Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
Solicitor Thomas Renfield travels to Transylvania to arrange the sale of Carfax Abbey in England to Count Dracula. Unknown to Renfield, Dracula is a vampire, and he makes him his servant before the pair move to Carfax Abbey. During a visit to an opera house, Dracula introduces himself to Dr Seward who runs the neighbouring asylum and sets his eyes upon his daughter, Mina, and family friend Lucy. As Dracula begins to drink their blood every evening, Seward calls upon the help of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, an expert in rare medical disorders and folklore at London University, who arrives to stop Dracula.
A painfully unfunny spoof, Dracula: Dead and Loving It sees Mel Brooks try to do for vampires what he did for Frankenstein back with one of the all-time greatest parodies, Young Frankenstein. Unfortunately for everyone, Brooks chose to do it right at the end of his career when his brand of comedy had become old fashioned and long past its sell by date. About the only thing he gets right here is faithfully sticking to Bram Stoker’s novel for the bulk of the plot, with one or tweaks to characters.
Rule number one of comedy is to make people laugh. Dracula: Dead and Loving It does not. Plenty of gags get blown out of proportion to appear funny but they run too long. Daft instances of slapstick and physical comedy might have worked for a younger actor but seeing Nielsen stumble his way around sets at his age is cringey. Puns are fired. Mis-pronounced words said. Double entendres are frequent. This type of comedy spoof is always going to have a ratio of hits and misses and that’s why they work so well because everyone has a different type of humour. What makes me laugh might not make the person next to me laugh and vice versa. The scatter gun approach to comedy works because it’s pacey, but it only works when the material is funny to begin with and that’s where Dracula: Dead and Loving It fails badly – the bulk of the jokes aren’t funny to anyone. You may crack a wry smile or a slight guffaw but there’s little in the way of side-splitting humour here. There are more laughs to be had in the two-minute long ‘Putting on the Ritz’ dance number from Young Frankenstein than the entirety of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. If you’re going to laugh at Dracula banging his head on a chandelier or a character getting stomped in the groin, then this is the film for you. The few references and homages to old Dracula films are something novel but they’re not designed to break your ribs with laughter, rather just Brooks showing some appreciation for films he grew up on.
Leslie Nielsen, once a serious actor in films like Forbidden Planet, had hit the big time with two of the funniest films ever made – 80s classics Airplane! And The Naked Gun. Ever since then, he had been typecast as this bumbling oaf character, deadpanning his way through terrible spoof after terrible spoof such as Repossessed, Spy Hard, Wrongfully Accused, 2001: A Space Travesty before a series of smaller roles in some of the Scary Movie sequels rounded off his career (just listing this filmography makes me cringe to no end). His Count Dracula portrayal is dismal, such a lifeless one-note characterisation which is badly let down by a script that forces him to say and do some truly silly things, all the while trying to mimic Lugosi’s Hungarian accent. A younger actor, someone with a reputation for this type of silliness, might have been able to pull it off but Nielsen is, quite frankly, embarrassing. I’m embarrassed for him as he blunders his way through terrible line after terrible line like a drunken grandad.
The supporting cast of characters don’t fare any better. Peter MacNichol appears to have walked straight off the set of Ghostbusters II with his snivelling servant character portrayal, replacing Vigo the Carpathian with Count Dracula as his master, and is dreadful. Stephen Weber and Harvey Korman think their posh English accents will get them some laughs. Apart from their amazing heaving bosoms, both Amy Yasbeck and Lysette Anthony are totally wasted as the two female leads. Mel Brooks plays Professor Van Helsing and his entry into the film mid-way through shows some promise, injecting the story with some much-needed energy and exuberance. But even Brooks can’t make things funny that aren’t funny to begin with. Given that (at time of writing, he is still alive) Mel Brooks is now ninety-four years old, I can’t see him getting back in the chair and this sadly means Dracula: Dead and Loving It is going to be his directorial swansong. A sad way to end a film career.
One thing Brooks has done well in all his parodies is to recreate the look of the films he’s spoofing. Dracula: Dead and Loving It faithfully recreates the look and vibe of old school Dracula films, specifically some of the sets look straight out the classic 1931 Universal version with Bela Lugosi whilst the lavish Technicolour could have been pulled from a Hammer flick. Literally this is all I can recommend from this travesty. Good sets.
If Brooks had made this back in the 80s when both he and Leslie Nielsen were at the peak of their comedic powers, Dracula: Dead and Loving It might have worked. However, clearly past their prime and running short on ideas and gags, the pairing of Brooks and Nielsen here is nothing short of an abomination of a comedy film.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Director(s): Mel Brooks
Writer(s): Mel Brooks (screenplay), Rudy De Luca (screenplay), Steve Haberman (screenplay)
Actor(s): Leslie Nielsen, Mel Brookes, Peter MacNicol, Steven Weber, Amy Yasbeck
Duration: 88 mins