Director: Paul Morrissey
Image Entertainment

Following the successful trilogy (FLESH, TRASH, HEAT), the less-than-popular, but no less brilliant WOMEN IN REVOLT, and the abysmal failure L’AMOUR, Paul Morrissey emigrated to Italy to lens two beautiful retellings of the classic horror stories DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. Nowhere even close to sticking to the original source material, Morrissey injected both films with repulsive violence, and graphic sex and nudity. Both were released in the United States with ANDY WARHOL’S name preceding the titles, but the years have allowed their original names to become restored for home video: BLOOD FOR DRACULA and FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN. Previously issued on two impressive Criterion discs (which went out of print last year), Image has stepped up to the plate and revisited these titles with all-new extras and glorious new transfers which are well worth upgrading for!

In the 1930's, Count Dracula is frail, dying and desperate for fresh blood. His man-servant Anton suggests they make a trek to Italy, where the decrepit Count can find himself a suitable mate amongst the rich families in the country. Their sights are set on the Marchese di Fiore, the patriarch of a family whose estate is in ruins and whose wealth is dried up. The four daughters of the family, Esmerelda, Rubinia, Saphiria, and Perla, all named after a gemstone, all seem like perfect candidates to become the eternal bride of the vampire. There is, of course, a catch: the Count can only drink from the veins of a pure virgin. With his out-of-date views, he may find one harder to find than he thinks! The family's Communist handyman, Mario, has been bedding them regularly and makes it his mission to stop the evil count before he vampirizes all of his employers!

BLOOD FOR DRACULA remains one of the funniest spoofs of the vampire legend to date. Instead of resorting to cartoonish lampooning a la DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT or modern in-joke fests like LOVE AT FIRST BITE, Morrissey's film is a period piece which looks like a serious attempt at horror. Of course after the opening sequence, of Dracula "painting" himself in the mirror, only to reveal he has no reflection anyway, the viewer can be assured that this one will be played for laughs. Amidst the geysers of gore and graphic sex and nudity is a script bursting with comic flavor and larger than life characters. Much fun can be had with the silly dialogue, which is torn apart by the various accents of the international cast. Rather than shoot MOS and dub in post-production as most European filmmakers, Morrissey captured every performer's actual voice, complete with dialects ranging from France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany and New York! Some personal favorites include lovely Dominique Darel pondering, "What if he try to beat me or somefing?", the infamous Udo Kier scream of "Ze blood of zese whoores is killink me!" and Arno Juerging, wide-eyed and slithering through his lines of needing a "wergin" for his poor Count. Determined not to be glossed over, Joe Dallesandro's Brooklyn accent makes his sneering anti-hero character more enjoyable ("What would the Count want with you two whooers?"). Despite the melancholy and beautiful score by Claudio Gizzi, Morrissey's intentions were definitely comic and Gizzi's compositions are a great contrast to the ludicrous on-screen shenanigans.

Udo Kier, at his thinnest and most unhealthy-looking, firmly established a still-strong cult following with his performance as the blood-hungry Count. One has to wonder if he understood this was to be a comedy, or he just overplayed his role here hoping for an acting award. His spasmic moaning and twitching during blood withdrawal, painful wretching of non-virgin blood which seems to never end, and slobbering over the girls while he interviews them as potential meals provide a scary look at how much Kier seems to be dedicated to this part. Almost stealing the film out from under him, though, is Arno Juerging as Anton, the man-servant who essentially runs Dracula's life for him. Every line he speaks is spoken with a syrupy German accent, with his eyeballs popping out in a caricature of Peter Lorre blended with Tod Slaughter. Especially hilarious are his ridiculous attempts to explain away the odd habits of Dracula to the people of Italy. As in all his films, Joe Dallesandro is sex on legs as Mario, the Communist gardener who is a very unlikely hero: he beats up and rapes one of the sisters, rapes another to make her impure for the vampire, and is generally an asshole!

As the four daughters, only two make an impression: Stefania Casini and Dominique Durel, the two sexually insatiable sisters who even bed each other if it tickles their fancy! Dominique Durel, a French Elizabeth Berkeley look-alike with an undistinguished career in Italian films, would be dead five years after making this film, but is gorgeous and actually quite heartbreaking as she attempts to form a meaningful romance with Mario but is instead thrown to the count first. Ravishing redhead Stefania Casini, most famous for her captivating performance in Argento's SUSPIRIA, plays the sluttiest of the daughters, Rubinia; it's fascinating to watch her pounding love scenes with Joe Dallesandro knowing that they would become a real-life couple for several years after this film. Appearing as the two shrew daughters are Milena Vukotic and Silvia Dionisio as Esmerelda and Perla. Vukotic had a very active career in European films, working with all manners of directors like Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini, and is still working today, while Dionisio may be recognizable from Riccardo Freda's FEAR and a number of Italian crime films. The Yugoslavian Vukotic strangely has a line disparaging Yugoslavians!! Watch closely for a cameo by Roman Polanski playing a barroom game with Juerging (this scene was usually cut from the R-rated version, oddly enough) and popular Italian arthouse director Vittorio de Sica appears as the girls' oblivious aristocrat father.

Released by Image on the same date is FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, which is played a tad more seriously, but is still a brilliant mix of horror and laughs. Baron Frankenstein is a family man, living in his massive castle with his gorgeous wife, two mute, scary children, and his servant Otto. His mission: to create life from death. His laboratory in the dungeon is filled with corpses, body parts, and electrical equipment, including a lovely naked female corpse he mounts and screws!! Local peasant Nicholas is taken in as a houseboy by horny Baroness Frankenstein, but when Nicholas discovers that his best friend Sacha was murdered and is now being resurrected as part of the Baron’s experiments, he tries to stop the Baron and his mad shenanigans!

Shot before BLOOD FOR DRACULA, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN was tackled as a 3-D production in 2.35:1 and while the version retained on all official video releases is the 2-D version, 3-D tapes have been making the rounds on eBay. Even in a flat transfer, the film's into-the-camera effects still work as guts flop into the lens, a human heart impaled on a stake dangles into the audience, and a decapitated head is thrust towards the camera. There wasn't enough of a budget for a 3-D version of DRACULA, so that film was shot in 1.85:1. One can imagine Dracula vomiting up blood into the camera lens in glorious 3-D grossing out millions of moviegoers in 1974! This is a seemingly more serious tackling of a classic horror story than DRACULA, but the dialogue and performances keep the chuckles coming.

Udo Kier is a tad restrained as Baron Frankenstein, but is still gloriously over-the-top during several show-stopping scenes: the aforementioned corpse fuck (“To know death, you must fuck life in the gall bladder!”), his crazed speech about how the Serbian race has the perfect nose, his wide-eyed decapitation of a Serbian man with a bizarre contraption, his severe protection of his mother! Arno Juerging isn’t as perfect here as he would be in DRACULA, but has some great moments here, including his fumbled attempt to attack the house maid! Juerging would commit suicide the same year these films were shot after his mother passed away. What a loss. Dutch Monique van Vooren is wonderful as the Baroness Frankenstein, a frigid bitch one minute who ignores her children, an insatiable vixen the next slurping at Nicholas’ armpit! She also delivers one of the most memorable lines in the whole film: when Nicholas comes to alert her of the Baron’s experiments, she screams at him, “How dare you wake you! You know I have insomnia!” Van Vooren may be familiar from her small role in SUGAR COOKIES, but this is her tour de force performance! Dalila di Lazzarro is given little to do as the nude corpse, but this is the nude role which she is remembered for the most. She later played the bitchy headmistress of Jennifer Connelly’s boarding school in Argento’s PHENOMENA. Red-headed child actress Nicoletta Elmi, the Dakota Fanning of 70s Italian horror, is a wonderful addition to the cast. Though she has no dialogue, she is always a joy to watch and figures horrifically into the finale (with fellow child actor Marco Liofredi as her brother).

Composer Claudio Gizzi contributes another beautiful score, with overtones of melancholy and sorrow even during the more outrageous and funny moments in the film, and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (familiar from Lucio Fulci classics) does a beautiful job with the scope photography. Carlo Rambaldi (Italian gore meister who would later become respectable with E.T. and other Hollywood films) provides the moist gore effects here, and they’re all wonderful!

Over the years, various sources have claimed that Antonio Margheriti was in fact the director of the two films; Margheriti is credited on Italian prints of the film, and several actors recall him being on the set directing their scenes (Nicoletta Elmi, for example). Morrissey has refuted these rumors by saying Margheriti had to be credited on the film for legal reasons in Italy. Some sequences do have the poetry and lyricism of Margheriti's Gothic horrors, but others have the stationary camerawork and jarring zooms of Morrissey's work. Morrissey may have worked with one unit of photography, while Morrissey directed another, but we may never know who is responsible for what with so many conflicting accounts. Whoever is the true visionary behind these two masterpieces, both films are classics and must-owns for fans of Morrissey, Dallesandro, horror and cult films everywhere.

Unlike the previous Criterion editions, both films have been remastered in brand-new anamorphic transfers, looking brighter and cleaner than ever before, with a few lines, speckling and discoloration appearing at reel changes. The opening credits of BLOOD FOR DRACULA look a little spotty, with grain and dirt, but the film cleans up for most of the running time, with smooth colors, deep blacks and a bright image. Some debris appears infrequently, not enough to be distracting. FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN looks a little hazier than DRACULA, with softer colors and details, but flesh tones are accurate, outdoor scenes quite gorgeous, and there is minimal bleeding of reds (but there is some during the credits and a few scenes at the whorehouse). This is probably because of the transition from 3-D to 2-D, and the film still looks great.

In addition to the Criterion commentaries with Paul Morrissey, Udo Kier, and journalist Maurice Yacowar, brand-new extras have been produced with Paul Morrissey: screen tests and photo galleries for both discs, both featuring commentary by the director! The Criterion commentaries are amazing: Morrissey provides great behind-the-scenes information on casting, locations, intentions with the script, the various cameos, shooting overseas with an actual script and the history of the various cuts to the film; Kier gives an actor’s viewpoint, from preparing for both roles in drastic measures to working with his co-stars; and Yacowar analyzes the various camera angles and story archs, as well as giving background on the production and all the international cast and crew members. All three were recorded separately and edited together, and there is really no aspect of production left undiscussed by the three men. Moving on to the new extras, Morrissey compiled together a slideshow of photos and a reel of screen tests for each film, and recorded commentary for each. On both slideshows, he talks about the films’ backgrounds, casting and behind-the-scenes stories of production. All the photos are presented in chronological order from the beginning of the film to the end, the shows run about 25 minutes each, and include many candid shots of Morrissey directing his actors and poses for the camera. The screen tests are interesting because it seems (at least to me) that Morrissey had a crush on actor Srdjan Zelenovic! We see him audition for FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (he ended up playing the Creature), but more interesting is that in an alternate casting universe, he was to play Dracula. For various reasons, Udo Kier was instead carried over to play the lead in both films. Maria Smith (most familiar as one of the twin assassins in ANDY WARHOL’S BAD) is his co-star in both screen tests. The commentary also reveals that Maria and her twin sister Geraldine (who was familiar from FLESH) were to play two of the sisters in DRACULA! (Casey Scott)