Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Halloween Havoc: DRACULA'S WIDOW (1988)

If you need proof that nepotism exists in Hollywood (far-fetched, I know), look no further than the Coppola family. Like the root system of a towering oak, expanding out in a radial pattern invading every crevice of the earth and destroying city infrastructure along the way. Francis may be that towering oak, but it's his brother August Coppola who is responsible for taking full advantage of his brother's status and infiltrating the industry with as many of his offspring as possible. He is the reason we have Nicholas Cage. Proof of August's evil, if ever there was. Cage has two less successful (though similarly talented) brothers, Marc, whose career has been as a radio DJ and essentially photo bombing movies, and Christopher, who has managed to have a career as a director. Christopher's career has been all over the map with credits ranging from Full Moon's kid-friendly CLOCKMAKER (1998), an attempt to revive Hopalong Cassidy with GUNFIGHTER (1999) and this, his first film, a wild stab at a modern Dracula comedy, without the joke writing. No, really. It's a supposed to be a comedy, trust me.


Opening with bizarrely strobing footage of classic Hollywood neon signs, old fashioned homicide detective Hap Lannon (Josef Sommer) reflects in a voice over about the strange case of The Hollywood House of Wax and its "oddball owner".

After receiving an extra crate not listed on the manifest in a shipment of antiques from Romania, sculptor and poncy Dracula fan Raymond Evrett (Lenny von Dohlen), quickly finds himself with the mutilated corpse of a robber and the real life bride of Dracula, Vanessa (Sylvia Kristel). This is of course, after she heads out to a bar named The Blue Angel (presumably a reference to the 1930 Marlene Dietrich film) and picks up a greaseball who is clearly beer-goggling the pinched waist, shoulder pads and two-dollar black poodle wig. How does she pick him up, you ask? By standing standing completely still with an unblinking stare. Oh yeah, hotchie mama! This electrifying encounter leads to an attempted tryst with both of them, in their neatly pressed suits, rolling around on the grass in a park. Apparently a hotel room was just too much effort for these kids. Unfortunately, like so many single men, he finds out that she has an entirely different idea about exchanging bodily fluids.

Ray is also the life of the party as even though he has a totally hot girlfriend, his idea of a good time is an evening alone in his bedroom with a snifter of brandy, designer jammies and NOSFERATU (1922) on 16mm. See? I told you he was poncy. By way of introduction, Vanessa bursts into his room grabs the picture of his girlfriend Jenny Harker (Rachel Jones), smashes in on the floor and screams "you are mine now, understand!" I guess vampires really are scary! I gotta call bullshit here though. So in the world of the undead, the ladies get a smooth-talking, sophisticated neck-biter who talks like he's out of a Harlequin novel, and for the guys? Yeah, we get the psychotic ex-girlfriend that we never wanted to see again, who now adds the literal drinking of blood to go with the figurative crushing of your soul. Thanks for that.

For no adequately explained reason Vanessa's plan is to use Raymond as not only a handy, portable beverage, but as a pawn to help her get back to Romania so she can be with her husband Count Dracula. Great, now she's a controlling nutcase and married. Ray is forced to break the news that her hubby is kaput, which she denies and sticks to her plan to have him take her back to the old country.

We aren't really sure how Raymond is supposed to be getting Vanessa back to Romania, since all she does is want to run around L.A. killing people while dragging Ray around by the neck. After forcing him to make out with her in the middle of an intersection, they stumble across a building next to a sleazy strip-club that is the lair of satanists. How do we know it is being used by satanists? Because it has a big pentagram spray painted next to the door, duh! I mean how else would you find a satanic cult? In spite of having a naked girl tied down to a rack, it is hard to tell whether these guys are supposed to be real satanists or not. Regardless she kills them all with ol' Ray leaving his fingerprints everywhere so that now the cops suspect he is a serial killer. This assertation is perfectly reasonable since Hap and his partner ain't much for this new-fangled police-work. After finding the corpse of the first victim in the park, they discover a matchbook with the name of the bar on it. Do they carefully pick it up with tweezers or the old reliable #2 pencil and send it to the forensics department for analysis? Nah, just grab it with your hands and then go harass the schmoe behind the bar. Old school detective work baby!

Instead of having Jenny Harker be a law student or something clever, Coppola simply makes her a pretty face (and boobs) that says the usual stuff like "Raymond, you look awful. You are cold as ice!" Unfortunately Raymond is having trouble getting Jenny to understand that he is going through some issues that the surrogate mom approach won't cure. At one point he resorts to drinking the blood of a winged rodent (a pigeon) and even worse, he is forced to wear turtlenecks.

Just to make sure that you know it's a comedy, we also get the grandson of Dr. Van Helsing who runs an antique shop (creatively named "Helsing's Antiques") and he damn well knows that the killings are vampire related! To protect himself from the evil, he hugs a giant crucifix, though what he should have done is fixed his floorboards, because that is what ultimately proves his undoing. Comedy gold, I tells ya.

Kristel, in what I can only be an attempt to shed her sex bomb image, actually walks around impersonating Max Shrek's stiff, claw-handed mannerisms while wearing a pinched-waist grey power-suit. Where she got this suit is never explained. Since she is alleged to have been in a coffin since before the Count's demise at the hands of Van Helsing, she must have obtained in L.A. This would seem ripe for a BEASTMASTER II (1991) style scene where Vanessa could try on clothes at a department store proudly enjoying her reflection in... oh wait, I guess there's a reason they didn't shoot that bit. Either way, in spite of what the characters say, it is not even remotely hot. I can't imagine what Coppola was thinking here. When I see her, I don't think "oooh, a girl worth dying for", I think "oooh, this bitch will kill me".

Despite of the fact that the movie is intended to be a horror comedy and utterly fails on both fronts, I kinda dig it. I remember seeing it back in the day, it was in every video store on Earth, which is either a statement about the demand for video store fodder, or the power of the Coppola name. At the time I didn't care for it much. Watching it now, in this day and age of deadly serious digital overkill, I find it reasonably entertaining. A damn sight more fun than Uncle Frank's utterly absurd BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1991), which was equally unfunny and unscary, but tedious and overwrought to boot.

The movie has a couple things going for it; Josef Sommer, a player in countless '80s genre films, TV movies and cop flicks like DIRTY HARRY (1971) and MAN ON A SWING (1974), has the easy old-school detective thing down cold and makes up for the shortcomings of the other actors, particularly since Lenny von Dohlen's uhhh, style, takes a little getting used to. Also in its favor, it moves at a quick clip, sports a cameo by George Stover and better still, sports lots of splattery make-up effects and creature work. Sure, it ain't the best of the '80s, but hell, it's probably the best thing to come out of one of Francis Ford's nephews and it is better than a Conrad Brooks video. I'm a simple man, I don't ask for much.

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