The British Horror industry was coming to the end of it’s run in 1974. Hammer and Amicus Productions were slowing down while Tigon films had gotten out of the production game and merely distributed films. Strangely enough Vampira brought new blood to the genre with David Niven (The Pink Panther) playing Count Dracula. The English icon and Oscar winner had never worked with any of the companies that created the Scare Britannia genre. Not that he was that snobbish in what he projects he took part in. Odds are that none the English companies could afford his rates. But he was able to be a part of his native land’s frightening time with an unusual crew. Director Clive Donner had not done a horror film for any of the trio. His previous hits were What’s New Pussycat with Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole and Woody Allen and Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush with Barry Evans (Doctor In The House). Screenwriter Jeremy Lloyd was known for sitcoms and would eventually create Are You Being Served and ‘Allo ‘Allo!. The only one with a bit of suspense under their belt was cinematographer Anthony Richmond who had just shot Don’t Look Now for Nicolas Roeg. The film was more comedy than a scream so the choices weren’t too off base. Old Dracula or Vampira (depending which side of the Atlantic) showed the Count as man having to adjust with the times.
Count Dracula (Around the World in 80 Days‘ David Niven) has discovered the ultimate curse of living forever – have to pay bills. He’s making ends meet and keeping up his castle by having guests visit the place as if it was a Bed and Breakfast. Although since it’s vampire themed, the focus is dinner. Vampires aren’t known for the their love of breakfast or even brunch. Dracula doesn’t do it all by himself. He has his faithful assistant Marc (Witchfinder General’s Nicky Henson). They plan for their next batch of guests which includes a pack of Playboy magazine Playmates. Dracula wants to revive his main lady, The Countess Vampira. She needs a new injection of blood. And they find the perfect donor in the Playmates. However there’s a side effect he was not counting on when the countess returns to the undead life as Teresa Graves (Get Christie Love!). He’s not exactly cool with the cultural transfusion that has changed Vampira. They go to London to see a way to bring back his pale bride. Is she really going to want to become her old self?
Old Dracula doesn’t try to become mistaken for a Hammer horror. Niven doesn’t want his Dracula to be in competition with Christopher Lee’s fang work. Although they seem to want it to be a bit more serious than Carry On Screaming. Niven does elevate the material since he gives it a touch of culture instead of allowing it to play as goofball slapstick. There’s comedy when he dresses up in Hollywood Dracula garb to get closer to his potential victims during a dinner service at the castle. When the movie came to America, the distributor retitled it Old Dracula to be a bit of a play on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. This gambit paid off in that several theaters ran double features of Young Frankenstein and Old Dracula. While neither film was pure horror, their approach to comedy was one much different tones. Oddly enough the film you think this would be double-feature with is Blacula. There’s a scene where Vampira leaves a cinema showing Jim Brown’s Black Gunn. Graves had just starred in That Man Bolt with Fred Williamson. This is a film that could play at both a downtown shabby theater and a mall cineplex. In a sense Old Dracula was merging British Horror and American Blaxploitation cinema with a dash of Playboy to give it a swinging feel. Old Dracula shows what happens when a vampire gets new blood in the system.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 2K transfer is from the 35mm interpositive. This is the European cut since it features Vampira as the name in the opening credits. The picture quality is an improvement over the previous MOD dvd that came out years ago. You get sense of how much Niven could do with just lifting his eyebrows. The audio is DTS-HD Mono. The levels give you the sounds of swinging London when Dracula and Vampira hit the town. The movie is subtitled.
Still Gallery has a few promotional pics from the release.
A Shot In the Dark is an interview with cinematographer Anthony Richmond. Turns out he got his start working on the camera crews at Hammer. He speaks about the schedule and working with Clive Donner. He talks about other films which is fine since he went on to shoot Candyman, Legally Blonde, The Sandlot and The Who’s The Kids Are Alright documentary. This was recently made so the video is from a Skype call since the Pandemic makes it not good to send a camera crew to a person’s house.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Old Dracula. Directed by: Clive Donner. Screenplay by: Jeremy Lloyd. Starring: David Niven, Teresa Graves, Nicky Henson, Jennie Linden, Linda Hayden, Bernard Bresslaw, Andrea Allan, Veronica Carlson, Minah Bird and Freddie Jones. Rated: PG. Running Time: 88 minutes. Released: July 28, 2020.
Tags: 22, David Niven, Hammer Horror, Old Dracula, Vinegar Syndrome