Dracula does California! And it’s gonna be an entertaining (and pretty bad ride) as I dig into the next Vampire title in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies by director John Landis.
A Dracula (Francis Lederer) with some strange powers – like apparating (and not a glimpse of fangs) comes to smalltown California, USA after escaping Europe. And poses as a distant relative ends up staying with the Mayberry (that’s a little too on the nose – conjuring images of Andy Griffith and company) family.
The film ignores a lot of vampire rules, like a vampire needing to sleep in earth of its home country, while doing service to others, like fear of mirrors and crosses. Taking up a residence in the Mayberry home, as well as a nearby mine, Dracula begins to slowly stalk people within the town, all while young Rachel Mayberry (Norma Ebernhardt) tries to figure out her worldly ‘relative.’
Her boyfriend Tim (Ray Stricklyn) proves a distraction for her though, while Dracula stalks her friend, a young blind girl Jennie (Virginia Vincent) and turns her to his evil purposes.
Dracula is pursued from the old country by a policeman, who apparently has no problem operating outside of his jurisdiction, and knows a lot about vampiric nature, and Dracula in particular.
The black and white film with just a splash of colour in one sequence, is very much a product of its time. It feels steeped in wholesome American goodness, like small towns and apple pies, poodle skirts (though there are none in the film) and the innocence that seems to be portrayed by the era.
And it is that innocence and good American bravery that may put paid to Dracula this time. At least until the next sequel comes along.
Lederer, who apparently hated being in this film, is very unconvincing as Dracula, and does not exude the menace that Lugosi did, or the Lee would. In fact it feels like it tries to play like a vampire version of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, but no where as near as good.
Having said that, these classic early vampires films are brilliantly entertaining, bad or good, and they are totally worth the watch. And I know by the time I reach the end of this chapter in Landis’ book, I am going to know a lot about good (and bad) cinematic vampires. And that just makes me smile.
I am loving this book, and the films it is introducing me to.
But don’t take my word for it, pick up Monsters in the Movies from DK Books, and find something (somewhat) scary to watch tonight!