Known in the U.K. under its original title VAMPIRA, OLD DRACULA was directed by Clive Donner (WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT) as a sort of throwback to the swinging 1960s comedies of the previous era, but it also (voluntarily or not) spoofed the then-recent trend of early 1970s modern vampire films such as COUNT YORGA, BLACULA and DRACULA A.D. 1972. Featuring David Niven as the most suave vampire Count ever to embrace the silver screen, OLD DRACULA makes its U.S. home video debut as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
Count Dracula (David Niven) lives a peaceful undead existence in his Transylvanian castle, reading Playboy magazines and getting nips of blood here and there with the help of his faithful manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss). As Castle Dracula is now a tourist attraction open to the public, a London-based entourage from Playboy shows up with a bevy of beauties for a photo shoot. Dracula dresses up like Dracula for the night’s dinner and entertainment (complete with spooky organ and flapping bat on a wire), but his main purpose is to take blood samples from the visiting models, hoping to revive his beloved wife, dormant for the last 50 years.
The Count and Maltravers succeed with the transfusion, but his wife — known as Vampira (Teresa Graves, GET CHRISTIE LOVE) — awakens with black skin. Though Drac remarks that “Yes, black is beautiful”, the trio flies to London to chase down the models, re-collect their blood samples and reverse the error. They do this with the help of Marc (Nicky Henson, PSYCHOMANIA), a charming male model whose already bedded most of the desired subjects, and is soon to do the same with the lovely soul sister Vampira. Marc is put under a spell with a simple phone call, and a pair of plastic fangs aid him in extracting the red stuff from the girls’ pretty necks. When he’s not under the influence of Drac, he’s playing vampire hunter, and the woman he really cares for, the bookwormish but sexy Angela (Jennie Linden, DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS), is tied up and in need of quick rescuing.
When released in the U.S. by American International Pictures (AIP), VAMPIRA was re-christened as OLD DRACULA to cash in on that Mel Brooks blockbuster (though it was shot in 1973, well before YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN). Written by Jeremy Lloyd, co-creator of the popular long-running Britcom, “Are You Being Served?”, OLD DRACULA is intentionally silly, and although there’s nothing outright hilarious here, there are quite a few laughs to be had, and it can certainly be a lot of fun (and to think, this is five years before LOVE AT FIRST BITE). Political correctness is tossed out the window, and the film is a product of time, with a glitzy costume party complete with a funky disco number by The Majestics to prove it. Even given the situations and outlandish dialog he’s subjected to, Niven is enjoyable as the atypical, anti-hero Dracula. Much like Blacula roaming the modern streets of LA, some of the best scenes have David’s Dracula taking a stroll around London town, saving a beautiful woman (Carol Cleveland of “Monty Python” fame) from a parking garage attacker with a retractable blade from the bottom of his walking stick.
Hammer horror fans have been aware of the film for years, mainly due to the presence of Linda Hayden and Veronica Carlson, both who previously performed opposite Christopher Lee’s Dracula. Hayden (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA) has a particularly good short and sweet part, that of a German student whose threat to leave Castle Dracula results in her being transformed into a “real” vampire. As a frizzy blonde-haired bloodsucker in a white gown, she nearly takes a bite out of the dinner guests until Dracula uses a strategically violent way to dispose of her. Carlson (DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE) is rather wasted as one of the Playboy models (and her voice has been re-dubbed by an actress doing an exaggerated American southern accent), though she is involved with several comic sight gags.
As two of the other Playboy models, Cathie Shirriff and Andrea Allan (the stunning redhead from José Larraz’ SCREAM AND DIE/THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED) provide the film with some topless nudity, and the brief bit of skin still had the film passing with a “PG” rating in the States. “Carry On” regular Bernard Bresslaw plays the bumbling leader of the Playboy troupe, Hammer star Freddie Jones (THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA) is an airplane passenger who provides vampire nourishment and Frank Thornton (“Captain Peacock” of “Are You Being Served?”) is a nervous London realtor who sells Dracula a historic old house. Another frequent horror film beauty, Luan Peters (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, TWINS OF EVIL), can be seen all too briefly as a busty Playboy secretary (if only they cast her as one of the models!). Composer David Whitaker (SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) provides another fine score, mixing traditional gothic with modern jazz and rock to nice effect.
OLD DRACULA has been released by MGM on their Limited Edition Collection of manufactured-on-demand DVDs. The transfer used for this disc looks quite nice, presenting the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Colors look bright, and detail is excellent, with very little imperfections to be found on the source print. The mono English audio is also in good shape. As with the other releases in the MGM Limited Edition Collection, there is no menu, but chapters can be moved at ten minute intervals. A theatrical trailer is included, but it has no narration or titles and is not the familiar AIP one narrated by the late, great Wolfman Jack (though we’ll probably screen that at this year’s Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, so don’t miss your chance to see it on the big drive-in screen!).
Where can you purchase these MGM Limited Edition Collection releases? So far they can be found for purchase online at Deep Discount DVD, Oldies.com, Movies Unlimited, Amazon.com and Screen Archives Entertainment. (George R. Reis)
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