DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT (1995 United States/France)

1396643152_1_fullThis can be quite an addictive spoof. Once is not enough. One of my many favourite lines is uttered by Renfield after he’s been caught peeping at Lucy. Thrown into a prison cell, he pleads with his captors: “I didn’t see anything! I didn’t see anything!” After they close the door and leave him alone, he leers: “I… saw… everything!

It is gorgeous and really does justice to the elaborate art direction which strives (a) to recreate or evoke the look and feel of the 1931 version of ‘Dracula’ (with passing allusions to the Murnau and Coppola versions) and (b) to simply overpower the viewer with its colourful elegance and Gothic glamour. This is the work of a very funny, very cultured, very observant and very devious brain: Mel Brooks.

The reason why it is controversial and has so many ‘casual detractors’ (people who hate it without being able to really tell you why) is that it supposes that the viewer is just as cultured as its maker. It assumes you have seen, appreciated, loved and reflected on every important version of ‘Dracula’ ever made. The Brooks film itself is closely modeled on the 1931 version, which was inspired by a stage play which was already far removed from the original novel.

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By simply retelling the story contained in this God-awful stage-play very slowly, very solemnly and very respectfully (all the original ‘thrills’ of the 1931 version are left intact and sometimes amplified), the absurdity of the whole enterprise becomes self-evident. This caused enough repeated titters in me. The various puns, pratfalls and elements of outright parody just add a very flavourful icing to this already powerful basic cake mix. The end result has the feel of a group of talented adults putting on an amateur recreation of a very bad play for their own amusement, on an unlimited budget.

It’s just that no one can be expected to keep a straight face throughout such an ordeal. Another part of this film’s charm is that the “movie recreation” part being so convincing in itself, a horror aficionado cannot help but be affected by the suspense elements of it and invaded by a perpetual state of nervous excitement that makes him/her break into nervous laughter at the slightest provocation. And what talented provocateurs we are dealing with.

Leslie Neilsen’s baritone voice is put to good use. Peter MacNicol steals the show with his crazed Renfield: upright English gentleman turned insect – eating lunatic. Steven Weber and Harvey Korman are pleasingly uptight in a British way. Amy Yasbeck (yummy!) superbly imitates (red hair style, stuffy voice) Barbara Shelley, Hammer Horror’s 1960s scream queen. Lysette Anthony has fantastic boobs and puts the rest of herself into it as well. Mel Brooks is solid and irritating as the know-all Van Helsing, with his mock Yiddish accent. Anyway, to sum up; if enjoying this type of silliness is wrong then I don’t want to be right.

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