Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979)



          Blending comedy, disco music, sex, and vampirism with some of the worst acting ever captured on film, Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula is entertainingly abysmal. Not a single frame of the movie works as intended, and that’s what makes watching Nocturna so perversely pleasurable. Cowritten and coproduced by Vietnamese belly-dancing star (!) Nai Bonet, who plays the leading role and spends a fair amount of screen time slathering her own nude body with bath oil, Nocturna is a vanity project gone terribly, terribly wrong.
          Sharing many elements with the George Hamilton comedy Love at First Bite (1979), which was filmed around the same time as Nocturna, this movie opens in Transylvania, where Dracula (John Carradine) encounters difficulty adjusting to disco-era society. Things have gotten so bad that parts of his castle have been opened to the public as a resort called Hotel Transylvania, which, naturally, includes a disco. Yet instead of following the famous bloodsucker’s adventures, as happens in Love at First Bite, this movie tracks the count’s lissome granddaughter, Nocturna (Bonet).
          While dancing in the disco with an American stud named Jimmy (Antony Hamilton), Nocturna discovers that she casts a reflection—quite a surprise for a vampire. Realizing that she becomes mortal on the dancefloor, Nocturna follows Jimmy to New York City, where she looks for a way to live as a human permanently. A peeved Dracula soon follows her, hoping to lure Nocturna back to the homeland.
          Nocturna is filled with cringe-inducing one-liners and puns, to say nothing of stupid scatological references. As Dracula muses at one point: “If I’m alive, why am I here, but if I’m dead, why do I have to wee-wee?” (Elsewhere, Dracula proclaims, “All the ladies would say I was hung like a walrus!”) Bonet is a spectacularly bad actress, smiling lifelessly through every scene as if she’s a Price Is Right model presenting a washer-dryer set, and her line deliveries are so empty that they’re unintentionally hilarious. Describing an ecstatic moment, she says “It loved it—it was fantastic” with all the energy of a postal worker explaining how much it will cost to mail an envelope.
          Similarly, Bonet’s dancing is dull and unimaginative, which becomes a considerable problem whenever the movie stops cold to watch her twirl repetitively across a dancefloor. Even the aforementioned nude scene has a strange quality, because it seems powered by exhibitionism rather than exploitation. Clearly, Bonet wanted the world’s attention just as badly as the world wanted to ignore her. Still, she did this to herself, so adventurous viewers can hate-watch Nocturna free of guilt.
          Plus, every so often, the germ of a real idea pokes through the smog of ineptitude. For instance, Nocturna hooks up with a gang of NYC vampires who bitch about modern problems, such as the trouble of finding victims whose blood isn’t tainted by processed food. This particular angle leads to a campy scene of a black vampire, dressed like a pimp, offering powdered blood—which prompts an affronted woman to say, “I’d rather suck than sniff any day.” Wow. To complete the effect, throw in a slumming Yvonne De Carlo, as Dracula’s old flame, a pulsing disco soundtrack featuring tunes by artists including Gloria Gaynor and Vickie Sue Robinson, and a supporting actor who does a solid Boris Karloff impersonation. Can a movie be amazing and atrocious at the same time? If the movie’s title is Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, the answer is yes.

Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula: LAME

3 comments:

Steven Thompson said...

You forgot Brother Theodore who would go on to fame and infamy on David Letterman's show! I remember saturation radio ads for it when it first opened around here, with the commercials narrated by him!

Somewhere online there was/is a long piece devoted to the filming of NOCTURNA which tells us that it was mob-funded.

By Peter Hanson said...

I was going to include remarks about Brother Theodore's bizarro performance as a sex-crazed henchman ("If only I could get into her coffin!"), but decided to stop the bleeding since the review had already reached epic proportions...

Gerard Bartley said...

Sure the movie is terrible, but the soundtrack is stellar. Full of unusual disco tracks, often in lengthened format. The Vicki Sue Robinson track is only available in this mix on this album. Nowhere else. (If you like that sort of thing...)