Friday, December 23, 2011

Young Dracula

Young Dracula
Aka: Dracula in the Provinces
Original Title: Il cav. Costante Nicosia demoniac, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza
Directed By: Lucio Fulci
Italy, 1975
Comedy/Horror


I like to refer to it as the calm before the storm, the calm before second coming of Lucio Fulci. The movies he made after the impressive Gialli/thrillers, but before the magnificent grotesque movies that firmly placed him in horror mythos.

As you most likely know, Fulci started his career with comedies and dramas, so they are an important part in the fundament of what would come later on. With that I’m referring to the at times terrifyingly dark humour that is found in his films. Light dramas, saucy comedies, and fun fun fun is somewhat of a strange contradiction to the images and movies one associates The godfather of Gore with, but at the same time, if you weren’t making salty thrillers, westerns or horrors then it was the sexy comedy that the audiences in Italy wanted. Fulci was no stranger to making comedies; he even began his career as an assistant to the legendary Italian comedy director Steno, so comedies have an important place in his filmography. And before that second coming, Fulci directed some very interesting comedies that deserve to be rediscovered.

Young industrialist Costante Nicosia [Lando Buzzanca, who did a brilliant job as the politician with a bum-grabbing fetish in All'onorevole piacciono le donne (Nonostante le apparenze... e purché la nazione non lo sappia) (The Senator Likes Women) 1972, and his last leading role for Fulci] is the Toothpaste King. Despite being tremendously wealthy, the envy of town and married to beautiful wife, Mariú [Sylva Koscina], Costante is somewhat unhappy in his life as it is. His superstition has him convinced that he’s plagued with bad luck and watches carefully for all omens of evil forces. After insulting an old aunt at, a very gothic, dinner, Constanta takes off for a business trip to Romania.

In Romania, he goes to visit Count Dragulescu [John Steiner who’d starred in films for Fulci previously, and would go on to act in many classic genre pieces from here on] for a grand feast. After a series of comedic encounters and misunderstandings, Costante is binging champagne and making out with luscious women… only to wake up in the bed of Dragulescu. Upon his return to Italy, Costante is a changed man in more than one way. Convinced that night in the Romanian Count’s bed has turned him into a homosexual vampire, Constanta starts a transformative soul search that will take him on an unforgettable journey.

Getting into an Italian comedy from the seventies isn’t really as difficult as one would think. Fulci’s comedies are seldom straight forward slapstick routines, but more on the satirical side. Young Dracula goes for the jugular; the jokes sometimes racial, crude and chauvinistic, sometimes classic situation gags still do the job. Perhaps not as much tongue in cheek as something like The Senator Likes Women, Young Dracula has its moments where I almost feel as if Fulci is parodying the erotic comedy genre too. A specific scene where Costante confronts Mariú in the bath, should have been an obvious place for a saucy shot of nudity, instead Fulci uses it to present a gag about Costante‘s lust for blood. It’s also a vital scene for the shock ending that Fulci has prepared.

The main question is obviously does it work? Well yeah sure it works. It may not have the same natural appeal as the horror pieces do, but at the same time it’s a movie that mocks the genre and specifically the vampire niche. It does deliver quite a lot of laughs, there’s some nudity, and Buzzanca delivers a solid performance once again despite sporting a terrible Harry Reems moustache. I only mention that, as Christa Linder who’s to be seen in the movie would star against Reems the following year in his last adult film, Mac Ahlberg’s Bel Ami 1976. Young Dracula also features a tiny, but early appearance by very young Ilona Staller long before the days of being an Italian politician...

There’s no doubt about it, this is very much a Fulci movie. It’s riddled with typical Fulci surrealism. There’s a creepy atmosphere pre-dating David Lynch whilst an odd opera is held in a dining room at the hotel in Romania. A serious injury at the factory is shown in its gory glory. Costante has weird and frightening, but at the same time erotic nightmares. A slaughtered horses head is graphically on display, there’s an ungodly warlock [Ciccio Ingrassia] who holds an séance and one woman slits her wrist with a straight razor to feed Costante the blood of the proletariat. So yeah, this is Fulci-land indeed.
There’s a wonderful confusion to be found in Lando’s Costante character arc, on several occasions I find myself thinking of Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss 1988 and Margheritti/Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula 1974, the year before Young Dracula, which also is an alternative title to the Udo Kier, Joe Dallasandro vehicle. It’s a decent character arc that he has through the movie. After all he goes from superstitious, frustrated man to calm and relaxed, with a few bumps along the way.

Every approach to his wife, she’s got some excuse to avoid being intimate. This obviously results in a couple of skits and laughs in the early half of the flick when establishing Costante's sexual frustration of never being allowed to get cosy. Lines like “Don’t mess my make up, don’t tear my dress, don’t mess my hair… then you complain that a man picks up a hooker once in a while…” establish a clear image of this love sick man longing for some closeness. Although he’d probably never approach a whore, it’s still this yearning that makes him fall for the Vampires
erotic seduction later in Eastern Europe. Another important plot device presented in the first half is Costante's superstitious mind frame. He points out that he’s cursed with bad luck, freaks out when seeing a black cat cross the road, get’s hysterical when he accidently breaks a mirror in his wife’s room, and even tosses salt over the shoulder of the airplane pilots for good luck when he travels to Romania. Just like the sexual frustration, the superstitious side of Costante goes away with his transformation. Even the dog Gestapo that barks and snarls at him every time he arrives at his office block, runs and hides after Costante’s trip to Romania.

There’s a gay undercurrent to be found. At first Costante is avoidant of the male vampire in the castle despite several approaches, Costante backs away, almost repulsed. After almost fainting in the showers of his basketball team, he goes to a doctor pulling the old classic “ a friend of mine…” only to come up with the answer that he’s probably becoming a homosexual! When the doctor encourages Costante to go straight to his mistress to find out if a woman can still arouse him or if he actually was “deflowered” in Romania. But whilst chasing her across a field she trips and cuts her knee… Costante cant resist when being requested to sucking the bloody wound to save his mistress from blood poisoning, and in a metaphorical way, his vampire virginity is taken. Moments later she slaps him hard in the face because of the “love bites” on his neck. Despite the serious topic, Fulci quickly returns to the gags, after all this is a comedy.

The movie is high on production value and sees most of the familiar names that I associate with the really great Fulci movies. Frequent collaborator on early Fulci movies, editor Ornella Micheli is on-board, and does a wonderful job of it too. Sergio Salvati who shot almost all of the great classic Fulci movies brings a familiar look to the movie, and some scenes – even though being comedic – would easily fit into the horror canon.

The screenplay – written by amongst others Pupi Avati, Mario Amendola and Bruno Corbucci does what it should, there are some genuine laughs in there, and Fulci obviously brought his surreal grotesque to the table considering certain moments of the movie mentioned above.

But why is this a lost movie, still only available on shoddy bootlegs sourced from that even rarer Greek VHS? It’s odd, as Young Dracula easy could compete with the other comedies released so far. Perhaps the movie was forgotten by time, as Fulci himself never really appreciated the movie. A shame as it’s certainly got a lot going for it, and a restored version should be of interest for fans. Considering that I maniaci 1964, The Senator Likes Women 1972, La Pretora 1976, all received this treatment – not to mention those titles released in Italy - there’s no reason why Young Dracula shouldn’t. I’m keeping my fingers crossed because this one is an entertaining, and interesting movie considering that this is the Fulci comedies that plays closest to the sphere we all associate his name with - the horror genre.

Polish up on your Italian and enjoy, this would never have happened in the days of VHS.

2 comments:

Ninja Dixon said...

I have a bootleg DVD of this one, now I really need to watch it! Thanks for a great review!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanks mate. I'd absolutely suggest you watch it. It's a delightful movie.
J.