RICHARD MARKWORTH reviews Dracula vs Frankenstein 1971, starring J. Carrol Naish and Lon Chaney Jr
TITLE: Dracula vs Frankenstein
YEAR RELEASED: 1971
DIRECTOR: Al Adamson
CAST: J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr, Anthony Eisley, Regina Carrol, Angelo Rossitto
Films featuring classic horror tropes remained big business in the early 1970s with Hammer, Amicus and a host of others providing the goods. Exploitation maestro, Al Adamson, boarded the ghoulish gravy train with Dracula Vs. Frankenstein.
Director Adamson, with writer/producer Sam M Sherman, had formed Independent-International Pictures in 1969 and planned to follow up the company’s biker flick, Satan’s Sadists (1969), with a horror movie titled Blood Freaks. However, Sherman felt the picture would benefit from the inclusion of horror’s ‘Big Two’, Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, and the project was re-vamped and re-shot accordingly.
Although a low-budget affair, the film benefitted from the casting of Hollywood veteran J Carrol Naish and horror legend, Lon Chaney Jr. Unfortunately, the ill-health of the pair is both visible and sad to behold, particularly in the case of Chaney who, batting throat-cancer, was reduced to a mute role.
Former cinematic Draculas, Francis Lederer and John Carradine, were considered for the role of the Count but the part was eventually taken by Zandor Vorkov, aka Sherman’s stockbroker, Roger Engel. Engel was given his exotic alias by Famous Monsters of the Movies editor Forrest J Ackerman.
Ackerman, technical consultant on the film, also plays the role of Dr Beaumont proving, as an actor, he made a great editor. However, thanks to his connections, the filmmakers secured the use of original lab props from Universal’s Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
The film opens in moonlit Oakmoor cemetery where Dracula unearths the Frankenstein monster (John Bloom) and chomps on a caretaker who disturbs his nocturnal shenanigans.
Next, we cut to a Venice Beach amusement park where unfortunate hippy chick, Joannie Fontain (Maria Lease) loses her head to a homicidal axeman.
The disjointed plot unfolds to reveal wheelchair-using Dr Durea (Naish), secretly the last surviving Frankenstein, has employed burly henchman Groton (Chaney) to decapitate young girls, including Joannie, whom Durea re-assembles before harvesting their blood. This unwholesome activity facilitates the production of a blood serum Durea is developing to revitalise his legs and provide healthier bodies for Groton and vertically challenged associate, Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto).
In his lab, beneath the “Creature Emporium” sideshow that acts as cover for his nefarious deeds, Durea is visited by Dracula. He is talked into assisting the vampire who happens to know Durea’s real identity and believes the serum will make him invincible. Dracula uses the exhumed monster as an incentive for Durea, providing him with a means to exact revenge on Dr Beaumont who discredited him and caused the fire that led to his disability.
Meanwhile, Joannie’s sister, Judith (Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol) investigates her disappearance aided by middle-aged hipster Mike (Anthony Eisley) and groovy couple Samantha (Anne Morrell) and Strange (Greydon Clark).
Once the Durea storyline concludes, the plot segues predictably into a climactic smackdown between the famous monsters, obviously added as a ticket-selling afterthought. Shelly Weiss replaced Bloom for the combative finale, confusingly billed separately as ‘The Creature’ as opposed to Bloom’s ‘Monster’.
This is drive-in fodder, containing cheap effects, questionable performances, and a monster whose features resemble poorly sculpted playdough. Vorkov, with neat beard and coiffured hair, sporting a shiny cloak and heavy make-up, appears more suited to Studio 54 than a Transylvanian castle. However, his unorthodox casting undoubtedly contributed to the film acquiring cult status and to list the production’s many shortcomings would be time-consuming and mean-spirited.
If you are a gothic horror purist, this is not for you. If, however, you love seat-of-your-pants, micro-budget filmmaking and relish B-Movie schlock-fests of the ‘so bad they’re good’ variety, sit back, crack open a beer and enjoy the ride!