also takes a very slow bath so we can perv at her naked body, and has to resist the attentions of her creepy employee Theodore (Brother Theodore).
* Dracula senses that all’s not well, though. When Nocturna says she’s in love with Jimmy, her grandad reminds her that she’s not like other women. She shouldn’t settle for a normal life. She responds by leaving with Jimmy for New York City.
* She stays with an old friend, the vampire Jugulia (Yvonne De Carlo), in a rundown part of town and is introduced to the city’s undead community. But there’s dissention in the ranks due to a lack of available blood – “I’d rather suck than sniff any day,” says a female vampire when a friend suggests a powder blood substitute. Their meeting is interrupted by a cop, so they all turn into animated Batfink-style bats and fly away.
* Nocturna then walks through bustling Manhattan to the sound of disco music – you half expect John Travolta to be coming the other way. She encounters a black vampire (Sy Richardson) who’s dressed like every pimp in 1970s cinema. He shows Nocturna a massage parlour run for the benefit of vampires; its girls (referred to as slaves) are used to lure people in so they can be drained of blood.
* Next, Nocturna meets Jimmy at a nightclub called Star Ship, which is admirably full of punters for a low-budget film, and they wow everyone (except this reviewer) with their dancing.
* Meanwhile, Dracula and Theodore have shown up in America to find Nocturna. Theodore kidnaps her and is about to kill Jimmy when she escapes and attacks him. Dracula then confronts her at the disco. He wants her to return to Transylvania, but Jugulia dances with him as a distraction (!). He’s having none of it and freezes all the clubbers and threatens Jimmy’s life. So Nocturna agrees to come home.
* But Jimmy gives chase and wards off Dracula by using the T of the Star Ship sign as a crucifix. Drac heads home to Europe, while Nocturna and Jimmy watch the sunrise together. It seems a love of dance has cured her of vampirism. Or something.

Best performance: This was the final time that John Carradine played Count Dracula. He’d first taken on the role for two Universal horrors – House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) – then appeared in unrelated films Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) and Las vampiras (1969). He died in 1988. He’s overacting his heart out here, playing the Count as a doddery old man, but it’s quite endearing. “If I’m alive, what am I doing here?” he says when emerges from his coffin. “But on the other hand, if I’m dead, why do I have to wee-wee?” He’s wearing the same costume he used in House of Dracula.

Best bit: While out and about in Manhattan, Nocturna chats to a genuine passer-by who didn’t know he was being filmed.

Review: This *demented* movie is a kind of precursor of Xanadu (1980), though with vampires and nudity rather than roller skates and Gene Kelly. It was based on an idea by its star, Vietnamese belly dancer Nai Bonet, who also raised the cash to get it made. She plays Nocturna and gives a dreadfully flat, stoned-out performance. In fact, the acting is largely awful throughout, with only old hands Carradine and De Carlo able to pitch the comedy right. The best element is probably the disco soundtrack. Gloria Gaynor sings the theme tune, Love is Just a Heartbeat Away, and there are in-story performances by band Moment of Truth. The whole enterprise is high camp, so we shouldn’t take it too seriously – Dracula wears false fangs, New York vamps bicker over their blood supplies, and the plot regularly stands still so we can enjoy a full-length song. But this is a really awful film.

Two Claret Rooms out of 10