Sunday, April 1, 2012

Thoughts on 'Blood For Dracula' and its brilliant title sequence

An assortment of foreign posters advertising Blood For Dracula.

By some accounts, there are more films about Dracula than about any other fictional character. The Guinness people say he's been portrayed in a staggering 272 films, even more than Sherlock Holmes (who's been portrayed a mere 254 times). Of all these cinematic incarnations of the famous bloodsucker, perhaps none have affected me as deeply as Paul Morrissey's 1974 horror-comedy opus, Blood For Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Dracula, after its world-famous producer). In this bizarre and hilarious film, a companion piece to Morrissey's Flesh For Frankenstein, the famous vampire is portrayed by the eccentric and beloved German thespian Udo Kier as a frail, weak creature who barely has the strength to walk and who is bossed around by his own manservant, Anton (Arno Jeuring). In desperate need of virgin blood but scorned by the people of his own country, Dracula makes a last-ditch journey to Italy in search of fresh victims and winds up as a house guest in the crumbling home of the Di Fiores, a fading aristocratic family with four comely daughters. Morrissey deconstructs the Dracula legend and uses it as a platform to satirize morality, class warfare, and even politics. The film is set shortly after the Russian Revolution, and the Di Fiores' gardener (a never-better Joe Dallesandro) is a bolshevik who views the Count as a relic of a bygone era.

What really gives the film its kick, however, is Udo Kier's performance in the title role. This is a Dracula unlike any I've seen in motion picture history: frail and vulnerable, a shadow of his former self. Paul Morrissey introduces us to this unconventional Dracula with an astonishing opening sequence, all done in one take and set to the melancholy, nostalgic music of Claudio Gizzi. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to walk you through this sequence step by step. Keep in mind that the image directly below is the very first thing you see in the film.

The face of Dracula: pale, haunted, vulnerable.
He begins to add makeup, starting with greasepaint eyebrows.
He adds color to his lips. For the first time, we see his fangs.
Dracula paints on his famous black hair. In reality, it is white.
Though he has no reflection, he has been looking in a mirror.
The chair pulls back, seemingly of its own accord.
Dracula exits the room in shadow. All this has been one shot.

For a low-budget film shot quickly and written as it was being made, Blood For Dracula is remarkably accomplished and compelling, telling a story which is thought-provoking, disturbing, amusing, and arousing. The opening sequence perfectly encapsulates Morrissey's particular take on the familiar character, and it's all achieved with careful framing, evocative music, and a pitch-perfect performance by Kier, whose eyes and facial expression communicate so much without one word being spoken. The following clip will show you how all these elements came together in the finished film:


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