Friday, May 5, 2017

La Dinastia Dracula (1980)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

In Ye Olden Times of cheap school play conquistador costumes, the inquisition gets rid of the rather nasty noble vampire Duke Orloff who likes to transform into a dog and disregards the cultural and churchly rules about keeping one's shirt buttoned in public. But woe! The men of the church completely ignore the vampire's female partner and witch lover, despite her wearing a shirt with a flame imprint that can only come from the future.

Three hundred years later, in Ye Not Quite As Olden Times of school play late 19th century costumes, witch woman goes under the name of Madame Kostoff. She seems to have been absent from Mexico for the last few hundred years, but now returns to her former home with a coffin in her luggage and a revivification plan in her mind. She'll just need to buy the mansion that stands close to the place where her vampire lover was buried, and everything will be set. It's just a wee bit unfortunate that the Solórzano family living in the mansion now doesn't want to sell.

The good lady's coffin isn't empty, of course. Kostoff has brought with her a vampire (Fabian Aranza, looking like disco vampire Elvis, and - also just like Elvis - going only under his first name in the titles) who might be a descendent of Orloff or of Count Dracula, or both, and works under the pseudonym of Baron van Helsing(!). Or something. Upon first arrival, the vampire only comes out of his coffin to hiss into the camera, turn into an especially sad looking rubber bat, suck a few families dry, and do some bat-form snogging with Kostoff, but after some time, he becomes more sociable and starts to apply all his charm to convince the Solórzanos of selling their mansion.

When the family still shows unwilling, the vampire kills off the mother of the house, which might be enough to convince her widower to leave, but doesn't fly with the Solórzano daughter Beatriz at all. Van Helsing would rather have the girl as his own private vampire bride anyway, so her reluctance does rather fit into his plans.

Now only Beatriz' fiancée, the supernatural-lovin' doctor Fuentes and the sceptical local priest can help the forces of good to triumph. It's just too bad that Fuentes is the kind of guy who goes into the lair of the chief vampire only armed with a communion wafer, and that the priest is so ineffectual he surely must make the Baby Jesus cry. The material a godhood has to work with on Earth!

Among the one hundred and fifty films (at least that's the number the IMDb gives; experience with the site suggests that it might well have been a few dozen films more) Alfredo B. Crevenna directed are some of my favourite pieces of Mexican pop cinema (Santo vs. the Martian Invasion, for example), but of course - inevitable with a body of work this large produced in a filmic environment so prone to the type of cheap-skating Roger Corman wouldn't approve of as the Mexican genre film industry - also some real stinkers.

If you're going by any sane standards, La Dinastia de Dracula with its script that never even seems to try to make too much sense (why do the bad guys even need to buy that mansion, seeing that they can teleport, turn into bats and dogs and fog at will and really can come and go everywhere how and whenever they please?), its hoary melodramatic acting and its utter disinterest in staging anything in any interesting way surely belongs to the latter group of the director's films. Fortunately, as you probably know already or else will now realize, my standards when it comes to movies aren't necessarily sane. I'm only all too willing to let myself be convinced by the most basic stimuli to my bad movie appreciation glands (say, a vampire looking like Disco Elvis Dracula) that a film that will look perfectly dreadful for everyone else is actually a pretty great time for me. Which is in fact what happened with me and Dinastia's particular charms.

The film's beauty doesn't even lie with the vampire (and/or his incredibly tacky looking stag-evil type fangs) alone. Rather, Dinastia wins the receptive viewer over with the time-honoured technique of just piling improbable, weird and/or downright disturbing stuff in front of her and treating it all as if it were part of some high, serious drama, like Shakespeare rewritten by Lord Bulwer-Lytton and staged by a group of actors trying to keep their dignity but not actually remembering any more how dignity looks.

At times, the film becomes just completely baffling, like in the scene in which the stupid doctor enters the Baron's lair to entice his enemy into the final fight and the Baron quizzes him about the weapons he brought with him in the tone of a slightly exasperated teacher. Is it supposed to be funny? Is it supposed to be suspenseful? I surely don't know, but - and that's the exciting part (for me, at least), I'm pretty sure Crevenna doesn't know, either. I'm not even sure he cares. Not to go all Sonic Youth here, but confusion is sex, or does at least make for a nice time in front of the TV.

Then there's the rather peculiar relationship between Kostoff and the Baron. When she's not kissing him while he's a bat, she turns into a dog and accompanies him to social visits she might more appropriately share in human form. Of course, then the Baron couldn't describe her as "my constant companion" and do those rather illegal things they are probably doing (I just might make assumptions influenced by pink cinema here) when they are alone in their coach.
Sandwiched between these absurdities and the frequent return of the rubber bat least feasible to make repeat appearances are what might be real proper gothic horror scenes in a less interesting movie. The Baron's attacks on families (and this guy eats children too) and the staking of Beatriz' mother are staged as if they were moments of high drama, but the utter ridiculousness of the acting (especially Fabian Aranza brings tears of laughter into me eyes whenever he's trying to be menacing) can't help but pull what is supposed to be terrifying into the realm of the stupidly fun.

It's all very baffling, very confusing, and really rather entertaining.

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