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Blood for Dracula (1974)
With all the revolutions in the film industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of the older film monsters were starting to appear cliché, even trite. Dracula, long the enemy of Victorian standards, needed to be updated for a time when such standards had long passed. Leave it to pop artist/film producer Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey to do this by flipping the rules around and making Dracula the pathetic victim of permissive social mores.
Dracula (Udo Kier), low on virgin (pronounced waregin) blood, takes the advice of his manservant Anton (Arno Juerging) and travels to Italy to find purer victims in a religiously strict atmosphere. Under the pretense of searching for a new wife for the Count, they procure an invitation to stay at the run-down mansion of the Marchese Di Fiore. The Di Fiore family has seen better times and are more than happy to try and marry off one of their four daughters to the foreign aristocrat. Unfortunately for Dracula and his supply of virgin blood, Marxist handyman Mario (Joe Dallesandro), has been roughly sexing the most marriagable daughters at every opportunity.
When we first meet Dracula, he is a sad, pathetic man, applying makeup to his face and painting his silver hair black. This fraility of being continues throughout the film. He spends a great deal of time in a wheelchair, is finicky about his diet (he can't stomach greasy Italian fare), and he flails and spasms when he's off the virgin blood for too long. The Count is an aging reminder of a classist society, clinging to the solutions that once made sense even as they are destroying his vitality and forcing him from familiar surroundings (Kier's heavy accent and almost weightless physical bearing contribute to the sense of a man out of step with the world he lives in). Any normal man would have died of old age before the revolutions of society had diminished his fortunes so greatly, but the Count is immortal and, worse, inflexible. It's as if he's a reminder that while the character's initial inspiration is hundreds of years old, Dracula himself is still a product of Stoker's Britain and so he will always remain.
Dracula's manservant Anton, however, is one of the most energized characters in the film. Active, constantly thinking for his destitute vampire lord, and treating the Count much like a nursemaid would treat an increasingly senile patient, Anton acts as the dynamic presence that Dracula himself would typically embody in a more traditional vampire film. However, he is also intensely prudish, insistent that everything be correct and nothing out of place, to the point of countermanding Dracula's whining pleas whenever it will not serve the larger purpose of finding a viable virgin from whom to feed. As a result, his role in the film is in large part to act as a unwitting enabler to Dracula's eventual undoing by the rising social changes.
Of course, it's not hard to imagine rising social changes defeating the legendary Dracula when those changes are embodied by the rough-hewn, musclebound Mario. Mario spends a great deal of the film either nailing (consensually or otherwise) one of the Di Fiore sisters or spouting a lot of Communist philosophy about the end of the aristocracy and the rise of the worker. Even if Dallesandro hardly gives the impression of someone who reads (much less one who has lived outside of Brooklyn, New York) what the character represents is important. He's a brute with almost no moral compass -- but he's a self-reliant brute. Dracula's amorality stems from necessity (he has to have blood or he'll die), and he tries to acquire what he needs by exploiting a moral system. Mario, on the other hand, lacks a compass simply because he doesn't see the point of having one in a world that he is convinced is on the verge of collapsing. He needs nothing more than food and shelter, both of which he can procure on his own, if necessary. When he wants something, he doesn't worry about social niceties -- he just takes it. Given that he does some of the more reprehensible things in the film, he's hardly a good protagonist, but we understand why he will survive while Dracula will not. It's not because he represents Good and Good always triumphs over Evil. There is no Good in this film. Mario will survive because he is the new chaos, taking over the mantle from Dracula, whose own chaotic nature has fallen to entropy and become the status quo.
As the vampire bourgeoisie vs. beefcake proletariat struggle rages on, we shift our gaze to the Di Fiores, the battleground upon which the supernatural poli-sci battle is fought. The family is the kind of rich-poor (property but no money, title but no prestige) that could go either way; they can either divest themselves of their social graces to work the fields in the nude, or they can marry up and bring good money back into the family coffers. You could say that Blood for Dracula is about a battle for the Di Fiores' socio-economic souls. The family is only slightly more moral than either Dracula or Mario, and that is only because they are naïvely unaware that they are even capable of going so low. Certainly, they have no issue wishing the Count a speedy death should it benefit the family, but such a suggestion is never framed with any actual ill will towards the Count. That would be without manners. The Di Fiore clan simply lacks perspective -- they come from a place of riches and have suffered no hardships to acquire them. The only difficulty has come in losing them. The middle sisters in particular separate themselves from the rest of the world and delude themselves that, on some level, they are still relevant. This makes them prime targets for Dracula's sickly attempt to reascend to his own blood-soaked relevancy, as well as Mario's brutal sexual proclivities.
However, I wouldn't want anyone to think that Blood for Dracula isn't fun (although the number of sexual references I've had to make so far should indicate some amount of basic titillation). It's a mad, crazy campfest. The point about Dracula's peculiar and inexplicable need for virgin blood is a long-standing gag throughout the movie. He meets the middle two sisters in separate, private sessions, and tries through a variety of mindgames to get them to admit if they've had sex. They have, but their upbringing requires they maintain otherwise. Dracula believes them, bites them (in both cases causing sexual ectasy of one kind or another), and then vomits up their tainted blood. As he infamously exclaims to Anton after the second sister has failed him, "The blood of these whores is killing me!" The final reel, in all of its amputational joy, predicts the Black Knight sequence in 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, right down to the ridiculous fountains of blood.
It's something of a relief that the film is so silly on occasion (and full of gratuitous nudity on others). While Morrissey's themes run deep throughout the film, there is a question of purpose. While Dracula is defeated by the New Order, the point is somewhat tempered by the fact that this Dracula is so far and away different than any other we've seen. Making a comment on the Dracula legend should require a more recognizable Count; otherwise the revision and revisitation of a popular culture legend may as well be the creation of something entirely new. However, something entirely new in the context of this story wouldn't work -- the very idea is to deconstruct Dracula.
If you wanted to enjoy Blood for Dracula as pure entertainment, a dirty pleasure that you could defend to no-one, Morrissey gives you this outlet in spades. However, behind the goofiness lies the heart of a film that actually bothers to look at Dracula in a way that hadn't been done before. Whether entirely successful or not, such an effort warrants watching and applauding, if only for the sheer gall of even making the attempt.
Look for a cameo by director Roman Polanski.
Shot back-to-back with Flesh for Frankenstein.