Vampira 1974 with David Niven is a silly and very dated horror comedy but it’s still worth a watch, says TERRY SHERWOOD
TITLE: Vampira aka Old Dracula
DIRECTOR: Clive Donner
CAST: David Niven, Teresa Graves, Nicky Henson, Jennie Linden, Linda Hayden, Bernard Bresslaw, Andrea Allan, Veronica Carlson, Minah Bird, Freddie Jones, Chris Sandford, Frank Thornton, Peter Bayliss, Cathie Shirriff, Aimi MacDonald, Patrick Newell, Kenneth Cranham, Carol Cleveland, Luan Peters, Nadim Sawalha
Vampire 1974 Review
A comedy or dare I say ‘black comedy’ in this case within the horror genre can be doomed. Many a film of this nature seems stuck in the ‘beautiful people” having illicit sexual relations or taking risks by summoning something from the occult world. Whole careers were made on this premise and it’s still being redone, just look at Blumhouse.
This leads us to Vampira aka Old Dracula 1974, directed by Clive Donner, and with none other than David Niven and up and coming star at that time Teresa Graves.
The film was retitled Old Dracula to capitalise on the success of the overrated Young Frankenstein 1974 by Mel Brooks. The change may also have taken into account that the name Vampira in the United States would be linked to a character made popular by Maila Nurmi. Vampira was a television host of late-night Horror film showings became one of the stars of Plan Nine from Outer Space 1957, and is now a cult figure on her own.
Love At First Bite
Vampira 1974, as I will refer to it, opens with Count Dracula (David Niven) who has converted his castle into a tourist attraction to lure in unsuspecting visitors and drain them of their blood.
His dream is to resurrect his bride, Vampira, (Teresa Graves) who is secure inside a white vault in the castle walls. Guests arrive in the person of models to be photographed in a vampire theme – Angela (Jenny Linden), Eve (Andrea Allan), Rose (Minah Bird), and Ritva (Veronica Carlson).
Before the blood drawing shenanigans are attempted we are treated to an episode before the models arrive with Helga (Linda Hayden) who is vampirized by Dracula only to oddly enough lay herself down in her provided coffin to get an arrow shot in her heart.
A dinner party occurs with Helga before she is killed walking around threatening people with her fangs. Since everyone is in fangs, no one notices that she is real by Dracula and his manservant Maltravers are played in exceptional deadpan or undead pan style by Peter Bayliss.
The blood is drained from each of the models, transferred into the body of Vampira only to have her turn into a black woman. Trying to be a social commentary for the time of a Caucasian Dracula having a black woman for a wife is apparently unthinkable or as Niven puts it “The neighbors would talk”.
The remaining part of the film is spent trying to change Vampira’s blood back so she will become white.
Vampira takes on the personality of a Blaxploitation female going out to discos, using the language of the time such as calling Dracula a ‘Jive Turkey’ The ending is too silly yet if a romp is your thing then join in.
‘Do A Little Dance. Drain A Little Blood”
There are laughs such as when Veronica Carlson’s character comes into the girls sleeping chamber with a ghastly white pallor on her face only to have it revealed she is in a beauty mask.
Bernard Bresslaw as a sleazy booking agent has some of the best of not silliness lines that work amongst all these going one. Dracula getting locked out of his hotel balcony by a maid before sunrise is handled well.
Some gratuitous nudity and flirty language and situation from the lantern-jawed hero Marc (Nicky Henson) round out this confused film. This film isn’t sure what it wants to be either a rollicking comedy or having social commentary making it an uneasy mix.
The party sequences looked a bit dated even now in our retro culture with flashing lights, thumping music, and smiling faces. Teresa Graves has a good screen presence and comes off as reveling in this world which in many ways I a showcase for here.
Many of the cast are wasted, not in a good way, like Veronica Carlson. In fact, all the female roles show the dated way females are shown in the film except Teresa Graves.
David Niven does his level best to deliver dialogue which he does use his voice and manners of a professional doing a job, perhaps wondering why he is in this film. Off-camera, the performers must have had a load of fun.
Vampira or Old Dracula 1974 is worth a look as Niven looks quite good in fangs even if they are somewhat exaggerated.
The supporting cast hits there to make like comic veterans with only the fault being the picture is neither a comedy nor a horror film. The most horrifying aspect of the film is that trinkets, the plastic bats, the coffin mints, and the poor Dracula are costumed as probably actual costumes from so-called Dracula experiences booked by people today.
If the crystal disco dance ball scene, “Soul Lingo’ as it was called, and watching folks have a nostalgic dance party then check it out if only for David Niven trying his best to hold it all together.
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