Should I Watch..? 'Dracula: Dead and Loving It'
What's the big deal?
Dracula: Dead And Loving It is a comedy horror spoof film released in 1995 and remains the most recent film directed by Mel Brooks. It stars Leslie Nielsen as the eponymous vampire who relocates to England and must contend with legendary vampire expert Van Helsing whilst preying on London's buxom wenches. It serves as a parody to both the original novel by Bram Stoker as well as vampire movies in general, especially 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film also stars director Brooks as Van Helsing, Peter MacNicol, Steven Weber, Amy Yasbeck and Harvey Korman. The film was a critical and commercial disaster with global takings far less than the film's $30 million budget and critical reaction being overwhelming negative. However, the film has developed a cult following in recent years.
What's it about?
English solicitor Thomas Renfield travels from London to Transylvania to assist the reclusive Count Dracula in his purchase of Carfax Abbey back in England. Ignoring the locals' fearful reaction to the mention of the Count, Renfield visits Dracula in his castle and quickly discovers that he is a vampire. As Renfield falls under Dracula's spell and becomes his servant, the pair of them return to England with the Count feeding on the unfortunate crew.
Once they are in London and the raving-mad Renfield is consigned to an asylum, Dracula makes himself known to his new neighbours - Dr Seward and his bewitching daughter Mina, Seward's assistant and Mina's lover Jonathan Harker and Seward's nubile ward Lucy Westenra. The next day, Mina notices strange marks on Lucy's neck and a concerned Dr Seward consults an expert on strange diseases - Dr Abraham Van Helsing...
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing
Mel Brooks, Rudy De Luca & Steve Haberman *
Release Date (UK)
25th October, 1996
What's to like?
In an age when Hollywood comedies seem to be obsessed with bodily functions and randy teenagers, it's nice to see something as resolutely old-fashioned as Dracula: Dead And Loving It, even if it isn't that funny. It harks back to a more innocent era, full of buxom wenches with heaving bosoms and funny accents. And who better than Leslie Nielsen to deliver a pitch-perfect imitation of the great Bela Lugosi? Still riding high after his reinvention as a comic genius in spoofs like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, it's impossible to recall Nielsen as a serious actor and here, he provides this film with its one true plus.
It's surprising how close to the original novel this film is, given the liberties taken with the characters. At least most of the cast labour under some heavy English accents while Brooks (perhaps wisely) doesn't even try. MacNicol also deserves a good deal of praise as his genuinely unhinged Renfield whose total madness gives the film a level of creepiness that perhaps the treatment didn't require. But most of the cast feel rather amateurish and Brooks' direction leaves much to be desired, feeling uninspired and uninvolved.
- For the scene when Harker would have to put a stake through Lucy's heart, Brooks didn't tell Weber that he would be covered in 200 gallons of fake blood so his reaction would appear more natural.
- The film owes much to the numerous cinematic interpretations of Dracula over the years. Much of the dialogue is from the 1931 Dracula, the bat transformations were actually inspired by Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Nielsen's wig when Dracula goes to the ball is a spoof of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
- The film's global takings of around $10.8 million were almost the lowest of Brooks' career - only his notorious flop Life Stinks earned less at the box office. Dracula: Dead And Loving It was his only film for Columbia Pictures.
What's not to like?
Despite Nielsen working really hard, the film simply isn't that funny. The original novel, which I'm proud to say I've read, doesn't exactly lend itself to comedy as it's a genuinely chilling read. A better idea would have been to try and forge a new story with Dracula instead of ripping off the original for laughs. Frankly, a better target would have been Francis Ford Coppola's overblown Gothic revival released a few years before but aside from a few shots across the bow, Dracula: Dead And Loving It fails to get anywhere near its intended targets or your funny bone.
The most disappointing aspect of the film is actually how good it might have been when you consider Brooks' track record. With classic spoofs like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein under his belt, you'd expect this film to have some of that old zip to it. But ironically, the film is completely toothless - it feels positively sedate and even family friendly if it weren't for MacNicol giving everyone the creeps by eating insects off the floor. The script simply never allows much movement for comedy so what is in there feels crammed in and desperate. There are no real comic zingers or flashes of brilliance on display, illustrating that Brooks may have been a spent force in comedy films and ultimately paved his way into occasional voice roles ever since.
Should I watch it?
Truthfully, even long-time fans of Brooks will struggle to get any mirth from this bloody mess. It isn't even as good as Spaceballs which wasn't his finest hour but at least that made you laugh. This is the movie equivalent of a coffee table magazine, sitting there but never getting picked up and enjoyed. It's too slow, too desperate, too old-fashioned and too unfunny to really engage you as a viewer. It's almost tragic to see a once-great satirical force in films reduced to this.
Great For: Nielsen's continued comic career, a family-friendly Halloween
Not That Great For: anyone looking for a decent comedy, Mel Brooks' reputation, fans of the original novel
What else should I watch?
Brooks has been lucky enough to have a long and successful career in Hollywood, mainly in spoofing the great and good. His prime years were a rich vein of form with classics like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and the Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety. Any of these are brilliant places to see where the man's genius truly lays - even later films like Spaceballs illustrate the man's ability to pick apart Hollywood stereotypes like a highly skilled surgeon.
Comedy horrors are actually more prevalent that one may suspect, given that horror films aren't an obvious place to go looking for laughs. But good ones are hard to find - few will ever top Shaun Of The Dead which sees Simon Pegg and Nick Frost battle hoards of zombies to get to the safety of their favourite pub or, going further back, An American Werewolf In London.
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© 2016 Benjamin Cox