Friday, 13 July 2012


"Tender Dracula or The Confessions of a Bloodsucker" (1974) was intended to be a comic fantasy with erotic, horror and musical undertones. The writers: Justin Lenoir (original screenplay), Pierre Gruenstein and Harold Brav (adaptation and dialogue) must have drawn inspiration from the British horror comedy stage musical, "The Rocky Horror Show" which made its London debut on June 19th, 1973. Although "Tender Dracula" went into production and was released a year before the film version of "Rocky Horror" hit the big screen, it's obvious the two share more than a passing similarity. For starters, writer Richard O'Brien's experimental "Rocky Horror Show" was itself intended to partly imitate the style of Hammer Horror; specifically "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958) starring Peter Cushing, who Gruenstein obviously intended for the role of "MacGregor" in "Tender Dracula". Not surprisingly, both conclude with a castle (or part of one) blasting off into space. The biggest difference between "Tender Dracula" and "Rocky Horror" would seem to be the latter's balance of homage and camp. In comparison, "Tender Dracula" comes off as a crude, discordant and meaningless mixture of silliness and derivative bedroom farce. The true tragedy of "Tender Dracula" might be that nobody seems to be having any fun in it. 

It also seems to suffer from a strange mangling of sensibilities. Why is "MacGregor" the star of a horror television series, and not a full-fledged horror film star like the man who was carefully chosen to portray him? I think it's safe to say that these writers not only intend to play on the audience's own awareness of who Peter Cushing 'the horror star' is, but also to make the two synonymous. Peter Cushing certainly rose to popularity on British television in the 1950s but it was for playing lead roles like "Beau Brummell" and "Mr. Darcy"; not "TV's Arch Fiend" as he is described in Cushing's own shooting script for "Tender Dracula". It's also of interest to note that the Russian co-writer character "Boris" is actually referred to as "Tovarich" once in the script; Cushing starred in the BBC Sunday Night Theatre production of "Tovarich" in 1954. Furthermore, the script begins with a quote from Hamlet (Cushing appeared as "Osric" in Olivier's 1948 Oscar-winning film version): 

"In dreadful secrecy they did impart, 
And I with them the third night kept the watch." 
- William Shakespeare

When given this curious nature of the script, it becomes possible that the pastiche they were aiming for was more directed at Cushing himself than at a particular genre. It becomes even more clear to me why Cushing may have been so eager to take part in something so totally beneath his talents. Perhaps there was more to it than just keeping morbidly busy following the crushing blow of his wife Helen's death a few years prior, or the thought of spending time filming in France. Maybe there were just too many fond references to Cushing's own career imbedded in the pages (and the lure of finally playing an actual 'monster' for a change). How virtually none of this fondness, or reverence if you will, for Cushing 'the man' manages to come through the finished product is frustrating to say the least. Equally as befuddling are the scenes of awkward dialogue and arduous humor that come across more like a child's attempt to mount an impromptu play in the family living room. Not to mention the infamous Cushing spanking scene. 

There are some moments of genuine interest though. Discounting the perplexing experience of hearing Cushing bellow several of his lines (the purpose of which remains unknown) he does look expectably refined in his Lugosi-modeled vampire attire. There is also a justifiably memorable 'flashback' scene in which Cushing plays his own character's grandfather (complete with a few photos of Cushing from some of his more notable film roles). It's probably the high point of the entire film, in addition to watching Cushing dance the waltz a few scenes earlier. The jazzy score by Karl Heinz Schäfer provides a suitably moody groove and is of some interest to obscure soundtrack collectors. While unfortunately not an anomaly in Peter Cushing's long and celebrated career, "Tender Dracula" does maintain its righteous place as a generally painful to watch, truly confounding medley of ingredients; or perhaps just the poor man's "Rocky Horror."

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Review: Carl Danter
Images: Marcus Brooks

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