If one had to name one literary character from the past 200 years that has influenced numerous films, short stories, books, pieces of music, commercials and even video games, there is one strikingly demonic figure that should immediately pop into mind. That’s right. The man himself—Count Dracula.
Bram Stoker’s character—who was not, apparently, based on the historical Romanian warlord Vlad the Impaler—has appeared in nearly every cinematic genre, ranging from horror (natch) to westerns and even comedies. Another genre that the most epochal vampire has graced is adult film, which also might be the least examined. The big standout on that small but notable list is 1978’s Lust at First Bite aka Dracula’s Bride aka Dracula Sucks.
Combining explicit sex and Dracula is the veritable chocolate with the peanut butter. The real shocker isn’t that there is a hardcore version of Stoker’s tale but that there are not more adult films based on his character. The very nature of Dracula, a charismatic monster riddled with polluted sexuality, makes him the perfect seductive villain for erotica of any stripe.
The title alone of Dracula Sucks might bring to mind something heavy in the groin but light in the brains department, but there is actual substance to this version, albeit in a deliriously strange way. Directed by Philip Marshak and with industry notable William Margold chipping in on writing duties, Dracula Sucks begins with Richard (Richard Bulik), the nephew of Irene Renfield (Pat Manning) and, you guessed it, the son of the Renfield. His aunt has taken him to a castle retreat in rural California to be in the care of the brother and sister team of the Sewards, Arthur (John Leslie) and Sybil (Kay Parker). He’s arrived to receive treatment for his night terrors, which will soon grow exponentially as the voice of his dead father starts to call to him.
This ghastly force leads him to the body of Dracula (Jamie Gillis). Richard follows his daddy’s instructions and removes the stake out of the corpse, only to quickly find out that the voice pulling him the whole time was not his father’s but Dracula himself! This puts him over the edge and faster than you can say “Ballad of Dwight Frye,” Richard is all bug-eyed, emitting noises of the insane and making the insect world his own personal buffet.
Meanwhile, Dracula is introduced as a new neighbor to not only the Sewards, but to their non-patient residents, including dear friends Lucy (Serena, looking like the living embodiment of a Vargas girl) and Mina (Annette Haven), as well as their respective suitors, Dr. Bradley (Mike Ranger) and Jonathan Harker (Paul Thomas.) Things go from strange to stranger to strangest as a wave of infected sexuality and blood starts to sweep through the asylum as Dracula hones in on Mina, with whom he has fallen in love.
Dracula Sucks has to be one of the stranger approximations of Stoker’s classic tale that I have ever seen. There’s a strain of goony humor that is undercut by a genuinely eerie ambiance. It is an unwell universe where the dysfunctional out-rules the healthy and that includes a large part of the medical staff. From the incest between the Sewards, the character of Henry (Margold) who, when not assisting the doctors, has a fixation on apples and ends up raping Irene and the fact that Van Helsing (played by character actor heavy Reggie Nalder) manages to out-creep Dracula, there are no real character safety zones here. On top of that, there is the striking image of the Count’s handmaidens, who look like glamorous ghouls who just escaped Hell’s war zone, creeping across the asylum grounds at night. Speaking of startling visuals, there’s also a doozy of an image where Dracula has a vision upon meeting Lucy. The vision in question is a solarized shot of him urinating on her while fire is chroma-keyed into the shot. It is completely infernal, messed up and striking in a witchy-psychedelic piss type way.
While there are some obvious liberties taken with the story, which makes the film about on par with 99% of the rest of the Dracula-centric titles, there is one key element that it nails from Stoker’s source material better than most. Keeping in mind that the novel was written in the Victorian era by a man who was very much an upstanding byproduct of it, the sexuality in the book is tame. It’s highly doubtful that any eroticism in Stoker’s text was ever intentional, since vampirism plays out more like a metaphor for venereal disease than anything else. So amping of the sexuality factor to include a communicable disease is perfect for the material. The fake vampire teeth used here is pretty jarring. Not because they look authentic, in fact, far from it. But it’s that line where something looks so artificial that it takes on an even more alien and bent look. (Anyone who has seen the Count Yorga films will know exactly what I am talking about here.)
The cast is good and features a veritable who’s who of adult film in the 1970’s. John Holmes even appears in a small supporting role as “Dr. John Stoker,” who ends up having his equally famous member get bitten by a female vampire. (Surely a scene that will have 8 out of 10 guys running to the hills!) The acting, as a whole, is really good, with the usually frosty Haven making a likable Mina. Richard Bulik makes an interesting Renfield, with his performance going from decent Dwight Frye cosplay into something more genuinely unhinged. However, like other vampire films before it, the real stars of the show are the hunter and the hunted.
Nader, whose career spanned from working with Hitchcock in The Man Who Knew Too Much to playing vampire Kurt Barlow in the first adaptation of Stephen King’s book, Salem’s Lot, is typically remarkable here. One has to wonder what was going through his mind while making Dracula Sucks, since established “straight” actors typically didn’t usually appear in adult films, then or now. (One exception from that time period was Aldo Ray acting in the 1976 adult title, Sweet Savage. Also, neither gentleman dropped trow, though that would have been potentially spooky on a whole other level!) Then there’s Jamie Gillis as Dracula. Given that one of Gillis’ nicknames has been “the dark prince of porn,” it was only natural to have him here as the Count. His good looks and natural intense energy plays into the role perfectly. He’s more animalistic than say Lugosi or Lee, but retains the charisma that is typically associated with the role. Given that Gillis was a really terrific actor in general, it does make one wish he had more to do, but given that the literary Dracula only appears in a fraction of the text, it only makes sense to have him more as a shadow figure.
For the hardcore vampire film lovers, Vinegar Syndrome have released this on a sweet two-disc set that also includes the Lust at First Bite version, which is more traditionally edited and features more sex than blood. Interestingly, both Dracula Sucks and Lust at First Bite have two different endings, making it the sex-vampire equivalent of King Kong Vs Godzilla. (Ignore the fact that the dual-ending for the latter is a myth.) Naturally, Dracula Sucks is not going to be for everyone but for those who like their vampire tales weird, lurid, occasionally silly and ultimately memorable, then do check it out.
Posted by Heather Drain |