The Horror Honeys: Vampire Month ~ Dracula: Dead and Loving It Since 1931

Vampire Month ~ Dracula: Dead and Loving It Since 1931

A Monster Honey Vampire Month Review by Jennica

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)

Long before the horror genre crept its way into movie palaces, it was sought out in books, paintings, and architecture. The Gothic novels of Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker were holy to those with an interest in the macabre. German expressionist paintings reflected the overall doom-and-gloom tone of the early 1900s as the idea was to create art as it was felt by the artist. And at the time, creativity was found by writers and painters alike through twisted, distorted, dark imagery emanating a fear of the unknown, in this case foreigners.

Following the end of World War I and the stock market crash at the end of the 1920s, the sense of hopelessness and a fear of one's neighbor lived on and by the 1930s, it carried over to the film industry. Alas, with the release of Dracula in 1931, the golden age of monster movies was born.

Growing up, I was not exposed to many of the classic Universal monster movies until much later in life. Not only was Dracula far from my first vampire movie but it was not even my first Dracula movie. My first encounter with the Count-- aside from the occasional corny episode of Sesame Street-- was during a viewing of Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) at the age of seven.

Count me out.
Since Bram Stoker's Dracula has become as universally known as William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, even a seven year-old at least understands the general concept of Dracula and the folkloric traditions associated with vampirism. When I say Dracula, fangs, blood, garlic, coffin, and stake are just a small cluster of the words that will come to anyone's mind whether or not they are a seasoned horror fan... or a horror fan at all. 

While Dracula: Dead and Loving It acted as my introduction to the ultimate bloodthirsty creature of the night himself, it was also my gateway film to the slapstick goldmine of Mel Brooks. Brooks, who is no stranger to historical satire and horror parody, gave me an early lesson in both history and the genre that I know and love to this day. And as with such films as Young Frankenstein (1974) and History of the World: Part I (1981), both of which I did not see until years later, Mel Brooks made learning about the Dracula and culture in the 1930s a hilariously fun experience. 

The Plot: Closely aligned with the story of Bram Stoker's Dracula, this classic parody follows the smooth-talking but unfortunately clumsy Count Dracula to his new Gothic home in London, neighboring the asylum where his batty servant Renfield has been locked away. Upon meeting his new neighbors, Dr. Seward, his daughter Mina and her fiance Harker, and the lovely Lucy, the Count develops a craving for something sweet. After attacking and ultimately killing poor Lucy, Dracula turns to Mina as the object of his bloodlust. Eager to rescue his daughter from a life of darkness and seduction, Dr. Seward calls forth the help of Dr. Van Helsing, an expert in unusual illnesses... and gynecology. The superstitious doctor is certain that their pesky new neightbor is a vampire and that he must be destroyed at once.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It stars comedic masterminds Mel Brooks (who wrote and directed the film) as the quirky Dr. Van Helsing and Leslie Nielsen as the only Dracula I knew in my youth. Although Brooks is often praised for his directorial role in the film industry, he can typically be spotted on the other side of the camera in a number of his films as well, giving performances that always remain on par with his fellow actors and actresses. This particular film is no exception for Brooks, as he transforms before my eyes into the wary doctor and displays his vast flexibility in voice work. Leslie Nielsen, whose career spanned across sixty years, had dabbled in everything from television, to B-movie cult classics, to westerns, to comedy delights such as Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun (1988). And at the ripe age of sixty-eight in his role as Dracula, Nielsen proved that there wasn't anything that he would not do for the sake of a good laugh.

Really, there isn't anything he wouldn't do.
On the surface, Dracula: Dead and Loving It can be simplified as stupid funny entertainment, which it is unquestionably. However, looking more closely at the content of this film within the context of the original 1930s version, it seems more appropriate to describe the form of humor as high-brow slapstick. It goes beyond actors tripping over their own two feet and making ridiculous noises for the sake of comedy, as it pokes fun at the xenophobia among other social concerns during that point in history and proves that filmmakers today are still laughing in the face of the old Production Code.

From the very beginning, the film takes the original Dracula's commentary on 1930s xenophobia-- particularly the imagined threat of European immigrants-- and mocks it through the use of intentional overacting and exaggeration. Dead and Loving It gives a play-by-play account of Renfield's arrival to the small village where the superstitious locals warn him of their mysterious inhabitant who only appears after dusk, insisting with their shaking heads and wiggly flabby faces that he should stay away.

By the Production Code's 1930s standards, Tod Browning was considered to be quite the rebel when he decided to begin filming Dracula, seeing as Bram Stoker's novel was loaded with blood, violence, and unsettling sexuality given the time period. Thus, Browning kept much of the blood and violence off-screen and the provocative performances were kept to a minimum. To prove how lenient the rating system is today and perhaps to show the 1930s Production Code where they could stick their preposterous values, Mel Brooks approached the tale of Dracula with no holds barred. Violent staking, geysers of blood, and plenty of aggressive sexually-charged women with vampy goodies to oggle throughout.

Take THAT, censorship!
In this silly cinematic rendition of a classic Gothic novelization, Mel Brooks once again proves his admiration for the Universal monster movies that first spawned the horror subgenre all the while making jests at the narrow-minded concerns of our forefathers. Brooks maintains his status as a triple threat in his darkly witty writing, eye for direction, and a wild imagination as a performer. As a small child, Dracula: Dead and Loving It was the perfect film to open me up to the more traditional Dracula spectacles in that it provided me with the basic knowledge of who and what this bloodsucking antagonist was but also left room for the kind of entertainment that could be understood and appreciated at any age.

Jennica's Rating: 5 Garlic Cloves out of 5

If you're looking for a bloody good time for the whole family, Dracula: Dead and Loving It is available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

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