Director: Phillip Marshak
Vinegar Syndrome

Dracula's goes below the belt to quench his lust in DRACULA SUCKS, director Phillip Marshak's pornographic stab at the big time with an all-star cast out in a two-disc DVD set from Vinegar Syndrome.

Suffering from insomnia and nightmares since his father disappeared while selling a castle in Transylvania, Renfield (Richard Bulik, director Phillip Marshak's CATACLYSM) is brought by his aunt Irene (Pat Manning, Marshak's LUST FLIGHT 2000) to the desert castle clinic of Dr. Arthur Seward (John Leslie, BABY ROSEMARY) and his British sister Sybil (Kay Parker, BODY TALK). His father's voice beckons him to nearby Carfax Abbey to remove the stake from the remains of Count Dracula (Jamie Gillis, THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN) who makes him his slave. The count visits the institution and charms Seward's virginal niece Mina (Annette Haven, TAPESTRY OF PASSION) and her slutty college friend Lucy (Serena, CO-ED FEVER); much to the annoyance of their respective fiancés Jonathan Harker (Paul Thomas, EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD) and clinic intern Peter Bradley (Mike Ranger, TABOO). Dracula puts the bite on Lucy (on the toilet), but it is not her death that has Seward summoning college Dr. Van Helsing (SALEM'S LOT's Reggie Nalder, billed as "Detlaf Van Berg"); rather, many of his patients sporting similar bites have reverting to almost cannibalistic sexual behavior. Although Van Helsing holds the belief that most of the world's ills are caused by constipation and recommends warm water enemas, he determines from blood tests on Renfield and Lucy that the cause here is vampirism. As more fall victim to Dracula and his fanged minions – including John Holmes (JOHNNY WADD) and BLONDE FIRE's Seka as a doctor and nurse – Van Helsing must convince Seward and Harker of Dracula's evil before he can claim Mina as his bride.

Predating John Badham's film of DRACULA with Frank Langella but not the 1977 Broadway run, DRACULA SUCKS – not to be confused with Shaun Costello's DRACULA EXOTICA (also starring Gillis) – is uneven in tone but impresses on a number of levels. In terms of style and production value, the film is on par with some of the more ambitious low budget horror films from the period thanks hugely to the time-consuming camera set-ups by cinematographer Hanania Baer (ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK), the Castle Hill location, reasonably convincing if not always consistent period costumes and props, and decent to good performances (Haven even resembles Kate Nelligan from some angles). Although the script goes for cheap jokes more often than not (including some voiceover wise cracks by co-writer/assistant director William Margold's "too cool for school" orderly), it is truly informed by the source material – more the Hamilton Deane play and the Tod Browning film than the cited Bram Stoker novel – as well as other Dracula films and horror movies in general with Bulik's full-on Dwight Frye imitation and David Lee Bynum's fearful and superstitious black chauffeur channeling Mantan Moreland. The vampire attacks that are almost YORGA-like in their ferocity and their creepy dentition (including vampirized maid Irene Best literally chomping on Holmes' member and the would-be staking of Lucy that turns into an fully-realized act of necrophilia). Gillis himself is at times a bit too cavalier in his Lugosi caricature, but is far more successful an American Dracula than, say, Michael Pataki in ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA. Nalder – who would also appear in Marshak's BLUE ICE as a Nazi – is slumming but gets by on authoritative screen presence as one of the most ineffectual Van Helsings on screen.

Marshak reportedly had high hopes for DRACULA SUCKS as a mainstream pornographic work. As such, DRACULA SUCKS is not really a stroke film in that the sex scenes do not follow the usual formula and most linger just long enough to get across who's doing who (with the more drawn out sex scenes being the ones that culminate in a biting). Some watersports footage that is seen in flash-forward optical silhouettes is missing from the subsequent scene (although there is evidence of it in the aftermath), but that appears to have been an editing decision since it is also missing from the more explicit LUST AT FIRST BITE cut. Norman Thaddeus Vane (THE BLACK ROOM) is credited as second unit director while Gillis, Leslie, and Marshak's son Darryl (now a mainstream talent agent) are listed with third unit direction. Production manager Bruce Markoe is now post-production executive for Marvel Studios. Stunts are credited to "I. Broke Leg".

Apart from some scratches at the reel changes and a quite a bit of damage over a shot of Holmes late in the film, DRACULA SUCKS' progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer looks great for an archival 35mm element of an unreleased cut. Colors are bold and the image is sharp with only minor edge enhancement. The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is fairly clean with all dialogue intelligible and the music undistorted. Co-star/co-writer/assistant director William Margold dishes all the dirt on an audio commentary moderated by Joel Rudin. He describes how he got involved with Marshak as a writer on LUST FLIGHT 2000 (as well as some unproduced projects), Marshak's obsession with Bela Lugosi, and how Margold was tasked with scripting additional scenes and characters for the people Marshak randomly brought on (including Bynum and Nalder). Margold also describes Bulik as having been genuinely crazy, refers to Thomas as Haven's protector and the production's cocaine supplier, suckering Leslie into doing an incest scene (with his character's sibling), but is outspoken in his affection for Gillis and Serena, Best, Parker, and his discovery Ranger. Although he admires the cast, he concedes that they are not at their best (and are in fact trying to upstage each other most of the time). He also speaks of the filmmakers' ambitions to do something big with the movie and how cocaine killed the energy. He points out the scenes he directed (as well as suggesting that Holmes might have directed a scene) and reacts to the absence of scenes or shots or their presence in the wrong place. Rudin mentions that it is the first cut of the film, and that while this version was never released theatrically it appears to be the most coherent cut (certainly more so than LUST AT FIRST BITE). He explains that he chose it because it contains all of the sex scenes (if only in part) and all of the deaths (which are mostly missing from the alternate cut), but that there seems to be no full cut of the film (the various timings IMDb lists for the film seem to be inaccurate when compared to classification records).

The second disc features an alternate cut titled LUST AT FIRST BITE (74:03 vs DRACULA SUCKS' 94:45). While some reference sources suggest this is a cut down softcore but, the presentation here is hardcore and features a significant amount of alternate footage from DRACULA SUCKS. Annette Haven is the only performer given billing over the title while Gillis' name is buried among the rest of the cast, Nalder is not credited at all, and some other names have been changed among the crew. Scenes are re-ordered, many begin abruptly in progress, some dialogue spoken onscreen in DRACULA SUCKS is used as voiceover here, Renfield – billed here as "McGoogle Schlepper" rather than the actor's real name – is gay rather than being a virgin with daddy issues (Dracula promises him "fags" rather than rats), and the entire thing comes across as a long trailer or highlight reel as it moves from scene to scene. The sex scenes are longer, more explicit, and more conventionally edited (featuring angles as well as entire acts) that are not present in DRACULA SUCKS, as well as plenty of non-sexual footage. All of the bloody biting shots are missing, often cutting away or to another angle (we do not see any indication of Holmes' member being bitten but Seka still examines the wounds in a later scene), and the ending is completely different.

DRACULA SUCKS is the better Dracula homage, but LUST AT FIRST BITE might be the better porn film. Neither version in this set represents the softcore cut of the film, but Vinegar Syndrome reportedly decided not to include it since it is cut rather than composed of exclusive, alternate footage. The progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is transferred from a print that has not been as well-preserved (although some of the damage to the image and soundtrack may have been created by the shoddy re-editing rather than projection and storage). The second disc also features the DRACULA SUCKS theatrical trailer (3:08), a slideshow gallery of German artwork for the film (1:42), and a featurette called "Return to Castle Ranch" (21:58) in which Margold and Darryl Marshak discuss the film while driving back to the location. Along the way, they point out places they have lived and houses they have filmed in. They find their entrance to the property barred but sneak in anyway. They never quite make it to the castle itself, but the featurette is worthy for augmenting Margold's recollections with Marshak (who mentions having seen some of the film's other surviving collaborators at the memorial for his father this year). (Eric Cotenas)