Countdown to Halloween: Stephen D. Sullivan on Dracula's Ghost (2017)
ABOUT OUR GUEST
"Adventure guaranteed. Monsters optional." I love that slogan, and it belongs to someone worthy of using it, Stephen D. (Steve) Sullivan (except I've never known the monsters to be optional.) Steve is one of the guests this month that I actually have met in person, instead of hoping to meet one day. It happened, like so many things do, at Monster Bash. I felt like I already knew Steve, to a certain extent, from his many appearances on various podcasts. However, I didn't know what to expect because I was the new monster kid on the block, just wanting to be accepted. No worries; Steve was friendly and kind to me, helping me feel right at home. I was fortunate enough to spend more time with him at the world premiere of Demon with the Atomic Brain later that year, and Steve already felt like an old friend to me.
I would do Steve a disservice by attempting to summarize his resume here; plus, there's a movie to talk about instead. Do yourself a favor, though, and visit his website: http://stephendsullivan.com/wordpress/ to read all about him. Thanks for participating in the Countdown, Steve!
The ballyhoo for this modern (2017) film proclaims:
“Dracula’s Ghost starring Bela "Dracula” Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye…
“Dracula returns from the grave to terrorize the citizens of a small European village...
“The original Master of Horror Bela "Dracula" Lugosi meets the screen’s greatest villain Lionel Atwill, the man with the thousand-watt stare, Dwight Frye, and Faye Wray, the original Queen of the Screamers, in Dracula’s Ghost!"
Who could resist that? Certainly not me!
I was also intrigued by the idea that this “new” film was cut together from old films now in the public domain. Or, as the pitch describes it: "Dracula’s Ghost is a unique novelty piece conceived and created as a fantasy 1933 sequel to the 1931 horror classic Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. The film was created using numerous public domain source materials from the 1930's and is presented in the authentic style of an early 1930’s talkie.”
It’s a great idea, and you can see the trailer for Dracula’s Ghost by clicking here. But could the filmmaker, who currently owns the PRC Pictures (Producers Releasing Company) trademark make good on the hype? Other modern filmmakers have used public domain (PD) films to put together modern pastiches -- Terror in the Tropics (Lugosi! Karloff! Chaney!), Terror in the Pharaoh's Tomb -- though with considerably less success than Carl Reiner and Steve Martin’s use of classic film clips in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
See Lugosi Terrorize Fay Wray in this never before seen Dracula sequel!!!
There should be plenty of fodder to do something like this, if you’re clever. The films listed as sources for DG have some great material and scenes. They are: The Vampire Bat (1933), Condemned to Live (1935), White Zombie (1932), The Devil Bat (1940), Mark of the Vampire trailer (1935), RealArt Dracula re-release trailer (1951), The Monster Maker (1944 ), Hollywood on Parade No. A8 (1933). That’s certainly an interesting set of movies to cut and build from.
The real problem, in my opinion, was this: Is there enough Dracula-like PD footage of Lugosi -- especially with his family jealously guarding his image -- to pull this off?
Watching Dracula’s Ghost, the answer seems to be… not quite.
The filmmakers do their best, and using the Atwill-Douglas-Wray low-budget classic The Vampire Bat as the basis for their film is a good choice. After all, it has all the classic elements of a vampire film, until it takes its weird SF/mad-science twist near the end. So, even giving that film a new ending isn’t a really bad idea (in the same way that Mark of the Vampire could be much improved by sticking with the supernatural).
But for me, Dracula’s Ghost’s inserts of Lugosi don’t match the quality of the rest of the film, even though the PD film stock on all the clips is blurry. And there simply aren’t enough “Dracula clips” to really carry off the Dracula conceit.
Most of the film is, in fact, The Vampire Bat, and without paying strict attention, I don’t think I’d be able to identify all of the small pieces that belong to something else. (Though, having spent so much time with White Zombie when I wrote the novelization, I did spot that clip easily enough.) With both Lugosi and flying bats in The Devil Bat, I’m surprised more of that film wasn’t used. Certainly at just past 53 minutes in run time,
Dracula’s Ghost had plenty of space.
Should you buy and or watch this film?
The answer depends on how deeply into old horror films you are, and how much tolerance you have for this kind of experimentation. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Monster Kid like me, it may be worthwhile.
I’m glad I’ve seen it once, and I found it inspiring in some ways, too. It almost made me want to try such an experiment myself, and it made me want to see other modern re-cuts to see how they stack up. (As I write this, I’m rewatching Terror in the Tropics in the background.)
I think there is more room for films cut together from old films in the world.
But Dracula’s Ghost may not be enough to stand on its own -- though it’s an interesting way to re-watch The Vampire Bat without actually re-watching that low-budget classic. (If you do want to re-watch TVB, though, I’d recommend the UCLA restoration recently shown on TCM and available on blu-ray.)
One last thing… I paid $20 plus postage for Dracula’s Ghost, and when it arrived I was somewhat disappointed to discover that it was a hand-burned DVD with no label, just a raw disc. For that price, I was expecting a professionally manufactured DVD. Also, the disc didn’t play in my DVD player/burner. I had to watch it using my blu-ray player, though it works in my laptop as well. The cover is nice, though.
You can factor all that in when deciding whether to buy, but also factor in supporting filmmakers trying to do “new” old-style monster films. I think that’s an idea worth putting some money into.
However, if you want new flicks in the classic tradition, you may want to buy the films of Joshua Kennedy or Christopher R. Mihm -- both of whom are making entirely new movies that every Monster Kid should love.
ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN
We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.
Well, I'm going to cheat a little. Assisting me this year are a number of "guest bloggers" that I've invited to participate by commandeering classichorrors.club for a day. These are all people whose blogs I read, whose podcasts I enjoy, and/or whose existence I simply appreciate. It's an experiment, but I hope you'll enjoy reading some new perspectives.