Sunday, July 15, 2012

World of Dracula, The (1979) (TV)

... aka: Cliffhangers: The Curse of Dracula
... aka: Dracula '79

Directed by:
Jeffrey Hayden
Kenneth Johnson
Sutton Roley

Cliffhangers was a very short-lived TV show that attempted a serial-like approach to its storytelling. Each 60-minute episode contained 20-minutes incriments of three different tales, which would be continued from week to week until completion. Bad ratings led NBC to pull the plug on the series early, leaving two of the three tales; the Perils of Pauline-inspired "Stop Susan Williams" and the Phantom Empire-inspired "The Secret Empire" unfinished (conclusions were filmed but not seen by U.S. audiences). "The Curse of Dracula" was the only story that was shown to completion.  Long-forgotten, the show has never received an official DVD or VHS release, and no longer plays on television.  As what happened to many other genre shows that didn't do so well, such as The Veil and Journey to the Unknown, multiple episodes were eventually combined together to play on TV as features. The Curse of Dracula had enough footage for two of these "films:" THE WORLD OF DRACULA and THE LOVES OF DRACULA. World, featuring episodes directed by Jeffrey Hayden, Sutton Roley and series creator Kenneth Johnson, is the first half. Michael Nouri, who'd get a career boost in a few years after starring in FLASHDANCE (1983), stars as the Count, complete with a surprisingly decent Hungarian accent. Nouri is handsome, suave and charismaic enough in the role and sometimes reminds one somewhat of Chris Sarandon in FRIGHT NIGHT. However, for not having seen the sunlight for 512 years, he sure is rockin' quite the tan!

The general premise involves Dracula relocating to San Francisco, getting a job as a college professor and teaching a night school course on European history. Dracula's brought along 20 boxes of soil from his native Transylvania, which he must line his coffin with in order to withstand the days. Dracula also has two vicious hell hounds, a raven that can relay information to him and three entranced students who do his bidding. In an interesting addition to the vampire mythology, Dracula can bite victims either to make them his subservient followers (by simply leaving his "mark" on them) OR turn them into full-fledged vampires (by drinking from them three times). A pair of vampire hunters, Kurt Van Helsing (Stephen Johnson), grandson of Professor Van Helsing, and Mary Gibbons (Carol Baxter), who wants revenge because she believe the Count killed her mother, try to track him down. In the meantime, they locate and destroy the soil lined coffins (which are placed around San Francisco in strategic locations) one batch at a time by sprinkling holy water on them. Mary tries to infiltrate the count's class but her head scarf and sunglasses don't fool him, and she ends up going back to the vampire's mansion home and getting bit.

Dracula claims to have loved Mary's mother and now he wants to take possession of her, so he tries to seduce her over to the dark side with promises of love, adventure and immortality. Ultimately though, he leaves it entirely up to her and proves not to be such a terrible guy after all. Antoinette (Antoinette Stella), one of Dracula's followers, is in love with him and jealous of the attention he bestows upon Mary, so she tries to kill her using the dogs, but Dracula comes to the rescue. Meanwhile, Van Helsing gets himself into lots of cliffhanger situations but is ironically bailed out by a female each and every time. When he and Mary are trapped in a barricaded burning barn, she devises a plan to use a coffin as a battering ram. After suffering a concusion from a car crash, he's attacked in the hospital by a few of Dracula's disciples; Darryl (Mark Montgomery) and Christine (Bever-Leigh Banfield), who try to poison him, but Mary shows up just in time to unplug the machine he's hooked up to. When he's dangling over a railing and about to fall on some spikes, Mary shows up with a crucifix. And when he's almost buried alive in a crypt, a female vampire named Amanda (Louise Sorel), who also happens to be Mary's "dead" mother, comes to his rescue.

Amanda, who had faked a suicide jumping off a bridge but has been living on the fringes of society ever since, wants Dracula destroyed and shows up to warn her daughter (who is falling for Dracula and has allowed herself to be bitten a second time) that immortality isn't all that it's cracked up to be. And that's where this chapter leaves off. I went into this with low expectations but was pleasantly surprised by the competent storytelling, well-written dialogue, interesting and somewhat compelling characters, amount of action and decent production values this TV production contained. Les Baxter and Joe Harnell contribute a fine score, as well. Though the ending is left up in the air, the episodes stringed together here work just fine as a feature and they got me interested enough to want to seek out the concluding chapter The Loves of Dracula so I can see how this all pans out. So on the hunt I go...

A few bootleg sites sell this series and it sometimes pops up on ebay. The version I viewed was recorded off of the SyFy Channel back when it was still called the Sci-Fi Channel.

I fratti rossi (1988)

... aka: Red Monks, The
... aka: Sexorgien der roten Mönche

Directed by:
Gianni Martucci

Richard Garlini ("Ronald" / Gaetano Russo) has just inherited an ancient castle he plans on turning into either a hotel or a boarding school. Upon entering, he's immediately drawn to a ruby-encrusted sword adorning the wall. He's even more drawn to a nude woman he sees next walking down the hallway. After following her downstairs and through some corridors, he gets his last glance at the mysterious beauty before she suddenly spins around and decapitates him. The film then cuts to "50 Anni Prima" (50 Years Earlier) as wealthy Robert Garlini (Gerardo Amato) hears his dog going crazy in the backyard. He follows the barking and discovers a young woman hiding up a tree. She - Ramona (Lara Wendel) - is a painter who didn't know she was on private property until the dog treed her. Either way, Robert is instantly smitten and vice versa and the two quickly get hitched. Robert's icy maid Priscilla (Malisa Longo) doesn't seem too happy about the union. On the eve of the wedding, Robert is called off to some meeting, which turns out to be a congregation of monks clad in hooded red robes. The monk leader tells him "A task is yours... and you must fulfill it." He demands the blood of a virgin, and specifies it has to be Robert's new wife.

Ramona is a bit perplexed when her husband returns and won't go through with consummating their relationship and sets her up in her own bedroom. Tensions soon rise between the new couple. She's getting fed up being stuck in the house all the time, sick of dealing with the nosy and bitchy Priscilla, sick of Robert never giving her any attention, affection or sex and sick of him always snapping at her over insignificant things. Robert hires a new French maid named Lucille to cater to her and she takes Ramona down into the huge, labyrinth-like cellar to show her some odd things, including a torture chamber complete with guillotine. One part of the cellar is blocked off with a locked steel gate, which Robert claims no one has even been past. Ramona wanders down there late one night and finds a skeleton, whose eyes glow, and is then surrounded by the sword-armed monks. She passes out and wakes in her bed, with her husband and Priscilla hovering over her and claiming she's just had a nightmare and never even left her bed. Lucille however claims that she did indeed go to the cellar the night before. I'm sure Ramona's really regretting the marriage by this point, especially after catching her hubby sticking it to Priscilla when he won't give her the time of day.

Lucille is lured into the woods and killed with a scythe. Later, her head is found in a picnic basket, but the authorities never even show up to investigate. While Ramona's out painting, a handsome, mysterious man (Claudio Pacifico) shows up to rape her, which may pose a problem for Robert and his cult. Ramona and the mystery guy - who certainly qualifies as an upgrade regardless of the assault - then go to a historian who relates the history of the Garlini castle to them. A flashback to 1418 shows that powerful, wealthy Grand Duke Lodoriccio ("Richard Brown" / Chuck Valenti) - founder of the red monks; a Templar sect who dabbled in Satanism - had raped and then married a young gypsy girl before the religious authorities ordered his assassination. The assassin, a descendant of Robert's, then seized control of the monk's castle and the curse that comes along with it. To thicken the plot, Robert goes to a notary and is told that the only person in the area with the same name as his new bride died almost forty years earlier.

Though part of the "Lucio Fulci Presenta" series, Fulci's name was nowhere to be found in the actual credits of this movie; at least in the version I watched. Some sources claim he produced or did the special effects, which Fulci himself denied (he unsuccessfully tried to get his name removed from all advertising materials). Like most of the other LCP films, whether legit or not, this was never officially released in America. The photography, score and Gothic art direction are all sufficient (though unexceptional), but the writing and pacing are both way off the mark. The first hour is slow, dull, poorly scripted and unoriginal. The final twenty minutes tries to make up for that by introducing a half-assed ghost angle and cramming in a bunch of convoluted backstory. There's almost no blood or gore (and the crappy dummy head used for two of the deaths is a laugh) and just a little nudity (though not nearly enough to justify the German title, which translates to "Sex Orgy of the Red Monks!")

Most DVDs try to sell this as a sex and violence gorefest and have Fulci's name all over the box. Don't be fooled. Some versions are cut by as much as five minutes , though I have no clue what those five minutes would consist of since this probably doesn't even have five minutes worth of "objectionable" material in it. Director Martucci also made Trhauma (1980), a very rare slasher / HALLOWEEN copy.

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