Before you get too excited, this is not a comprehensive critical dissection of Dracula Sucks, the 1978 X-rated adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic, starring “The Elliott Gould of Porn” Jamie Gillis as Count Dracula. But since you’ve already got me talking about it, I need to air the one gripe I have with that movie. You can’t just title your film Dracula Sucks, and then not deliver. I get the intended double entendre, and on the surface it’s clever. But at the end of the day it’s nothing more than an empty promise, and a broken dream.
Now that that’s off my chest, it’s time to move on to the actual topic of the day: Vampires. And not just any vampires. No, this is about vampires who aren’t musty old Dracula, because frankly Dracula sucks —except of course in the movie that’s literally called Dracula Sucks.
Why does he suck? He’s an entitled prick, that’s why. Not every soulless, bloodsucking creature of the night is fortunate enough to be born a count, or live in a castle. A castle that hapless victims willingly visit, I might add. You know, most vamps have to go out and actually work for that precious blood of the innocent. And it’s high time they got their moment in the limelight — but not the sunlight, of course.
From the 1930s to the late 1970s, studios like Universal and Hammer gave you nothing but Dracula, Dracula’s daughter, Dracula’s dog, or thinly veiled Dracula surrogates with names like Count Mardulak. But after director John Badham’s 1979 Dracula — starring Frank Langella — a stake (sorry) was temporarily driven into the heart of the overexposed one.
In his stead came a slew of count-less vampire films, many tweaking the lore to fit the times. They would forgo coffins for dusty Winnebagos (Near Dark) or Jim Morrison-adorned beachside lairs (The Lost Boys). AIDS references would become mandatory, themes of addiction would dominate in Habit and Addiction, and genres such as the westerns, teen comedy, and musical would be infused (or transfused).
So put away those thoughts of stuffy castles and dirt-encrusted coffins, clear the cobwebs, and ignore the bats. Because these Dracula alternatives on VRV don’t suck, they bite…
Surprisingly not a movie about your dad liking too many butt pics on Instagram, it’s instead an exploration on how tough life can be for the descendants of the blood-bathing Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Take Kate for example; one moment she’s having sex with a living Tom of Finland drawing, the next she’s being kidnapped by a bougie vampire cult to start a plasma-drinking aristocracy.
You see, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen if she weren’t related to mass-murdering royalty. But despite the cult showing off their Cronenbergian blood-draining facilities — which provide clean, disease-free sustenance for its members — Kate is hesitant to become their eternal blood queen. She’s stubborn like that. So naturally they pump her full of hallucinogens and call it “conditioning,” and before you know it we’ve gone from weird Australian Cronenberg vampire movie to weird Australian Polanski vampire movie — complete with cracking walls straight out of Repulsion.
Possibly the first in the ever popular line of “vampires clinically harvest humans for blood” movies. Also features a vampire Henry Silva dangling from a helicopter.
This one’s a Belgian-French-German co-production, so you know things are bound to get kinky. And the director has those little dots over his name, which guarantees artsy. Yep, that’s right, we’ve got lesbian vampire arthouse kink. In Belgium. Now, I’ve seen just about every sex-crazed European lesbian vampire film made in the 70s — and even a few not made in the 70s — and while each of them holds a special place in my heart, none have captured it quite like Daughters of Darkness.
Made in the midst of Dracula fever, this is one of several Elizabeth Bathory films on the market. In most the Countess of Blood was used as little more than another castle-dwelling Dracula surrogate, but here she gets a contemporary portrayal that’s truly worthy of her title.
It’s the story of newlyweds Valerie and Stefan staying in an eerily empty Belgian hotel where Elizabeth Bathory (an incredible Delphine Seyrig) and her pixie plaything share the adjoining suite. Bathory soon has eyes for Valerie, her lover goes insane with jealousy, and Stefan starts getting horny for sadism. Psychosexual mind games, blood drinking, and lazing about in an extremely European way ensue. Less soft-core-y than its Euro lesbian vampire contemporaries, and by that I mean they wait for the opening credits to end before there’s a sex scene.
A relic from that strange, confusing time in our great nation’s history when John Carpenter was influenced by Robert Rodriguez. This bizarre occurrence resulted in an overuse of fades, gratuitous twangy guitars, and wannabe Tarantino dialogue. It’s also kinda great.
Beloved feminist icon, champion of the left, and all around sweetheart James Woods — who absolutely was not recently accused of trying to pick up a 16 year-old at an all-night diner — goes full asshole method acting as Jack Crow. The cigar-chomping, potty-mouthed, in-house vampire slayer for the Vatican, who leads a posse of chainmail, leather, and Durango wearing hombres who like to tell dick jokes when they’re not dragging vamps out into the New Mexico sun.
But don’t get too attached, because they’re all gorily dispatched by a super blood-sucker named Valek while partying with hookers in the world’s largest motel room. The only survivors being Woods and Daniel Baldwin aka coke-bloat Baldwin aka The Tom Sizemore of Baldwins. Together they tie a post-Twin Peaks Sheryl Lee to a hotel bed, continuing her career of being abused by sweaty, creepy men on film.
Having been bitten on the thigh by Valek, she of course has a psychic link to the uber-vamp, acting as a human surveillance camera for Woods and Baldwin. Which the two will use to seek revenge, all leading to an attempted James Woods crucifixion.
Branded as lesser Carpenter upon its release, like nearly all his films it’s only improved with age. Sheryl Lee cements herself as the best eyeball actor in the business, and I’m pretty sure James Woods ad-libbed all the absurdly virulent misogyny and homophobia. Easily Carpenter’s best film of the 90s after In the Mouth of Madness, and one that’s ripe for reevaluation.