Dracula, Dead and Loving It

I grew up with classic Mel Brooks films such as Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part I and Young Frankenstein. At 94, Mel Brooks is still around and still involved in the film business, though his later films don’t have the same reputation for greatness as his earlier films. So, I was a little uncertain when my wife brought home a copy of Dracula, Dead and Loving It, which, to-date, is the last film he directed. Although the movie didn’t quite reach the heights of Brooks’s earlier films, it still had a lot of great moments and I was glad to have watched it.

Nosferatu contemplates Dracula, Dead and Loving It

One of the things that makes Young Frankenstein great is the clear love Mel Brooks has for the Universal monster films of the 1930s. He pays homage to many of the great moments in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein while poking fun at them. That same love comes through in Dracula, Dead and Loving It. The story largely follows the 1931 Dracula which starred Bela Lugosi but also includes send-ups of the 1922 Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992.

The earlier Mel Brooks films benefit a lot from the comedic talents of people like Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, and Cleavon Little. It’s hard to say anyone in Dracula, Dead and Loving It rises to their level, but there are still some fun performances. Harvey Korman is one of those actors who appears in a lot of Mel Brooks films, and I confess I’ve tended to like movies more in spite of Korman than because of him. In this case, I thought Korman did a brilliant job of playing Dr. Seward. He “disappeared” into the role and felt very much like versions of Seward who appeared in the Universal and Hammer films, which made the humorous lines he delivered straight all the funnier. Peter MacNicol is another actor who I’ve seen in other films but didn’t especially stand out to me. In Dracula, Dead and Loving It, he channels Dwight Fry’s Renfield beautifully. One of the best scenes in the movie involves Korman and MacNicol having a dialog over tea while MacNicol surreptitiously snatches bugs and tries to eat them unseen.

Mel Brooks gives a nice performance as Abraham Van Helsing and also pokes fun at many of the tropes surrounding the character. Like Korman, his performance here is a little more understated than in other films where he appears and it works to the film’s benefit.

For me, Leslie Nielsen’s best film is Forbidden Planet where he really defined the role of the brave, stalwart starship captain for many actors who would follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, Forbidden Planet was made at a time when Hollywood didn’t take science fiction seriously and Nielsen didn’t get many roles until he found his way into comedy. To me, his real comedy talent is delivering silly lines with the same kind of stalwart earnestness he gave to the Captain Adams part in Forbidden Planet. That ability served him well in Dracula, Dead and Loving It. He delivers a performance that pays tribute to both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. The only problem is that by this time, Nielsen was so recognizable that he didn’t quite disappear into the part in the same way that Korman and MacNicol did into theirs.

While there are stronger vampire comedies and even stronger Mel Brooks films, I enjoyed Dracula, Dead and Loving It and plan to give it another watch to see if there are other elements and classic film tributes I missed the first time. Although my own vampire novels are intended as serious works, I do throw in some light moments. You can learn more about them at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The Baron and the Firebird

“I hate vampire stories!” One of my co-workers made that statement at the dinner table this week. It’s a sentiment I sometimes hear at conventions when people glance at my vampire novels without learning more about them. Of course, what they mean is that they hate the proliferation of vampire romances and it’s actually a sentiment I can appreciate, especially when the protagonist vampire is creepily stalking a girl centuries younger than himself. I read a book this week that definitely doesn’t fit that mold.

firebirdebook J. A. Campbell’s novelette The Baron and the Firebird is a vampire romance, but most definitely not one involving a vampire pretending to be a high school student. The story opens with a Russian vampire named Peter in a New York diner looking for his lost love—a woman with a beautiful voice named Zoya. A waitress at the diner suggests he try a musical that recently opened. Having nothing to lose, Peter takes her advice.

The story then flashes back to Russia in 1725. Peter, known back then as Pyotr, is a Baron managing lands. Even though he’s a vampire, he’s learned to subsist on goat’s blood so he doesn’t have to drink the blood of his subjects. Pyotr is able to walk in sunlight through the aid of magical cherries that grow in his garden. Only a small number grow in the harsh Russian winter and he parcels them out carefully because they help him to be a good and effective ruler of his land. Unfortunately, a bird has entered the orchard and has started eating the magical cherries.

This is not just any bird, but a magical firebird. Pyotr traps her. Entranced by her beauty, he builds her a bigger cage. One day, he’s surprised to find not the firebird in his cage, but a beautiful woman. He lets her out and they talk. She makes a bargain to stay a year for each cherry she ate from his garden.

As you might infer, events happen which cause them to become separated, since Pyotr is searching for her years later. I was delighted by the fairy-tale like quality of this particular vampire story. I also appreciated that this story explored the love of two immortal creatures, one of light and one of darkness. The vampire elevates himself to become better than most would expect while the firebird comes down to Earth. Campbell effectively builds tension, making us wonder whether or not the vampire and the firebird will be able to build a love that can last forever.

The Scarlet Order vampires would be pleased to make the acquaintance of Pyotr and Zoya. If you like tales of timeless romance, classic fairy tales, or just want to read a good, non-formulaic vampire tale, then The Baron and the Firebird is the book your looking for. You can pick up a copy in print or ebook format at Amazon.