I hereby still deem Al Adamson the ultimate drive-in schlock director and DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN the ultimate drive-in movie! It's got everything: the classic monsters, old-time genre actors, bikers, hippies, acid trips, the original Universal FRANKENSTEIN laboratory props (courtesy of Kenneth Strickfaden) and crazy music by veteran composer William Lava. Colorful and irresistibly enjoyable (especially for long-time fans exposed to the ample coverage in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and frequent TV airings on programs such as "Chiller Theatre" on New York’s Channel 11), this could possibly be the best "bad" movie of all time. If you can't indulge in it, you just don't get it! Nearly two decades after its initial DVD release (from Troma!), Media Blasters is now reissuing this cult epic on Blu-ray.
DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN commences in an old graveyard in the middle of California, which happens to be where the Frankenstein monster is now conveniently buried. We are then introduced to Count Dracula, played by Zandor Vorkov (aka Roger Engel, a New York stockbroker whose only other film appearance was in Adamson’s BRAIN OF A BLOOD), a strange presence with limited but amusing acting abilities and sporting a goatee, mustache, dime-store plastic fangs, and a monotone voice that echoes on the soundtrack. The monster is a crusty-faced menace (a pullover headpiece created by young Tony Tierney) played by 7'4" John Bloom (THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT), the tallest actor ever to fill the Frankenstein creation’s boots (or in this case, oversized Hush Puppies). He's dug out by Drac who now seeks the aid of the last remaining descendant of the Frankenstein family.
Dr. Frankenstein (J. Carrol Naish. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS) is hiding under the name Durea, running an amusement park "crazy house" exhibit with his assistant Groton (Lon Chaney Jr., THE WOLF MAN, GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN). Naish (in a role originally planned for Francis Lederer) sits in a wheelchair (though not in actuality confined to one) garbed in a Colonel Sanders-like outfit. He shouts out endless hammy dialog through his rattling dentures, with his wandering one real eye peering at the cue cards through his coke-bottle glasses. Chaney (in a non-speaking role) is Naish's zombified servant. Sweaty and bloated, he still manages to be quite intimidating, chasing victims under the boardwalk with his huge ax. Also on the list of classic horror stars is Angelo Rossitto (THE CORPSE VANISHES, SPOOKS RUN WILD) as Grazbo, a trouble-making dwarf who takes tickets for Durea's Creature Emporium (and he seems to be improvising most of the time). This was of course Chaney's and Naish's last movie roles, but Rossitto was acting well up until his death in the early 1990s.
Rounding out the main cast is Anthony Eisley (THE WITCHMAKER) as Mike Howard, Venice Beach's oldest resident flower child; future director Greydon Clark (BLACK SHAMPOO) as Strange, a sappy flower child who sometimes seems more interested in tires than his sexy babe (Anne Morrell, RED LINE 7000); Jim Davis (later on "Dallas") as a crusty police sergeant; Russ Tamblyn (WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS) as hairy biker trio leader Rico; and Adamson’s future wife Regina Carrol (SATAN’S SADISTS) as Judith Fontaine, a blond, buxom Vegas showgirl looking for her missing sister (Maria Lease, ONE MILLION AC/DC) who disappears and falls into the clutches of Dr. Frankenstein/Durea. Regina's musical number is memorable to say the least! Other cast members include stuntman Gary Kent (SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS) and the film’s director of photography Gary Graver as beach bums, Bruce Kimball (THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) and William Bonner (ANGELS’ WILD WOMEN) as Tamblyn’s slimy motorcycle cohorts and Albert Cole (the “evil” head in THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT) as a cop who fails to apprehend the rampaging monster.
Like a handful of Adamson's films, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN was filmed over a period of several years (in this case 1969, 1970 and 1971) and then ingeniously woven together to bring us this delightful hodgepodge. Filming started in 1969 as "The Blood Seekers," then the characters of Dracula and the Frankenstein monster were added the following year. Feeling that the climax wasn't quite what they wanted, the filmmakers shot a new ending in 1971 in New York (with the much shorter Shelly Weiss replacing John Bloom as the monster—in the credits he's listed as "The Creature") in and around an old church. Not being able to resist Regina Carrol's cleavage, the monster attacks Dracula for his mistreatment of the damsel in distress, and the two battle it out in the woods to validate the film’s title. Say what you want about DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, but the idea of the vampire king tearing apart the Frankenstein monster piece by piece is quite fascinating (this is years before similar scenes in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and BLOOD FOR DRACULA), even when executed on a low rent budget.
First released on DVD IN 2001 by Troma in a full frame image suitable for VHS, Media Blasters’ 2013 DVD boasted a new HD transfer created by MGM (complete with an MGM logo at the beginning and end). How did MGM happen to have a hand in this? Well, while still playing in theaters and drive-ins, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN was quickly sold to television in 1973 and distributed on the boob tube by American International Pictures Television (AIP-TV). With MGM having the rights to most of the AIP film catalog, they still hold the TV rights (only) to this one, and they commissioned a new HD transfer for cable airings (the new transfer played on the defunct Monsters HD channel some years ago). Producer Sherman was able to obtain the transfer for the 2013 DVD release through Media Blasters (who have released a few of his other properties on DVD, including FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR, SYNDICATE SADISTS and HELLS BLOODY DEVILS, in the past).
Now, the same MGM HD master is being utilized for this Blu-ray, though the MGM logo has been lopped off from the beginning and end. Needless to say, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN looks better than ever (really) and the HD transfer on Blu-ray is superb and quite a revelation for anyone who’s viewed what was available before on VHS, laserdisc, DVD and even the faded 16mm and 35mm prints. Presented in 1080p in a fitting 1.66:1 transfer, the clarity and detail is so impressive it reveals imagery and striking colors unlike before. Make no mistake, it still has the appearance of a low budget piece of schlock, but considering that this was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35 (all but the credits, which were processed in 35mm) grain is neatly organic and fairly minimal throughout up until the final 1971-lensed footage where the film stock noticeably changes. The LPCM 2.0 English audio is also noticeably clearer, and there are optional English SDH subtitles on hand.
Basically, all the extras from the 2001 Troma DVD are included here except for producer Samuel L. Sherman’s video introduction, shot specifically for that release. The detailed commentary by Sherman (originally recorded for the Roan Group laserdisc presentation) is present and it’s still one of the finest ever conducted for those who just love B movie inside stuff. Sherman gives a great overview of the film's production, complete with behind-the-scenes secrets, great anecdotes and surprising discoveries about the cast and crew, and he even points himself out in an unrecognizable cameo as one of the monster’s many victims. He splendidly illustrates the film's perplexing shooting history, perfectly dissecting the three-year span in which it was made. I could listen to this commentary over and over, and I actually have.
There are also some alternate takes and a fascinating outtake of the original ending (9:30), shot for when the film was going to be released as BLOOD OF FRANKENSTEIN. This sloppily edited montage has Dracula easily killing the monster with the flash of his ring, running off with the heroine in a silver hearse (resembling a maniacal scene from "The Munsters"), and then be destroyed by the impact of a stolen police car, thrusting him through a pole. It’s still quite jolting to witness this inferior, would-be climax, and at the same time, you’ll be glad that something different ultimately showed up in the final product. An outtake is on hand with the late Famous Monsters editor Forrest J. Ackerman who plays Dr. Beaumont, Frankenstein's nemesis. Forry appears in the film briefly as when Dracula mysteriously materializes as a passenger in his car; the bonus is a longer take of this scene, with more dialog between the two. Sam Sherman briefly interviews Forry (at a fan convention) to set it up (4:51). There’s a section of “Deleted Scenes” (8:58) representing two slightly expanded sequences: Judith being snuck acid by Rico at the cafe and the revival of the Frankenstein monster in the lab, but none of this footage is significantly different than what’s in the final film.
There are also some Super 8 home movies (1:47) of the climax's old church (shot as test footage), the "Producing Schlock" (8:04) mini-documentary on Sherman and Independent International and a different still gallery (lengthier but not necessarily better) than what was found on the initial Troma disc. “Monster Protest” is over five minutes of silent color home movies (circa 1972) of protesting monsters (guys and gals in monster make-up and costumes holding humorous picket signs); a Manhattan publicity stunt to promote the film’s release. Look for a very young Geraldo Rivera (when he was a local reporter for NY Channel 7’s “Eyewitness News”) interviewing some of the ghoulishly made-up picketers. Rounding out the extras are the original (albeit a full frame faded one) theatrical trailer and a TV spot.
It's a shame that Media Blasters has released DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN on Blu-ray with little or no fanfare, completely ignoring our request for an advance review copy. Strange. Still, this is a must-have for any serious drive-in movie fan. After all, any film with a credit like "Dracula Ring by Ruzi" can't be bad in my book! (George R. Reis)
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