Wednesday, July 22, 2015


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1, 2) *poor,* (3) *fair*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

OLD DRACULA took its best-known title from Mel Brooks' successful film YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, replacing the shooting title of VAMPIRA. The later title might actually be more appropriate, since the film is more about this version of Dracula (played by David Niven), rather than the character of Vampira, his wife. For reasons I've already forgotten, Dracula's wife-- also a vampire-- has remained in a coma for many years. The vampire-lord has fallen on hard times, and has resorted to letting his majordomo conduct tours of his castle. When a group of Playboy Playmates takes the tour, Dracula suddenly decides that he should try to revive Vampira by giving her a blood-transfusion from the Playmates. Maybe he can't shake his habit of only preying on beautiful young girls-- though given what happens to Vampira, maybe the Count was wise not to have preyed on any forty-year-old shoe salesmen.

Vampira revives, all right, but since one of the blood-donors was black, Vampira transforms into a black female (Teresa Graves). Even though she's theoretically still his beloved wife, Dracula doesn't want to be seen shacking up with a person of color ("people would talk, you see," he claims). So he takes Vampira to London, planning to harvest the blood of some hardy British Caucasians in order to reverse the color-change. (Why go to Britain? Well, again-- force of habit.)

The main joke is racial but not racist: there's nothing intrinsically wrong with a comedy playing around with the notion of people changing their race. Some viewers might be put off that Dracula is so adamant that he can't have a black wife, but the real reason for his insistence is that the script has no other ideas going for it. OLD DRACULA might actually have been if it had played up the racial humor for all it was worth. But then, the film was conceived and shot in England, where black-white racial tensions have never been as intense as they are in the United States. The film has a few funny moments in its first half-hour, while Dracula remains within his archetypal castle-- but once he and his crew venture into the night-life of London, both the pace and the humor go downhill fast. The ending is objectionable not in terms of racism, but just in terms of being stupid.

PANDEMONIUM spoofs horror-tropes in a much more general way than OLD DRACULA, though it focuses principally on the subgenre of the slasher film, still popular in 1982. In fact, PANDEMONIUM's director Alfred Sole had made the "pre-slasher" ALICE SWEET ALICE in 1976, one influenced by earlier horror-thrillers by Roeg and Hitchcock, though ALICE wasn't released until the same year Carpenter's HALLOWEEN codified the rules for the "official slasher."

Sadly, PANDEMONIUM's comedy doesn't succeed as do the thrills of ALICE, in that most of the jokes are just as lame as those of OLD DRACULA. However, PANDEMONIUM provides a greater variety of gags, making one's chances of liking something better than average, along the lines of the old vaudeville saying, "If you don't like one, there'll be another along next minute." I confess I did rather like the "cheerleader shish-ka-bob" scene and Paul Reubens' performance as an annoying twit.

The film also benefits from an ample list of famous faces. Tom Smothers doesn't contribute much as Cooper, a Canadian mountie (did anyone even remember Nelson and Eddy in 1982?) But it's fun to see actors like Eve Arden, Donald O'Connor, Eileen Brennan and Judge Reinhold tossed into the same soup. Carol Kane plays the closest that the film has to a central character: a young woman named Candy who makes the decision to enroll in cheerleader camp just as a serial killer-- maybe more than one-- starts killing cheerleaders. Candy herself is a bit of a monster, given that she has psychic powers a la "Carrie," though Kane plays her like a possessed Linda Blair. She becomes the film's "final girl" long before that role had become set as in stone, though because she ends up fighting the psycho-killer with her powers, this is more of a "combative" work than most slashers. Six years later, Jason would contend with a "Carrie"-like telepath for one go-round.

Another "combative comedy" for this review is 1983's BULLSHOT!, the film version of BULLSHOT CRUMMOND, a successful stage-play that spoofing the famous British hero Bulldog Drummond. It might've been interesting had the film spoofed the original prose hero. I've read four of the novels originally printed in the 1920s, and they're a fascinating cornucopia of fascism, racism and brutality.  However, what's being spoofed here is the version of Bulldog promulgated through American cinema, particularly the first sound film, 1929's BULLDOG DRUMMOND, wherein the debonair Ronald Colman essayed a polite, "veddy British" hero that has become the best-known persona of the hero.

In contrast to the lackluster scripts for OLD DRACULA and PANDEMONIUM, BULLSHOT's writers know just the right buttons to push for the laughs-- though I'm not sure how funny the film would be to someone with absolutely no knowledge of the original film-franchise. As in the 1929 film, the noble athlete-hero Bullshot Crummond faces the menace of a foreign criminal, Otto Von Bruno, and his equally Teutonic aide Lenya.  The Germans are trying to wring scientific secrets out of, well, a scientist, though they themselves seem to have technology far in advance of a World War I setting-- such as force fields, of all things. The single best joke plays upon Crummond's "Rue Brittania" assumptions: when Von Bruno predicts that someday the most powerful country will be the one with the greatest oil reserves, Crummond is duly scandalized.

It's no AIRPLANE, but BULLSHOT is a better than average parody.

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