Dracula Exotica (1980, Shaun Costello)
Two years after the Marshak Brothers’ Dracula Sucks (1978), NY porn legend Jamie Gillis returned to the role of the vampire count in a hardcore production that, like its predecessor, benefitted from sufficient plot, production values and crossover appeal to be simultaneously available in a softcore version, which edition of the film, in fact, travelled to such countries as Spain and the UK, where hardcore had yet to be legalized. The version viewed by me is the softcore cut, dubbed into Spanish especially for its VHS edition, after having been shown subtitled in theatres within the county.
If the Marshaks took the 1931 Browning film as their model, in the present film, director Shaun Costello was clearly inspired by the recent George Hamilton vehicle Love at First Bite. Copying Stan Dragoti’s film and prefiguring Coppola’s, writer Ken Schwarz provides the count with the back story of a long-lost love (played by the porn actress Samantha Fox) whose present-day reincarnation (also Fox) now lives in a New York of prostitutes, cops and urban grime. Also as in the Dragoti, Costello provides both Dracula and his bride, named Sally, with a happy ending, as they literally fly away into freedom – though not, on this occasion, as vampire bats but, having become forces for the good, as doves.
The central story between Dracula and his beloved is treated fairly “straight”, albeit with much furnishing in between by a host of comic subplots, courtesy of Dracula’s servant (known as “Renfrew” and played by a dwarfish actor by the name of G. Gordon Duvall); a bigoted 1950s style cop (Roger Caine) complete with overcoat and fedora hat, who changes his ways on becoming involved with a Hispanic smuggler (Vanessa del Rio); and two intelligence officers (Eric Edwards and Bukofski) from as many sides of the Iron Curtain, paradoxically friends to each other on the phone, and both equally intent on killing Dracula in the suspicion that he is a spy for either cause (For some reason, the American, played by Edwards, bears the name of “Big Bird”). Only in one very brief scene (wherein Dracula, as he tries to fly out of his castle crashes through a window which Renfrew has neglected to open) does the vampire participate fleetingly in the comedy.
In this respect, the film tends to trudge clumsily between the love story that is the narrative mainline, the comic stuff and the obviously obligatory sex scenes, with vampire bites predictably centering on the genitals, and this slowness is exacerbated by the relative scarcity of camera movement. The horror/romantic trappings and imagery, however, are quite well realized and there is the nice touch towards the conclusion, in which the cop, suddenly revealed to have been vampirized out of his squareness, bids a half-crazed but admiring farewell to the vampire couple as they make their aerial getaway. The swarthy, earthy-looking Gillis, while not an obvious casting choice for Dracula, is surprisingly effective at bringing a demeanor both standoffish and haunted to the aristocratic character. His haughtiness is in keeping with the film’s view of Cold War politics, with both the Commie and the American official left with egg on their face as they converge in the setting of a warehouse with the intention of destroying Dracula before the latter and Sally make their triumphant escape. The filmmakers obviously had the aforementioned Love at First Bite in mind, but given the political element, one cannot help thinking, to some extent, of Charles Bronson and Lee Remick at the very end of Don Siegel’s Telefon.
The music, at least in the Spanish-language version, seems to be culled from pre-existing cues, since some of it is drawn from Carmine Coppola’s score for Apocalypse Now. In the clip available on Youtube available of the original English-language version, Gillis can be heard affecting a Lugosi accent. In the Spanish-dubbed version, Gillis is inappropriately given the voice of the rather plain-spoken Antonio García Moral.
The following YouTube link contains the credits sequence in English, with subtitles in Spanish: