• Old Dracula (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: June 30th, 2020.
    Director: Clive Donner
    Cast: David Niven, Theresa Graves, Peter Bayliss, Veronica Carlson, Jennie Linden
    Year: 1975
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    Old Dracula – Movie Review:

    Alternately known as Vampira (which is the title that appears in the opening of the version presented on this release), Old Dracula is very much a product of its time. Distributed by AIP and directed by Clive Donner in 1975, the film stars David Niven as Count Dracula, a kindly old vampire whose beloved wife, Vampira, has been in a comatose state for fifty-years. The count has passed the time in his Transylvanian castle by hanging out with his manservant, Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and reading Playboy, commenting on the models’ necks. Dracula has also made his castle into a bit of a tourist trap, so when Playboy wants to rent the place for a photo shoot, he gladly obliges them, playing host to a photographer, a token male model, Marc (Nicky Henson), and of course, a handful of beautiful women. Before the dinner party starts, however, the Count gets a little overzealous and mistakenly transforms a beautiful blonde (Linda Hayden) into a vampire by drinking too heavily from her neck.

    The party more or less goes off without a hitch, and the Count and Maltravers are smart enough to drug the models so that they can drain some of their blood to use in a transfusion they hope will awake Vampira from her slumber. It works, but it doesn’t quite have the results the Count expected when pale faced Vampira transforms, right before his very eyes, into a foxy black chick (Teresa Graves). The Count wants to turn Vampira back to her old self and he figures the only way to do that is to track down the models and try again, so off the three of them go to London (they bring foldable portable coffins with them to sleep in!) to do just that. Vampira’s last memories being of the roaring twenties, she is resurrected as a flapper but after a trip to the theater and a screening of the Jim Brown/Martin Landau movie Black Gunn, soon enough she’s a jive talking party machine. The Count coerces Marc into helping him get the girls, all while trying to keep Vampira in check and not blow his cover.

    Goofy, silly and showing complete disregard for political correctness, Old Dracula is a pretty odd comedy. Originally shown as Vampira in Europe, AIP decided to cash in on Mel Brooks’ success and retitle the film Old Dracula for the American market but the film was never the blockbuster that the Brooks picture was. Niven does his best to make the picture work and succeeds more often than not – he’s a charming old vampire here, as debonair as you’d expect him to be, essentially a class act in a classless movie. Teresa Graves is beautiful as the female lead, she and Niven obviously meant to be polar opposites, while Nicky Henson’s droll performance as the butler is consistently funny. A small supporting role from Frank Thornton as a real estate agent makes sense, as the film was written by Jeremy Lloyd, best known for Are You Being Served, the British television comedy for which Thornton is best remembered as Captain Peacock. Hayden is as foxy as ever in her part but isn’t given much to do and she’s out of the film before it even really gets going (this in spite of the fact that she’s featured prominently on the cover). Pretty British actresses Veronica Carlson and Jennie Linden, known for Hammer’s Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and Nightmare respectively, also appear.

    Nicely shot (and featuring some fleeting topless nudity!) by cinematographer Anthony Richmond (the same man who shot Don’t Look Now and Candyman) the film doesn’t overstay its welcome and does successfully entertain right up to and including its completely ridiculous conclusion. The film makes great use of some interesting locations (the house the trio rent in London has an odd horoscope themed ceiling) and is set to a pretty quirky score from David Whitaker that alternates between twenties era jazz and more traditional horror-tinged instrumental and which accurately reflects the film’s tonal shifts from dopey comedy to its more macabre elements rather nicely.

    Old Dracula – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Old Dracula to Blu-ray “newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm interpositive” framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Taking up 23GBs of space on a 25GB disc, the transfer looks excellent. Colors are spot on and look very good here and we get nice, deep black levels as well. Elements used for the transfer must have been in great shape, as while the film retains a natural amount of film grain, there isn’t really any print damage here at all. Skin tones look lifelike and natural, detail is strong throughout and there’s nice depth and texture in pretty much every frame. This was previously released on MOD/DVD-r as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection, and this new Blu-ray basically renders that disc obsolete.

    Audio options are offered in 24-bit DTS-HD English 2.0 Mono and English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, with removable subtitles offered for the picture in English only. The lossless track sounds very good, giving a welcome push to the score and offering clean, clear dialogue and properly balanced levels throughout.

    The main extra on the disc is A Shot In The Dark, which is an interview with cinematographer Anthony Richmond that runs for nine-minutes and which was done online due to Covid-19 issues. He speaks here about his career doing second unit work, handling the cinematography on the shoot for Old Dracula himself, the shooting schedule, working under director Clive Donner and how well they got along, the limited post production tweaking that could be done during this period in film history, how the film was received when it was released, details on first-time producer Jack Weiner and how they became good friends, how his work on this picture led to bigger and better things in his career, some highlights from his filmography since this picture was made and more.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is a promotional still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    As to the packaging, Vinegar Syndrome supplies some nice reversible cover sleeve artwork and, if you buy the film directly from their website, with an embossed, spot varnished slipcover designed by Earl Kessler Jr. and limited to 2,500 pieces.

    Old Dracula – The Final Word Review:

    While this isn’t likely going to wind up at the top of the list of films which David Niven is remembered for, it’s a fun and surprisingly screwy skewering of the more traditional vampire films that companies like Hammer had been churning out and quirky enough to be worth revisiting. Vinegar Syndrome gives the movie a beautiful presentation and the interview with Richmond makes for a nice extra. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Old Dracula Blu-ray screen caps!