Saturday, June 14, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #15: Al Adamson/Sam Sherman's Dracula vs Frankenstein

Al Adamson/Sam Sherman's "Dracula vs Frankenstein" really doesn't require any elaborate exposure among my readership. It's as popular in some respects as the Universal and Toho monster team-ups. In fact, as a marketing gimmick, the film was ballyhooed for recapturing the former's glory, but in truth, "Drac vs Frank" is a specialized product of its '71 time frame, despite featuring J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr and Kenneth Strickfaden's Frankenstein workshop props. In this respect, "Drac vs Frank" feels very much in tune with the works of Jess Franco, Paul Naschy and greatly smacks of Sherman's Independent International "Blood Island" franchise.

That "Drac vs Frank" doesn't deftly match the Universal style isn't surprising, since the film wasn't originally designed as a monster team-up. It initially went under the title, "Blood Freaks/Blood Seekers" (a quasi biker/horror flick). Nevertheless, it was from the "Blood" footage that Chaney's appearance was allegedly culled, with Naish eventually re-entering the scene (as an official, wheel-chaired Frankenstein descendant) to strengthen the new format. 

Sam Sherman/William Pugsley's story revolves around Frankenstein sending forth his mute, axe-armed henchmen, Groton (Chaney), to slay young women, who he then reassembles for implied resurrection. Meanwhile, Dracula (Zandor "Brain of Blood" Vorkov, aka Robert Engel) pays the doctor a surprise visit one night, promising to assist him with his gruesome tinkering and presenting the Monster (John "Incredible Two-Headed Transplant" Bloom), whom one of Frankenstein's colleagues (Famous Monsters editor, Forrest J Ackerman) had sneakily stored away. Dracula also hints to Frankenstein that he will help the mad genius gain revenge on those peers who have crippled and ridiculed him.

Regina Carrol (Adamson's lovely wife and star of many similar exploitation efforts) portrays a Vegas showgirl (which she was in actuality), who goes in search of her sister: one of Groton's victims. Along the way, she meets a mature bohemian, Anthony "Hawaiian Eye" Eisley, who is already wary of the doctor's activities and eager to expose them.

On the supporting side, Russ "Satan's Sadists" Tamblyn portrays a biker who rules the hippy-haven setting, while Bela Lugosi co-star, Angelo Rossitto plays an edgy, scene-stealing barker and as such, tremendously enhances the ominous atmosphere.

Adamson's direction is competently smooth, though the original ending shot was changed by Sherman, with new footage added after-the-fact (and Bloom replaced by Shelly Weiss). The ending attached to the film is rather notorious among horror fans, but the original concept seems more in line with the older films that "Drac vs Frank" purportedly tries to emulate and would have acted as a better springboard for a sequel, if such were ever to have emerged. (Incidentally, Adamson did promise such before his untimely death.)

Paul Glickman and Gary Graver's cinematography strikingly captures the bright boardwalk sequences. William Lava's score is also effective, though sparsely used, often taking a backseat to catchy contemporary tracks.

As it stands, "Drac vs Frank" is a would-be attempt at stealing a style it could never truly hope to recreate. That's okay. It instead comes across as a hip, psychedelic ride, and for those who have absorbed its televised showings, it remains a favorite, even if it doesn't generally gain consistent accolades. Again, that's okay. This one belongs with the likes of  "Count Yorga, Vampire", "Blacula" and "Fury of the Wolfman": low-budget, labors of love that habitually lured audiences to their local drive-ins and despite it all, utterly entertained. Indeed, watching "Drac vs Frank" in the privacy of one's living room may not fully recapture the glory of such times, but it's sure as hell a step in the right direction. Indulge, my friends, indulge!!!

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