❉ Full-blooded satire with bite in the second part of our series on cult icon Udo Kier’s Euroslash triptych.
Following their 1973 ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ collaboration, American director Paul Morrissey (‘Women in Revolt’ , ‘Heat’ ) and German actor Udo Kier reunited for another exploration of exploitation in the unholy and sepulchral form of 1974’s nest of nosferatu nastiness ‘Blood for Dracula’. Wheras Kier’s frail, translucent beauty had proven a stark contrast to the grindhouse gore and evisceral human disjecta membra of the Frankenstein film, his ethereal waifishness was absolutely perfect for the role of the vampire Count wandering the Earth in search of a nourishment constantly denied him, like sanguineous fruits in the eternal punishment of an undead Tantalus.
Already hardly a man of any great bulk, Kier went on a strict diet to lose weight for the part. “Paul Morrissey came in and said ‘Well, I guess we have a German Dracula'”, said Kier in an interview with Dazed and Confused. “I said, ‘Who?’ He said ‘You! But you have to lose 10 kilos.’ I didn’t eat any more. I just had salad leaves and water.” Kier’s crash diet of nothing but rabbit food and council juice led to a drastic weight loss that gave him the perfect gaunt and emaciated appearance but left him severely debilitated, to the extent that he was rendered so weak that the Count’s use of a wheelchair for mobility was given emphasis in the film. “That’s why i was in a wheelchair for so many of my scenes”, Kier continued. “I had no power to stand up any more. It’s not only Robert De Niro who prepares himself in this way.”
The lingering question as to the authorship (or auteur-ship) of the Warhol-produced Frankenstein film has been extended to the second picture, but Kier himself was adamant this, this time round, Italian genre director Antonio Margheriti had nothing to do with the hands-on direcing of the movie. “Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end. Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors. Never!”, he stated in a Video Watchdog interview with David Del Valle, adding that “Morrissey directed the pictures… certainly all the scenes with myself, that’s all i know.” Margheriti himself is happy to acknowledge much less involvement in the second film, saying of ‘Blood for Dracula’: “That was much more organised because, after ‘Frankenstein’, Carlo Ponti convinced Paul Morrissey to write a real screenplay and not just a treatment.”
Beginning with a spectacularly haunting sequence, over which the blood-red credits roll, that sees the thin white Count – a spectral albino – assiduously applying make-up to give his translucent features the sembance of life, the film creates a superb atmosphere conveying the crushing weariness of unending life. Dracula goes through this routine, the endless ablutions of eternity, with mechanistic motions as he paints his pale lips red and his white hair black – the red of blood and black of ebony contrasting against his ice-pale skin in a haunting faerie (in the dangerous, daemonic sense) inversion of the Snow White – Rose Red of fairytale. This evocative opening was a contribution (the film’s sole one, it seems, apart from the name in the US release title) from Andy Warhol. “The scene […] was actually Andy Warhol’s idea, which goes very much to his silkscreens”, Kier told Movieline. “‘Just paint your face’, the shadows smile”, Robert Smith of The Cure sang in Burn, as Dracula shades his cheekbones and darkens around his spellbinding blue-green eyes, ‘painting on his sadness’, and creating “a painted shell” of himself, as film historian Maurice Yacowar phrases it, to present to the world. Claudio Gizzi provides an absolutely sublime, heart-wrenchingly melancholic and spellbinding score that draws us into this sad yet beguiling world of languorous longing.
The Count and his manservant Anton (Arno Juerging, another returnee from ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’), find themselves having to leave a Transylvania which is now thoroughly depleted of the blood of “wirgins” [sic], which in this mythology the vampire needs to continue his phantasmagorical existence. The subtext of the aristocracy feeding off the lower classes, Dracula having preyed upon the peons and peasantry of Romania, is hammered hom like the proverbial hawthorn stake – Dracula’s decaying family home (and the family who have retreated still further from the real world into their coffins in the family crypt) are left behind as he and Anton leave their used-up homeland in their hearse, complete with the Count’s coffin on the roof rack, to head to fresh pastures and suck the lifeblood of another country.
Travelling to Italy, in the belief that a Roman Catholic country will provide an endless supply of pure of heart, virtuous virgins, choosing as their prey the once-powerful and important but now in decline Di Fiore family, and especially their daughters (‘fiore’ being Italian for ‘flower’, the Count has arrived with the intent of a through plucking). The Titian-haired and beautiful Di Fiore sisters Perla (Silvia Dionisio), Saphiria (Dominique Darel) and Rubinia (Stefania Casini, later to star in Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria’) work their family’s land doing the work of peasants, while the camera tracks back to show them being idly watched from the veranda of their grand but going to seed home by their virtuous sister Esmeralda (Milena Vutokotic). The aging Marquis Di Fiore, played by former screen idol Vittorio De Sica, is an ailing relic lost in his own comfortable world of poetry and family history, his own retreat from the realities of the world beyonfd the cloistered confines of his comfortable home leaving his wife and daughters vulnerable to the preyings of the vampire, as one ailing brnch of aristocracy literally feeds off another for its own parasitic continuance. “That [Count’s] really got it sussed”, to paraphrase Luke Haines of the Auteurs in The Upper Classes.
As an antidote to the incestuousness of the ossified upper echelons we have the revolutionary force of Joe Dallesandro’s gardener Mario – his New York accent a stark contrast to the Teutonic cadences of Dracula and Anton, the Italian of the Marquis and his daughters and the clipped English of the Marquesa – bringing a revolutionary fire burning upward from his proletarian stratum through the worn and rotting painted veil of the Di Fiores and Dracula, with his exhortations of Marxism and the righteousness of the Russian Revolution in between his regular carnal threesomes with the less-than-pure Saphiria and Rubinia leading to the iconic (in both the filmic and religious sense) of the Count’s gaunt form, stripped to the waist, his thin ivory skin daubed in crimson blood as he vomits the rejected blood of the sisters into the bath and cries to Anton, “The blood of these whores is killing me!”
‘Blood for Dracula’ is a biting (arf!) satire of the snobery and elitism of the defunct and decrepit upper classes, wrapped in the horror genre’s night-black cloak and bedecked with blood and gore. Morrissey and Kier crafted a quintessential Count Dracula to fit this film, ending as he does sans arms and sans legs, like the Pythons’ Black Knight, but still snapping and hungry to continue his predatory existence.
Kier had finished his devilish diptych with Paul Morrissey, but would later incarnate another legendary horror character for another enfant terrible of cinema…
❉ Glen McCulla has had a lifetime-long interest in film, history and film history – especially the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He sometimes airs his maunderings on his blog at http://psychtronickinematograph.blogspot.co.uk/ and skulks moodily on Twitter at @ColdLazarou