Andy Warhol’s Dracula
Italy / France, 1974
Review by Paul Garcia
Posted on 15 February 2006
Source Image Entertainment DVD
Reviews: Flesh for Frankenstein
Over a delicately wistful Claudio Gizzi arrangement, a rapidly deteriorating Count Dracula deftly applies a layer of cosmetics to his pockmarked visage and a fresh coat of black paint to his matted gray hair. Bearing witness to a mythical figure attempting to maintain some semblance of dignity while in the throes of an encroaching death is an image that carries with it a deep sense of sorrow and poignancy. This assessment is shortly countered; Paul Morrissey, by simply letting the camera slowly drift behind the Count, subverts expectations for a deadly serious rumination on legend and mortality. His little joke is revealed and a heaping amount of absurdity is injected immediately as it is revealed that Dracula performed his make-up job seated in front of a mirror, sans reflection.
Blood for Dracula is a thematically dense and ambitious work, infused with a hearty dose of comic perverseness, deadpan detachment, ham-acting, heady political pretense, gut-busting dialogue, sexuality, gallons of syrupy gore, and Vittorio de Sica. The film manages to juggle many of these elements simultaneously, as when it sandwiches a comical, irony-laden political diatribe between a languorous soft-core sex scene rooted in classicalism (with a dash of incestuous lesbianism). Morrissey has an affinity for calculated transgression, not merely to shock the audience into submission or to push social mores past the breaking point in order to expand the boundaries of acceptable behavior in society, but to critique.
Blood for Dracula is above all a lament for the destruction of traditional societal and moral values. Rewinding to the bare essentials of plot will open up the major narrative thread that runs through this film: sometime in the 1920s, a withered Count Dracula, at the behest of his bossy servant, Anton (a diabolical smirk smeared across his face), makes the trek from his native Romania to Italy in the hopes of finding the virgin blood needed to rejuvenate his dying body. Anton arranges to meet with the Di Fiore family—crusty aristocrats in desperate need of some rejuvenation of their own. Four unmarried daughters, raised in a traditional Catholic household, must equal success for the Count, right? Not necessarily—complicating manners in the Adonis-as-hard-nosed-street-kid role is Mario, a bitter young Marxist with a proclivity for sex. This sets the stage for Morrissey’s curmudgeonly ideologies to seep into every frame of Blood for Dracula, although his talent for creating rich, complex, morally ambivalent characters and situations (even when said characters are rough hewn caricatures) makes Morrissey’s didacticism infinitely more palatable.
Dracula – beacon for blood sucking capitalism everywhere – is softened, transformed into a fragile, sensitive being, sympathetic and weary, devouring purity as a means of survival: he scurries along an ornately decorated floor and laps up the remnants of virginal blood in a supreme act of self-degradation; he manually stimulates himself in preparation for the blood ritual before finally indulging in his sacred act, but the consequences of an impure modernity strikes as he cartoonishly turns green (Friz Freleng immediately springs to mind) and agonizingly retches and heaves up blood all over his pressed tuxedo and into a porcelain tub; and his daffily gory dismemberment at the hands of Mario. These examples all serve to illustrate Dracula’s inept and pathetic state of being in Morrissey’s world, in stark contrast to the usual characterizations that form the Dracula myth. Here he acts as a conduit for Morrissey’s commentary on the phasing out of the noble aristocrat, the tragedy of the great unwashed and their liberated values enveloping and ultimately dissolving the bluebloods into their undulating, gelatinous mass. Even a holdout like the Count is no match, and he succumbs, unwillingly.
The Di Fiore clan is another casualty of modernism, although the rot begins internally, the Sexual Revolution and Communism having tinged two of the daughters who proclaim themselves peasants and workers while they liberate themselves of their clothes in a grand show of vulgarity and insincerity while working the family fields. Empty words as they both seem somewhat willing to take Dracula’s hand in marriage if it means they can shop and live the true consumerist-aristocratic lifestyle again. They have sex with each other and Mario, and again seem unaware and uncaring of the politics that Mario espouses. Genuine feelings for Mario are punctured by moments where the sisters treat him with offhand contempt, denigrating his social status as a laborer, shattering their glassy Marxist field rhetoric. Their excuse is naïveté, and much of their tainted behavior can be directly linked to Mario’s ideals and corrupting influence, sadly. Madame Di Fiore is morally fraudulent, but in a manner that lacks the bombast of her daughters’ raucous behavior. She carries a subtlety to her loose morality, cracked through slight changes in her expression, the widening of her eyes in consideration of peddling her 14-year-old daughter to Dracula in order restore the family fortune contrary to the words that come out of her mouth. Di Sica as the quirky father is an absent presence, not in any malicious manner, just adrift in his playful little world of linguistics and Dracula’s urine sample, but still a figure of failed responsibility. Morrissey ironically lets their world implode at the hands of the designated hero of the story, Mario.
Mario is modernity, which in this movie makes him crass, reprehensible, and morally bankrupt. It also makes him sexually liberated, a proletarian, and a Marxist; to Morrissey, it’s all equivalent. He throws a curveball by staging a lovingly photographed threesome — dewy atmosphere and all — and then follows it with several scenes of Mario brutalizing the women. His politics are always intertwined in each of these rape scenes, with Morrissey nudging forward in overtness during each subsequent episode. Marxist polemics, followed by Mario violently forcing Rubinia into fellatio, all set against the backdrop of the hammer and sickle. The last episode is the sledgehammer, with Mario raping the 14-year-old, Perla (whom he’s had machinations on, previously remarking that he’d “like to rape the hell outta her”), in order to save her from becoming Dracula’s next victim. Queasy as it already is, another dimension is added when Morrissey, taking a cue from Straw Dogs and inserting it into an entirely different context, has Perla struggle and then enjoy the rape. Mario’s communism devours purity, like Dracula’s capitalism, but tells you it’s for your own good.
Wielding an irony unpersuasive in many films of this period, Morrissey sneaks in a sly, subversive sucker punch in the denouement, contending that the shackles of the class system are preferable to the “anything goes” mentality fused to his perception of modernity. An unfair accusation to be sure, but, appropriately, contemporary interviews with Paul Morrissey showcase a man that resembles Mario, with inverted political and ideological viewpoints but with the same sourpuss, embittered baggage. Nonetheless, Blood for Dracula is hilarious, and a film that should be lauded for its sheer moxie and successful integration of elements both provocative and visceral.