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Dracula vs Frankenstein (US Blu-Ray Review)

Back in the early 80s, when I was in Junior High, there was a Boston institution called The Creature Double Feature—a Saturday afternoon double feature of classic horror films, on a local TV channel, through which many a young person had their formative experience with classic horror and exploitation film. Among the frequently repeated offerings was a pairing of Paul Naschy’s Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1971), and Al Adamson’s Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971). The connection between the two films was Sam Sherman, independent producer extraordinaire, who co-produced and co-wrote Dracula vs Frankenstein, and had secured American distribution rights to Naschy’s La Marca del Hombre Lobo, released here as Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.

Of the two films, it was Dracula vs Frankenstein that proved the most perplexing to us kids. We couldn’t quite figure out what it was about, though we also couldn’t stop watching it every time it aired. There was just something about it. The story dealt with Dr.Durea, (J. Carrol Naish in his last film role), a wheelchair-bound mad scientist who runs a Creature Emporium at a local carnival, while conducting blood experiments on decapitated/rejuvenated young women in his basement lab. His purpose? Hard to say. I believe he is trying to extract some sort of serum produced by the blood during extreme shock (such as being decapitated). This serum is supposed to somehow make life normal again for Dr. Durea and his mute assistant, Groton (Lon Chaney Jr.), who does the Doctor’s bloody handiwork. Soon enough, Dracula shows up with the body of the Frankenstein monster and convinces the Doctor (who, as it turns out, is really the last member of the Frankenstein family), to bring the monster back to life, thus fulfilling his family’s destiny, (though it’s not certain what Dracula’s motive here is). This, the Doctor does, and the first order of business for Dracula and the monster is to take revenge on Dr. Beaumont (Forrest J. Ackerman) for discrediting Dr. Durea and setting the fire that confined him to a wheelchair. Meanwhile, a Las Vegas showgirl, Judith Fontaine (Regina Carrol) shows up in search of her missing sister (one of Dr. Durea’s victims), and starts a romance with a local surfer, Mike Howard (Anthony Eisley) who helps her search for her sister. There is also a subplot involving a crazed biker gang (comprised of three bikers), lead by none other than Russ Tamblyn.

Years later, I learned that Dracula vs Frankenstein was actually several films combined into one, which explains a lot. The initial idea was The Blood Seekers (aka The Blood Freaks) and was shot mostly in 1969. As shooting progressed Sam and Al made changes to the script. Ideas were dropped; new ideas were introduced, and the film became a patchwork of plots and subplots. When the original work-print cut of The Blood Seekers was screened, no one was happy with the results, so Sam came up with the outlandish idea of adding Dracula and Frankenstein to the plot which was already bursting at the seams. Most of the new footage was then shot in 1971 and incorporated into the existing film.

Playing Dracula was Adamson’s stock broker, Roger Engel (renamed Zandor Vorkov by Forrest J. Ackerman); while Frankenstein’s Monster was played by the 7’4” accountant and occasional actor, John Bloom, who often wanted to go home early from the film shoot because it was tax season. While the new footage was being shot, the film’s composer, William Lava, who had already scored The Blood Seekers, passed away, and the new footage had to be accompanied by stock music from old horror films, including a passage from The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This only added to the patchwork quality of the film.

Dracula vs Frankenstein took a long time to release, and Sam would periodically announce it under various titles, including Blood of Frankenstein. At some point he realized he needed to give the distributors a Frankenstein film, so he found Paul Naschy’s La Marca del Hombre Lobo (aka Hell’s Creatures), a film that referenced the “Wolfstein” family. So Sam, having promised a Frankenstein film, invented an opening credit sequence in which it is explained that the Frankenstein family of monster-makers was cursed by a werewolf’s curse and became “Wolfstein.” That way, the film could be renamed Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror and the distributors would be happy.

Eventually, Dracula vs Frankenstein was released and did very good business. For all its nonsensical tropes and confusing patchwork of subplots, the film is unified by a unique atmosphere and an obvious love for the genre. It has elements of madness and audacity which are sorely missing in most of today’s genre cinema, hampered by PC culture in which people have lost the ability to laugh at themselves.

The new HD restoration by MGM is a revelation. Dracula vs Frankenstein has never before looked this good on home video. It’s a grainy film, and the grain is not always consistent from scene to scene, but it was shot in 16mm, so this is to be expected. Most importantly, no visible attempt has been made to scrub the grain, or to coarsen it via edge enhancement. It’s a very natural and filmic presentation, and the final battle of the monsters now shows some detail, where’s in previous releases, it was mostly just dark. Likewise, the sound is clear and full. The dialog is easy to follow.

Extra features

Sam Sherman’s original commentary track, ported over from a previous DVD release, in which he describes, sometimes in painful detail, what they had to go through to get this film made.

Producing Schlock, an 8-minute interview with Sam Sherman on his partnership with Al Adamson, and the films they made together.

Alternative Ending, a much less interesting and sudden ending to the film, which foregoes the entire abandoned church sequence, or the monster battle.

8mm Location Footage, Sam Sherman’s own footage of the abandoned church which he showed to Al Adamson as a possible location idea for the film’s finale.

A 5-minute interview with Forrest J. Ackerman and Sam Sherman, hanging out together at a Chiller Theater Expo in New Jersey, discussing a “new” DVD release of Dracula vs Frankenstein, and showing us an extended scene of Forry and Dracula from the film.

Deleted and Extended scenes; a TV and theatrical trailers, a photo gallery, and, what appears to be some kind of protest footage, or maybe one of Sam Sherman’s publicity stunts, like the one where he hired stewardesses to protest the opening of Naughty Stewardesses to generate publicity for his film.

Bottom Line

As is probably obvious, I’ve been close to Dracula vs Frankenstein since my formative years, so I have a hard time judging what impression a person who has never seen the film might have of it. It’s certainly cheap and schlocky, and has a hard time keeping track of its own maze of narratives. It boasts two of the most iconic horror characters, and some famous genre names among the actors (even if they are all way past their prime), and somehow manages to incorporate solid craftsmanship and good acting with inept craftsmanship and downright terrible acting, (Zandor Vorkov I’m looking at you). Yet, what unites these disparate elements in an obvious love of the genre, lots of vintage 60’s/70’s atmosphere, and the ability of the film to never take itself too seriously. It’s a highly entertaining film, and a classic of independent genre filmmaking, and I would recommend it to all fans of the genre.

About Dima Ballin

Dima is the founder and publisher of Diabolique Magazine and the co-founder of the Boston Underground Film Festival. He is currently working on several screenplays and trying to attain enlightenment through Buddhism.

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