Saturday, May 3, 2014

Son of Dracula (1974)

          In the years immediately following the demise of the Beatles, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney each found individual musical success, but the band’s easygoing drummer, Ringo Starr, wasn’t naturally suited to solo pop stardom. Therefore, even as he periodically released music, Starr had time for such other endeavors as acting and film producing. Starr’s cinematic hobby reached a strange climax with Son of Dracula, a comedy/horror musical featuring singer Harry Nilsson in the title role. Nilsson, a friend of Lennon’s and Starr’s who was as notable for his epic drinking as for his offbeat pop music, demonstrates zero screen presence as the modern-day heir to Count Dracula’s netherworld throne—despite performing a number of exciting tunes both onscreen and on the soundtrack (including one of his biggest hits, the mournful ballad “Without You’), Nilsson’s appearance in the film is merely a novelty. Similarly, Starr’s supporting role as Merlin the Magician (complete with the silly costume of a gigantic beard, a pointy hat covered with stars, and a robe) feels more like a lark than a proper filmic statement. Plus, the way music-industry pals including John Bonham, Peter Frampton, and Keith Moon show up during performance scenes gives Son of Dracula the feel of a show that Starr put on in his backyard.
          Buried inside Son of Dracula, however, is the skeleton of a serviceable horror movie, because the protagonist, Count Downe (Nilsson), experiences an existential crisis on the eve of taking his father’s place as King of the Monsters. Specifically, Count Downe wants to experience human emotions, so he enlists the aid of Dr. Van Helsing (Dennis Price) for a scientific process that will make Count Downe mortal. Meanwhile, scheming netherworld lieutenant Baron Von Frankenstein (Freddie Jones) wants to expose Count Downe as a traitor, thus usurping the throne. Executed without irony, this plot could have generated an adequate horror show. Alas, Son of Dracula is padded with nonsense including the aforementioned musical numbers (which are weakly justified by the contrivance that Count Downe dabbles in singing), as well as endless montages of Count Downe wandering around London. Veteran horror director Freddie Francis does an okay job of filming city streets and underground dungeons with atmospheric low angles, and composer Paul Buckmaster provides a few evocative moments of dissonant scoring, but none of these flourishes matter. As it wobbles between action, comedy, drama, horror, and music, Son of Dracula elicits no audience reaction more strongly than it elicits boredom.

Son of Dracula: LAME

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