MONSTER MONTH: Canadian Parasites and Virgins for Dracula

You’ll never see a more slender and fragile Dracula than you will in the 1974 cult classic, BLOOD FOR DRACULA. With an absence of the fresh blood of virgins he needs in order to survive, a sickly Count Dracula (a perfectly cast Udo Kier) is forced to leave his crumbling castle in 1920s Romania for the lush countryside of Italy. Once there, Dracula and his loyal human assistant, Anton (Arno Juerging), search for pure young women for the Count to dine on, and soon encounter a land baron (Italian director Vittorio De Sica) and his four lovely daughters.

Thinking he’s struck “whergin” gold, Dracula is repelled (literally) when he discovers several of the daughters have already been deflowered by the family’s handyman and all-around stud, Mario (Joe Dallasandro). Mario eventually catches on to Dracula’s antics and tries to save the remaining members of the family before they are bewitched by the Count.

Both an exploitation flick and a thoughtful art piece, Blood for Dracula was the unofficial end of the golden age of the Andy Warhol independent cinema era. Following Flesh for Frankenstein, Dracula is perhaps director Paul Morrissey at his filmmaking best, and although it lacks the visceral gruesomeness of Frankenstein, it’s beautifully shot and elegantly paced. Kier is both hammy and touching in his portrayal of the monster, and there’s no question Morrissey (and an uncredited Pat Hackett) intentionally added campy moments to the screenplay – Dracula needs the blood of virgins to live, yet demands a vegetarian diet from his host.

Dallasandro delivers a stiff but charming performance as the “hero,” while Juerging is so OTT he seems to be in danger of laughing every time he delivers a line. While Blood for Dracula might not be for everyone, I found it sleazy, funny, and surprisingly heartfelt. The blood-soaked ending is a sight to see.

The residents of a posh high-rise apartment building outside of Montreal are terrorized by an army of slug-like parasites in 1975’s SHIVERS. A well-known physician, Dr. Hobbes (Fred Doederlein), murders a young woman named Annabelle and then kills himself inside the Starliner Towers apartment complex. Resident medical doctor, Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton), discovers that his colleague, Dr. Linsky (Joe Silver), along with Hobbes, had created a man-made parasite that could essentially replace human organs when needed – and Annabelle was their first experimental patient.

Roger finds out that Annabelle was sleeping around with several men in the building, including upstairs neighbor, Nick (Allan Kolman), who, along with several others, is infested with the parasite, turning him – and eventually the entire building – into mindless murderers and rapists.

One of, if not the first, “body horror” subgenre movies that director David Cronenberg invented, Shivers is a somewhat demented take on Night of the Living Dead. The film utilizes its low budget by creating a moody, almost claustrophobic environment. Nearly every scene takes place inside the building; the bright colors of the interiors offset the impending doom of the characters living within. Although Hampton makes for a rather lifeless protagonist, Lynn Lowry adds some energetic flavor as his love interest.

Released in 1988, WAXWORK was a favorite video rental of mine as a kid. It was different from Jason or Freddy; it featured all the old-timey monsters but was hipper than the classic movies. Rewatching the low-budget flick now brings back a lot of memories, and while the movie doesn’t seem as charming as it once did, it’s still very enjoyable.

While walking to class, high-maintenance China (Michelle Johnson) and mousy Sarah (Deborah Foreman) run into a mysterious man named Lincoln (David Warner), who invites them to a midnight showing at his new waxwork museum. Thinking it’ll be better than homework, the girls decide to go and invite their friends, including preppy rich boy, Mark (Zach Galligan), and nerdy Tony (Dana Ashbrook). When they arrive, they discover the museum is filled with wax exhibits of mostly horror movie-related scenes, including Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man.

Upon closer look, these scenes have an uncanny realism to them, and, as some of the characters unfortunately discover, serve as doorways into another world. When Tony steps past the velvet rope of one of the exhibits, he inadvertently enters a misty forest filled with werewolves. Meanwhile, China gets herself trapped in Dracula’s castle and must fight to the death against his army of undead brides in the film’s best (and bloodiest) sequence. When China and Tony fail to return to the real world, it’s up to Mark and Sarah to find out what’s going on and try to stop the supernatural powers of the place.

Sort of an adult variation on The Monster Squad, Waxwork is a spirited splatter flick that never takes itself seriously. It loves the monsters, the movies from which they came and, obviously, influenced a great deal of the scenes. Some chapters deserve a movie of their own – the Mummy segment is atmospheric and juicy – but some are a missed opportunity. The Marquis de Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) is too jokey and uninvolving to muster up much excitement, although Campbell plays him smartly with a wink-wink vibe. It might be slight, but Waxwork is harmless ’80s bubblegum entertainment. | Blood for Dracula: B+ Shivers and Waxwork: B

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