1990s, 2/4, Comedy, Mel Brooks, Review

Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) - IMDb

#10 in my ranking of Mel Brooks’ filmography.

Mel Brooks’ final film is more of a piece with Robin Hood: Men in Tights than Young Frankenstein, which isn’t really a surprise how artist careers go. However, it is simply less funny for long stretches of its runtime, feeling like Brooks and his writing team of Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman settled on the first gags and jokes they came across while writing without trying to figure out how funny they actually were. There are sporadic laughs here and there, especially as the film moves into its second half, but they’re simply not enough. I don’t hate the film at all, but it’s just simply not funny enough to sustain its rather short 85-minute runtime.

I harp on story, even in comedies, because they provide a strong structure on which to hang jokes. If the jokes don’t land, at least you have a story to follow. The story here, a mangled retelling of the Dracula story, well told over decades in Hollywood, has a major problem in that it doesn’t have a main character. We start with Thomas Renfield (Peter MacNicol) arriving in Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula (Leslie Nielson) about his purchase of Carfax Abbey in London. It’s essentially just the attempt at a comedic form of Jonathan Harker’s arrival at the castle in the original story, except happening to Renfield. This sequence has many attempts at humor, but little of it is actually funny. Anne Bancroft has a small role as a gypsy woman who warns Renfield of the dangers of the castle, giving him a cross for protection (that’s never mentioned again, of course), and every sentence she ends by grabbing the skin beneath her jaw with two fingers and elongating the final syllables. It’s an odd thing that feels like it’s supposed to be funny. It’s not really, though. The rest of the humor of this sequence involves a bat pooping on steps, Dracula slipping on the poop, his shadow showing injury rather than him, and Dracula removing the ridiculous hairpiece that is similar to the hair Gary Oldman had at the beginning of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The two make for England (complete with Dracula’s coffin being slung from one side of the hold on the Demeter to the other in another bit of pratfall humor), and Dracula sets up shop in Carfax Abbey, right across the road from the mental institute where Renfield gets taken, headed by Dr. Seward (Harvey Korman), a doctor obsessed with giving all of his patients enemas. His daughter, Mina (Amy Yasbeck), is engaged to Jonathan Harker (Steven Webber) and best friend to Lucy (Lysette Anthony). Dracula gains his sights on Lucy, biting her once, weakening her, and then waits for his opportunity to fully turn her into a vampire. When she weakens, Dr. Seward calls in the services of Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks), to consult who quickly discovers that Lucy’s illness it the work of a vampire.

The comedy here gets better, but it’s still spotty. Dr. Seward’s calls for enemas never really land. Renfield’s meeting with Seward where he eats bugs is amusing. Van Helsing’s introduction where he grosses out a class of new medical students is probably the first time in the film that I actually chuckled out loud. Dracula sneaking into Lucy’s room, though, is simple pratfalls of running into windows and falling from ceilings that are, at best, slightly amusing. It’s weak stuff, is what I’m saying.

The efforts to fully convert Lucy are a bit of a mess when Dracula has mind control powers. Including Renfield to try and get rid of the garlic in Lucy’s room doesn’t provide the hilarity such a diversion should, and it’s mostly flat. It’s after Lucy dies that the movie actually gains a pretty consistent sense of humor. The staking scene, where Harker gets doused in buckets of blood while Van Helsing hides behind a column, is the funniest the movie gets, but there’s also Harker’s announcement that he can’t enjoy sexual hijinks because he’s British. Dracula’s seduction of Mina is also more entertaining, using a pair of large dance numbers to accomplish it. It’s not hilarious, though the second with the giant mirror showing Mina floating in midair is at least technically accomplished. The final showdown is small and largely just follows through the motions of what’s necessary to get the movie to finish.

Is the movie good? A misunderstood piece of hilarity that audiences just couldn’t accept at the time? Not really. It has its moments here and there, a lot of them going to Brooks himself, but it’s not enough to support the film itself. The lack of a main character undermines the actual storytelling aspect to the point that it becomes like a series of sketches, and it doesn’t help that many of the sketches aren’t that funny. It did get me to chuckle every now and then, more as the film went along, so I can’t exactly hate it.

Rating: 2/4

5 thoughts on “Dracula: Dead and Loving It”

  1. Another one I never saw. I think at the time the impression I got from ads, or whatever, was that it just seemed tired. The “and loving it” also seemed old, though I guess if Mel Brooks can’t steal from himself….

    Like

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