The fear will fully energize the molecular structure of your blood!
You would have expected that Universal would have released a movie called Dracula vs Frankenstein, since they paired the famous monsters on more than one occasion. They didn’t. As though to establish some cosmic balance for the oversight, the early 1970s saw three films by this title. The definitive movie by this title is Al Adamson’s drive-in shlockfest, which manages to be the last horror film for aging veterans J. Carroll Naish and Lon Chaney, Jr., and features a cameo by Famous Monsters publisher Forrest J. Ackerman.
It’s a truly terrible movie, one tier above the Ed Wood oeuvre, and yet, peculiarly enjoyable. Certainly, it’s better than the others, which will also be reviewed today as part of our Halloween Countdown.
Title: Dracula vs Frankenstein
Director: Al Adamson
Writers: William Pugsley, Samuel M. Sherman, Al Adamson
J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Dure / Dr. Frankenstein
Lon Chaney, Jr. as Groton
Zandor Vorkov (Roger Engel) as Count Dracula
John Bloom and Shelly Weiss as Frankenstein’s Monster
Regina Carrol as Judith Fontaine
Anthony Eisley as Mike Howard
Jim Davis as Sheriff Brown
Russ Tamblyn as Rico
Anne Morrell as Samantha
Maria Lease as Joan
Angelo Rossitto as Grazbo the Dwarf
Forrest J Ackerman as Dr. Beaumont
Adamson originally hired aging veterans Chaney and Naish for a very different exploitation flick, one dealing with hippies and bikers. Most of the filming was complete before he realized it wasn’t working, and so he revised the script to include Dracula and Frankenstein, and did a lot of new footage and reshooting. The resulting movie plays about as coherently as one might expect.
A mad scientist—actually the last descendant of Dr. Frankenstein—and his deranged, puppy-loving assistant, Groton, run sinister experiments out of the House of Horrors on an old-time California amusement pier. A Vegas singer comes in search of her missing sister, one of the hippies abducted for experimentation purposes. She teams up with some her sister’s friends, one of whom is on the run from Nazi-apparel-wearing bikers leftover from the original movie premise. Meanwhile, Count Dracula turns up because, in the new plot they’ve grafted onto the original script, he has located the body of Frankenstein’s Monster. The titular monsters finally have two brief confrontations at the end, reshot with different (and more effective) make-up for the Count and a different actor dressed as the Monster. Supposedly, this was from a third reshoot, prompted by the filmmakers’ realization that the film should feature, at some point, an actual fight between Dracula and Frankenstein.
It’s almost impossible to find one “Low Point” for a film this bad. From a historic/fannish standpoint, it’s the utter waste of Lon Chaney in his last role. He also plays with a puppy, recalling rather inappropriately his first screen triumph in Of Mice and Men. Given Chaney’s outspoken criticism, at the end of his life, of current trends in cheap, exploitative horror, his appearance here is quite sad.
On a less depressing note, Dracula’s make-up, when seen in the light of day before his dissolution at sunrise, makes him look like a reject member of Kiss…
…while his actual dissolution features the closest thing to decent effects and make-up in the entire film.
What really stands out is the film’s ability to capture some semblance of the old monsters and put them in the contemporaneous world, complete with bikers, hippies, and the tropes of current cop shows. Dracula vs Frankenstein received mad play at the drive-ins and, for the next decade, on late-night television, and, shoddy script, poor production values, and dubious acting aside, it’s a piece of horror history. The dialogue, meanwhile, provides many laughs. It’s one of those films that is bad enough to be– sporadically– entertaining.
Originality: 2/6 The bizarre filmed, stitched together like Frankenstein’s Monster, at least scores some points for originality.
Effects: 2/6 Most of the effects are old-time serial bad. The Monsters have been made up to recall Universal’s version—though not nearly so much as the poster suggests. Frankenstein’s creation looks like a cross between Karloff and a slab of raw meat. Dracula recalls the second runner-up in the costume competition at last year’s Halloween party. His voice is dubbed with reverb, so he sounds as ridiculous as he looks. His Dracula ring shoots cartoon lightning, a gimmick stolen from Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.
Story: 2/6 The plot best recalls something a demented child would have acted out with the contemporaneous Aurora Monster Scenes models. You could even pull of Frankenstein’s snap-together arms, just as Dracula does in the film.
Acting: 3/6 Acting is all over the place, and mostly bad. Some of the extras—including future Dallas star Jim Davis– do a reasonable job on their parts. Others embarrass themselves, in that way that has audiences asking, “couldn’t they find anyone better than that?” (But enough on the 2016 American Presidential Election). One feels sorry for Chaney and Naish, forced into terrible roles in their final horror movie. Chaney’s character is mute and Naish’s is in a wheelchair, almost certainly due to the veteran actors’ failing health.
Production: 2/6 Like Frankenstein’s Monster, the film is poorly lit and choppily stitched together.
Emotional Response: 2/6
Overall: 2/6 While any early-70s attempt to spoof horror movies would end up looking a little like this movie, it’s difficult to believe that Richard O’Brien, a huge fan of b-movie horror, who was writing Rocky Horror while this made the rounds, wasn’t directly influenced by Adamson. O’Brien’s Dr. Scott, in particular, recalls Dure/Frankenstein.
In total, Dracula vs Frankenstein receives 15/42.
October Countdown 2016
October 1: The Blair Witch (2016)
October 8: Ghost Slayer Ayashi (2006)
October 15: Shin Godzilla (2016)
October 22: Dracula vs Frankenstein Marathon (1971, 1971, 1969)
October 29: Requiem for Darkness (2003)
October 31: Trick ‘r Treat (2009)