I would call Al Adamson’s 1971 movie Dracula vs Frankenstein a guilty pleasure, but the truth is, I really don’t feel that guilty about loving it.
No, I’m not going to try to make the case that DvF belongs in the horror flick pantheon alongside such movies as Universal’s original Dracula or Frankenstein, or any of the Hammer variations on those monsters, but then again, that’s not what this movie was meant to be, either. And for that matter, if you look at Universal’s own later monster mash-ups like House of Dracula or Hammer’s later films like (especially) Dracula A.D. 1972, they were not exactly paragons of high art either.
On the other hand, despite its obvious low budget and its couldn’t-be-any-time-but-the-70s feel, Adamson’s movie does deliver on its premise. Not only does it feature a climactic fight between the two titular characters, but it also features J Carrol Naish as a quite mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein and Lon Chaney in a Jeckyll/Hyde type role as his Igor-ish assistant. Hey, there’s even an evil little person (played by the instantly recognizable 2′ 11″ tall Angelo Rositto) who is the barker for Naish’s traveling House of Freaks – excuse me,”Creature Emporium” – carnival side-show. Even Jim Davis (who fans of the original version of the TV show Dallas will recognize as Jock Ewing) puts in an appearance as the local sheriff who apparently blames the local hippies for not only rape and drug use, but white slavery.
Of course, when I say the movie features Naish and Chaney, I should point out that this was the last movie for both of those stars, and they were both showing the effects of their years. Naish, who plays Dr.Duryea, the last descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, was wheelchair-bound and had to read his lines off of cue cards, and Chaney was at this point just a large ball of sweat and probably permantly pickled to boot. It’s no wonder that his character was written as basically mute.
Now that may sound like bad news for the film, but we really haven’t even scratched the surface. For his Dracula, Adamson cast an actor named Zandor Vorkov. Okay, Iactually made two misstatements in that sentence. The first was calling Vorkov an actor. He was actually Adamson’s stock broker. And his real name was Robert Engle. But that’s okay, because once Adamson was through smearing him with dime-store face paint and tricking out his goatee and afro (not to mention a set of fangs that probably came from one of those pseudo-gumball machines) it’s highly unlikely that any of his clients would have recognized him, especially since his voice is run through an echo box which gives him an uncanny sound. Yeah.
One thing that isn’t hidden, however, but possibly should be, is the abundant cleavage of Regina Carroll, who just happens to have been Adamson’s wife. Carroll plays a “singer” whose sister has gone missing, and who insists on trying to find her with or without police aid. We are introduced to Ms. Carroll onstage while she is on stage in a dress cut down to her navel perfoming what is presumably her signature song “I Travel Light”. (A song which, again fortunately for us, the viewers, we get to see perfomed in its entirety. Hey, Adamson had 90 minutes to fill. Why shouldn’t he take 17 of them to promote his wife’s singing career?)`
What’s that? So what’s the plot? Umm… yeah, sure, let’s take a look at that. It seems that Duryea has somehow come up with a serum that will… prolong life? …give extra power? let vampires live in the sunlight? Yeah, that last part eventually becomes a thing, but what it’s really intended for is kind of unclear. Oh, and there is one drawback to the serum. It requires enzymes that are released into the blood when someone is in fear for their lives. So in order to produce this effect, he sends Lon Chaney out with an axe to chop the heads off of unsuspecting women on the beach and he then reattaches the head and, using techniques developed by his infamous ancestor revives them and extracts their blood which is now saturated with this enzyme.
Yeah, that seems like a reasonable plan to me, how about you?
In the meantime, Dracula has tracked down the remains of the original Frankenstein monster who now,thanks to all that he’s been through in innumerable sequels, has a face that looks like it may very well be made of deformed mushrooms. He brings the monster to Duryea and offers to give it to the doctor so that he can get revenge on the men who caused the accident that killed his wife and left him crippled. (Why Duryea couldn’t have just sent Chaney after the men since he seems so adept at swinging that axe I’m not sure, but hey, let’s not ask those kind of questions, okay?) And what does Drac want in exchange for the monster? Well, remember above when I mentioned that the serum was able to give vampires the ability to withstand the sunlight? Well somehow Drac not only knows about the serum but what it can do. Therefore he proposes an exchange.
Meanwhile… remember Adamson’s wife with the missing sister? Well she’s been investigating on her own, which leads to her going to a hippie hangout bar, getting her drink drugged, dancing like a dervish, passing out, and waking up in the apartment of “Mike” who apparently serves as some kind of father figure to the local beach rats. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to fall for each other, nor to fall into the hands of Duryea when she becomes the target of one of Chaney’s little murder sprees. No, he doesn’t cut her head off, but he does wind up chasing them into Duryea’s lab where she finds that her sister has become one of his victims.
Okay, once again dear reader, I have to admit that I have lied to you. I said “it doesn’t take long”, but the truth is everything in this movie takes far too long, mostly because ev-er-y-th-ing must be spelled out with inane exposition. Still, eventually we get there.
Meanwhile again, Duryea has succeeded in reviving the monster, who he has sent out to kill the first of the doctors who wronged him, Forrest J Ackerman. That’s right, kids, Uncle Forry himself shows up and actually gets a decent bit of screen time before Frankie off him with an extremely aggressive crotch bump.
Anyway, all of this eventually leads to everyone reconvening in Dr. Duryea’s lab where mayhem (and possibly junehem and julyhen as well…) ensues. The doctor is killed. Drac is interrupted in his bondage playtime with the busty blonde by her new boyfriend who winds up incinerated by Drac’s fire-ray spouting death ring for his troubles. (Oh, had I forgotten to mention that Drac has a fire-ray spouting death ring? sorry. Yeah, that’s a thing.) Drac realizes that his plan to raise a Legion of the Unliving has been denied him, he takes it out on Frankie which leads to a dramatic fight in the woods where he proceeds to rip the monster’s arms and then his head off before being melted himself by the rising sun. And Adanmson’s wife escapes her bonds just in time to watch the dead leaves that used to be Drac blow away.
Now i know it may seem that I’m being pretty harsh on this flick, and that may seem inconsistent with the fact that I said at the top of this that i love this flick, but the truth is that the movie’s awfulness is a big part of its appeal. We all have this notion of the “so bad it’s good” movie, and this one falls into that category for me. Everything from the horrendous “acting” of Zandor Vorkov to the less than especially effective special effects to the almost pitiable appearance of the former classic horror stars to…well, all of it, it’s a case of the whole being an incredibly much greater sum of the parts.
Is Dracula vs Frankenstein kinda crap? Yeah, I admit that it is. But it’s crap that I love. And I suspect that if you give it a look it might turn out to be the same for you.
Here’s your trailer: