Thursday, October 28, 2010

Andy Warhol’s Dracula (a.k.a. Blood for Dracula) (1974)

Directed by Paul Morrissey
Starring Udo Kier, Joe D’Allesandro, Dominique Darel, Stefania Casini, Vittorio de Sica
Rated X
Italy

A Halloween-themed entry for ya.

Appearing in the spring of 1974, Andy Warhol’s Dracula (a.k.a. Blood for Dracula) -- along with its almost-simultaneously-released companion title, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (a.k.a. Flesh for Frankenstein) -- probably stands as one of the most-seen or “commercial” of Warhol’s films.

It’s also most certainly one of the wildest, goriest, sexiest entries in the crowded Dracula subgenre of horror.

Of course, while Warhol’s name appears in the title and he is credited as co-producer, it’s more of a branding thing than an indication of the celebrated pop artist’s involvement. Such was the case with many of the later Warhol features. (Sorta like with The Velvet Underground and Nico, one might say.) Here, as elsewhere, writer-director Paul Morrissey is probably best understood as the one most directly responsible for the film’s unique take on the Dracula story.

The film stars German actor and cult film legend Udo Kier in the title role. Joe D’Allesandro, vet of numerous Warhol flicks such as Flesh, Trash, and Heat, co-stars as Mario, disgruntled servant to the Di Fiore family. Also among the cast are Bicycle Thief director Vittorio de Sica as the head of the family, and Maxime McKendry as the Marchese’s wife.

The film opens with an extreme close-up of an ashen-looking Count painting color into his face and hair so as to appear a little less corpsey. Italian composer Claudio Gizzi’s mournful, Erik Satie-ish theme underscores the scene’s melancholy mood.

Thanks to the Count’s servant, Anton (played by the bug-eyed Arno Juerging), we learn the Count is gravely ill, in desperate need of the blood of virgins to subsist. Anton suggests a trip from Romania to Italy where thanks to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church the likelihood of finding the requisite virgins -- consistently pronounced “where-gins” by the pair -- is ostensibly greater.

The two of them hit the road, the Count’s coffin in which he sleeps strapped to the top of their vehicle. A little bit like Aunt Edna in Vacation.












We then look in on the Di Fiore daughters working in the fields. Eventually we learn that after previously thriving, the family has fallen on relatively hard times, now only able to employ the one servant, Mario, and thus having to do things like work in the garden themselves.

Saphiria (Dominique Darel, who sadly died in a car accident just a few years after) and Rubinia (Stefania Casini, who turns up along with Udo Kier in Dario Argento’s Suspiria) decide to disrobe to get more comfortable. Having to do manual labor reduces their status, argues Saphiria, thus making the wearing of clothes seem a luxury. “We are workers and peasants,” she says, “and we might as well start acting the part.”












Sounds reasonable.

After predictably shocking their mother and two sisters, the prudish Esmeralda (Milena Vukotic) and the youngest Perla (Silvia Dionisio), the pair decide to behave and put back on their clothes, having been further encouraged to do so by a somewhat pissed-off seeming Mario.

Cut back to the Count and Anton, now in Italy. At a tavern Anton gathers info about the Di Fiore family. He also just happens to be present when a car accident claims the life of a young girl. The resourceful servant soaks up some of the blood with some bread and brings it back to his master for a tasty treat.












Soon our fun-loving pair arrive at the Di Fiores’ with a story that the Count is looking for a wife. It takes a bit of convincing by his wife, but eventually the Marchese agrees to host them in order to allow the Count a chance to meet his daughters and perhaps choose one as his bride. The Di Fiores view the Count as a means by which to recup the family’s fortune, although we know better.

We also know something the Count doesn’t know, too. Namely, that if he’s hoping to find “where-gins,” he’s destined for disappointment as far as Saphiria and Rubinia are concerned, as they spend that evening taking turns enjoying the family’s studly servant.












Afterwards, the girls tell Mario of the Count and the family’s plans. They promise him a job as a butler at “Palazzo Dracula,” but Mario isn’t interested. In fact, he’s disgusted with the girls’ materialistic thinking, and predicts a revolution such as happened in Russia will soon occur there in Italy. (A hammer and sickle sketched on the wall of Mario’s room later confirms his Marxist leanings.)

The Count meets the four daughters.












Conflict is imminent, as the Count is looking for virgins, but, as Rubinia says to Saphiria, “I never want to marry until I find out what he’s like in bed.”

Saphiria isn’t too crazy about a future with the sickly-looking Count. Mom agrees he’s “deathly pale,” but attributes that to his being a vegetarian. Eventually the Count and Saphiria get to know one another, their meeting mostly involving a most-intrusive interview of the girl by the Count, the goal of which is to find out whether or not she’s ever slept with a man.

When she tells him she’s a virgin, he is initially unconvinced. “Did anyone touch you here... or here... or here?” he probes. And probes. Satisfied with her responses, the Count suddenly proves he’s not a vegetarian after all.












Alas, as we already well know, Saphiria isn’t pure. And thus does the Count find it necessary to send back his meal.












Meanwhile, Mario and Rubinia pass the time making love and discussing class issues. “Right now he’s a disgusting person with money,” says Mario of the Count. “After the revolution he’ll be a disgusting person with no money.” Rubinia nevertheless remains committed to the idea of enjoying the Count’s riches.

They fight some, but ultimately seem capable of overcoming their ideological differences.












Afterwards Rubinia gives her 14-year-old sister Perla a little lecture while she tries to “wash away this peasant smell.” Perla isn’t convinced by Rubinia’s modern views towards sex. Rubinia responds with one of the film’s many campy bits of dialogue:

“As long as you clean and wash yourself up after each one, it’s okay. You just have to smell fresh!”

Rubinia then meets with the Count, and again the meeting mostly consists of Dracula interviewing the Di Fiore daughter about her sexual history. Things seem to be going well between them until Rubinia takes a peek in the mirror into which the Count is gazing.












“You have no refraction!” (It sounds like she says.) Soon Dracula is feasting once more. And once more things don’t go as he would’ve hoped.












Dude’s gonna need a Zantac or something. Seriously. That’s some wicked reflux he keeps having.

The Marchese has to go to London for business. (Actually, it is suggested later he’s going to London to gamble, which started the family’s troubles in the first place.) The Marchesa is left feeling distraught over the failure of her two daughters to satisfy the Count as a possible bride.

A conversation with the Count causes Mario to become suspicious. There remain two more daughters -- both “where-gins” -- but now it is starting to look like a race to see if Mario can get to them before the Count does.












I’ll let you see for yourself how the story ultimately plays out. Some genuine suspense as things race to the end, with a fairly jawdropping conclusion. There’s more sex. And violence. And some blood for Dracula.












While its commentaries on class and/or “modern” decadence are more than a little muddled, the film is nonetheless an entirely entertaining, irreverent take on the genre. The acting is often way, way over-the-top -- especially Udo Kier’s performance -- but clearly intentionally so. There’s enough Dominique Darel and Stefania Casini on display to warrant the “X” rating the original cut received on its premiere. And the audacious, ultra-gory finale should leave most who come to a film like this satisfied.

In the DVD commentary track, Morrissey notes near the end that he enjoys straddling that line between “serious and silly” or “meaningless and meaningful.” Probably as good a place as any to place Andy Warhol’s Dracula.

- Triple S

2 comments:

  1. I own this, yet haven't gotten more than 30 minutes into it. I think it's definitely the "silly/serious" aspect that I need to adjust for. I think I'll have to give it another go this weekend.

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  2. Pacing definitely odd/slow early on, but that last half-hour worth it if you can get there. I first saw the cut version (about 10 min. shorter), which I think might have omitted some of the fluff (like the tavern game w/Anton).

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