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10/17/13

DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT - REVIEW


Mel Brooks takes on Bram Stoker's Dracula in this cartoonish 1995 spoof starring the late, great Leslie Nielsen as Dracula and the director himself as vampire hunter Van Helsing. It's very dumb, very silly but is it any good?

Hard one to review this one since I do have a soft spot for it.

On the one hand, technically the film looks a bit cheap and often feels more like a filmed play than it does a fully put-together movie. Part of the joke is that it does look so trashy, though, so it's hard to fault the film for that. As a straight-up piss-take of Francis Ford Coppola's film, it's pretty spot-on and, in fact, actually misses out on a few more easy jokes it could have made about certain parts of that movie. The idea of Leslie Nielsen as Dracula is hilarious in itself and Nielsen sure doesn't disappoint, clearly having a ball putting on the silliest Transylvanian accent he could come up with and joking around with Brooks, Peter MacNichol and the rest of the excellent cast. The film leaves Jonathan Harker (Steven Weber on top form) at home and follows Thomas Renfield's (MacNichol) own encounter with Count Dracula, taking some liberties with Bram Stoker's novel in the process. Which is fine since this is a film in which a goofy wig-wearing Dracula slips on bat-poo then falls down a flight of stairs upon his first introduction so don't expect a detailed adaptation of the classic novel. That's crazy! Key scenes from Bram Stoker's Dracula are poked fun at directly: Van Helsing's scientific lecture, Dracula's bat transformations, the dance scene, Lucy's resurrection. All the key beats of that movie are lovingly parodied in unique ways and Brooks still finds time to make the film very much his own with the occasional Vaudeville-style wordplay routine, some bawdy innuendos and... well, his presence. The film's style is far from being as convincing or masterfully designed as it was in Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles and is far more on a par with the likes of High Anxiety or Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

Dracula: Dead And Loving It is essentially a compilation of really bad jokes and that's exactly what it wants to be. Your enjoyment of the film will depend entirely on whether you like/get that sense of humour and whether you're in the mood for something very silly, very light but very fun. Unlike Blazing Saddles or The Producers, this Brooks outing isn't concerned with bad taste humour but rather so-bad-they're-genius jokes and playing to Leslie Nielsen's deadpan style of comedy. The film is at its weakest when it tries to actually tell the old Dracula story when we all know it backwards and forwards. No need to really go out of your way to explain to us how vampirism works etc. The cast is perfect with Peter MacNichol really going all out, making his performance in Ghostbusters II look positively restrained in comparison. The underrated Harvey Korman is somewhat more subtle in his approach (despite his bizarre obsession with giving enemas to patients as punishment/reward) but is still, by far, one of the funniest aspects of this movie. Some of the film's highlights include Leslie Nielsen turning into a bat, having a "daymare", battling with Van Helsing for the last word, dancing his ass off, a villager inexplicably being confused about the word "scheduled", Renfield eating bugs over tea with Dr Seward, and a very bloody scene in which Lucy (Lysette Anthony) finally gets killed off by a stake through the heart, which somehow prompts her body to explode in gallons and gallons of blood.

Dracula: Dead And Loving it may be far from being Mel Brooks' best film and as a spoof, it's kinda like Spaceballs in that it's a bit hit-and-miss but its hits are so enjoyable that they end up outweighing the misses completely. It's a light-hearted, really entertaining little spoof: fans of both Brooks and Nielsen should lap it up.

It's nutty, juvenile stuff but I love it.

Fooshtah!

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