3 Dracula Comedies
Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Love at First Bite, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein are comedies from 3 different eras that have Dracula as a main character. They use 3 different approaches to have a comedic look at this classic Gothic character. This article contains some spoilers.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It
This 1995 Mel Brooks movie is set in the 1890s. It follows the story arc of the original movie Dracula. Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) wants to move to London. Renfield (Peter MacNicol) is sent to Transylvania to complete the paperwork necessary for purchasing a house. Borgo Pass Productions, Inc. has the copyright for Dracula: Dead and Loving It.[i] In this movie as in Dracula the Coach Driver (Ezio Greggio) would only take Renfield as far as The Borgo Pass.
Dracula turns Renfield into a bug eating servant. Renfield is loyal and obedient but inept. Dracula also has competence problems. In one case he hypnotizes an usherette (Leslie S. Sachs) and gives her instructions including that she will remember nothing of what transpired. As instructed, she forgets what's she's supposed to do.
A schooner sails into the Thames with Renfield as the only survivor. He is considered a raving lunatic and thrown into an asylum. Later Renfield tries to convince Dr. Seward (Harvy Korman) that he is sane. Renfield puts on a convincing sane act until some bugs come on the scene. Renfield denies eating bugs as he is eating them in plane site of Dr. Seward.
Dracula puts the bite on Dr. Seward’s ward Lucy (Lysette Anthony). When Dr. Seward sees Lucy is stricken by a strange disease he goes to Professor Van Helsing who knows about strange diseases. In some humor that may be, or will become, dated there is a parody of the “Yes! We have no bananas”, song.[ii] Despite their efforts protect her Dracula turns her into a vampire. Jonathan Harker (Steven Weber) is engaged to marry Mina (Amy Yasbeck). Mina is Dracula’s next intended victim. Lucy tries to put the bite on Harker but Van Helsing scares her back to her coffin with a crucifix. Harker balks when Van Helsing tells him to pound a stake into her heart. Harker asks Van Helsing to do it but Van Helsing tells him it must be done by someone who loves her. This is not confusing the Wolfman genre with the Dracula genre. Van Helsing reveals he has an ulterior motive when he gets behind a wall before commanding Harker to strike. Harker is drenched in blood. When this doesn’t kill Lucy Van Helsing commands Harker to strike again. Harker is again drenched with blood. When Van Helsing tells him she still isn’t dead Harker insists “She’s dead enough!”
Dracula is exposed at a dance with a large mirror. He runs off with Mina. Renfield’s ineptitude sets up a showdown between Dracula and Van Helsing. Harker and Dr. Seward are also there to assist with Mina’s life in the balance. Renfield’s action determines the movie’s ending.
This movie lacks the magic and isn’t as funny as Young Frankenstein. It didn’t do well at the box office. It had a budget of about $30 million and only earned about 1/3 of that in the U.S. market.[iii] The movie is definitely worth a look for its comedy value and as a comparison with Young Frankenstein.
[i] United States Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112896/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus.
[ii] This 1922 song by Frank Silver and Irving Cohen goes “Yes! We have no bananas. We have no bananas today.”
[iii] United States Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112896/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus.
Dr. Seward quote
Yes, we have Nosferatu. We have Nosferatu today.
Love at First Bite
This movie is set in present time, 1979. It is a “fish out of water” story. The movie also serves as a time capsule. The Communist Rumanian government plans to turn Dracula’s castle into an Olympic training center and they evict Count Vladimir Dracula (George Hamilton). Dracula decides to go to New York and make model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James) his bride. Cindy Sondheim is the current incarnation of the woman he loved throughout the centuries. He had always been prevented from giving her the necessary 3 bites.
Dracula arrives in New York. There is a coffin mix-up and an attempted mugging. Renfield (Arte Johnson) first tries to bribe someone to get information about Cindy Sondheim. The bribe is to make her an honorary colonel in the Romanian army the next time there is a free election. In 1979 a Romanian free election in the foreseeable future seemed ridiculous. Ten years later a free Romanian election was a reality. The bribe failed so Renfield threatened her with his lunch, a live snake.
Dracula finds Cindy Sondheim at a disco. They dance to the song I Love the Nightlife. Then they go to Cindy’s apartment. Cindy has a bottle of wine in her refrigerator and not much else. She tells Dracula she has some wine and some marijuana. Dracula tells her he doesn’t drink wine of smoke marijuana.
Dr. Jeffery Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin) is Cindy Sondheim’s psychiatrist and boyfriend. He changed his name from Van Helsing to Rosenberg for business reasons. While they have been together for many years Jeffery is unwilling to make a commitment. Cindy is behind in her therapy payments. Jeffery thought she was making up stories about the stranger she met. She showed him the bite marks as proof. He recognized it as the mark of Dracula.
When Van Helsing first confronts Dracula he holds up the wrong religious symbol. He is conflicted when he attempts to burn Dracula. Sigmund Freud would not do such a thing. Dr. Rosenberg sets the coffin on fire because he is a Van Helsing. Renfield’s quick action saves Dracula. Van Helsing tries to kill Dracula with 3 silver bullets to the heart. He then realized that was how to kill a werewolf, not a vampire. This got Van Helsing committed to an insane asylum.
The climax involves a dash to the airport. Jeffery shows up at the airport with a stake and a grudging willingness to make a commitment. Cindy has to choose Jeffery or Dracula.
In the movie there is a blackout and people immediately loot. This is a reference to the 1977 New York blackout where there was mass looting. The movie gives a good look at the time of disco. It is a funny movie although some of the humor is inappropriate in the 21st century.
I do not drink, wine. And I do not smoke @^*%.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
This movie is set in present time, 1948. In this movie Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), the Wolfman aka Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Dracula (Bela Lugosi) play it straight and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello take care of the comedy.[i] The movie also has a cameo appearance by The Invisible Man (the voice of Vincent Price).[ii]
Abbott and Costello work for a delivery company. They are to deliver two crates to McDougal’s House of Horrors. The crates are the remains of Dracula and Frankenstein. Lawrence Talbot calls the delivery company to stop the delivery. Costello answers the phone and Lawrence Talbot turns into the Wolfman. Costello only hears the Wolfman’s growls. Abbott and Costello deliver the crates. While opening the crates Costello sees Dracula and the Monster come to life. The next morning McDougal (Frank Ferguson) finds his exhibits are missing. Abbott didn’t see anything and Costello has a ridiculous, but true, story about what happened.
Dracula needs to install a new brain into the Monster. The weak minded Costello has the perfect brain to restore the Monster’s strength and for Dracula to easily control the Monster. Lawrence Talbot is on Dracula’s trail.
Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert) and Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph) fake a romantic interest in Costello. Sandra’s real interest in Costello is his brain. She is working for Dracula. She is capable of acting independently and sometimes against the wishes of Dracula. Joan is an undercover insurance investigator who views Costello as an easy mark to give away information about what happened to McDougal’s missing exhibits.
At the climax the Wolfman and Dracula have a shoving match with an operating table with Costello on the operating table. Then the Wolfman chases Dracula and Frankenstein chases Abbott and Costello through the castle.
The film was Universal Studio’s second highest-grossing film for 1948.[iii] This was the second and last time Bela Lugosi played Count Dracula in a movie[iv] Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the last time Universal Studios used these 3 monster characters in a movie in the 20th century. It was the last appearance in a movie of Universal’s patented Wolfman and Frankenstein makeup. That is why in subsequent Frankenstein movies the Monsters don’t have the look most people associate with Frankenstein.[v]
This movie was the first exposure to the horror genre for many. This is a good Abbott and Costello comedy. It is also a good movie for a mixed audience of classic horror and comedy fans.
[i] In the movie Bud Abbott played Chick and Lou Costello played Wilbur. In this article I refer to Abbott and Costello by their real names for simplicity.
[ii] Yes, the pun is intended.
[iii] United States Movie Database, (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040068/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv), original source Gregory W. Mank’s audio commentary.
[iv] He played Dracula on episodes of The Paul Winchell Show and Texaco Star Theatre. He also played a vampire in The Return of the Vampire but was not Count Dracula.
[v] In Universal’s Van Helsing werewolves were CGI characters and Frankenstein didn’t have the classic Frankenstein look. The exception is the Herman Munster character in the TV series "The Munsters" and the movie "Munsters Go Home".
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Robert Sacchi