Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Capsule Film Reviews: Dracula Dead and Loving It

There have been several parodies of Dracula since the comic duo of Abbott and Costello met Dracula (Bela Lugosi) in 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal, Charles Barton) raising the question of why we need another. The recent Dracula parody Dracula Dead and Loving It (Castle Rock, Columbia, WB, Brooksfilms, Gaumont) doesn't really address the question of why we need yet another Dracula parody straight on. Presumably, if it did it would tell us that we need this new Dracula parody because this is Mel Brooks's Dracula parody.

Mel Brooks has made a career out of parodying Hollywood genres. Brooks's 1974 Blazing Saddles parodied the Western. His 1974 Young Frankenstein parodied the Frankenstein horror subgenre. His 1976 Silent Movie parodied silent films. His 1977 High Anxiety parodied the suspense films of Alfred Hitchcock. His 1987 Space Balls parodied action oriented science fiction films like Flash Gordon and Star Wars. His 1983 Robin Hood: Men in Tights parodied the swashbuckling Robin Hood film subgenre. His 1995 Dracula: Dead and Loving It parodies the Dracula horror subgenre.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It, which Brooks directed and co-wrote with Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman from a story by De Luca and Haberman, follows the classic tale of Dracula fairly closely. The film begins with the arrival of lawyer Thomas Renfield (Peter MacNichol) in Transylvania to close a real estate deal with Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen). Renfield, after being turned into a toadie by the Count, travels with Dracula to his newly acquired chateau in England where they set up house next to Dr. Seward's (Harvey Korman) sanitarium. There the count becomes enchanted with Lucy Westenra (Lysette Anthony) and Mina Murray (Amy Yasbeck) and slowly but surely begins to turn one after the other into eros on the mind vampires. It is only when Dr Seward and Mina's beau Jonathan Harker (Steven Weber) consult the famous Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Brooks) that the vampire plague is ended and Dracula is killed, well perhaps killed. See the end of the end titles.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It has all the hallmarks of the classic Dracula celluloid tale. There's shadows, bats, spider webs, creaking doors, fog, mind control, paleness and wanness, mirrors without vampire reflections, breaking mirrors, crosses, garlic, fanged teeth, two fang bite marks, eerie statues, eerie music, creepy shadows, candles, candelabra, crosses, sunlight that is harmful to a vampire's undead health, dark and dank castles, bug, insect, and spider eating, blood, blood on gums and teeth.

This being a Mel Brooks parody, however, there is a large degree of film brat reflexivity and genre parody that is added to the Dracula horror mix. Brooks plays with critical perspectives that argue that Bram Stoker's Dracula tale was really about the return of what Victorianism repressed, sexuality. There's also the silly pratfalls, silly puns, silly sounds, silly sketch show and sitcomy overacting, silly undercutting of dramatic monologues with silly wordplay, silly repeated phrases, and silly vocal dynamics that are so typical of a Brooks film and of Hollywood parody films in general.

I have never been a big or small fan of Mel Brooks. I can take a little of Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety but I prefer to leave the obviousness, silliness, juvenalia, scatology--thankfully the scatology is minimal in Dracula: Dead and Loving It--and the sketch comedy and sitcomy overacting of Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, Space Balls, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It far behind. Brooks's films have always seemed to me to be a series of vaudevillian Sid Caesar Your Show of Shows (NBC, 1950-1954) like sketch parodies which are loosely related and which have been thrown together to produce a feature length film that goes on for far too long. I like my parodies with a satiric edge, which is why I like Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and which is why I have never really been drawn to Brooks films. There isn't much in the way of satire in them. Brooks should stick to sketch show television. Two stars mostly for the excellent sets and cinematography.

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