Saturday, May 4, 2024

Dracula Sucks (1979)

... aka: Coming of Dracula's Bride, The
... aka: Dracula's Bride
... aka: Dracula... ti succhio (Dracula... I'll Suck You)
... aka: Dracula X
... aka: Eruption
... aka: Le vampire X
... aka: Liebling, du beißt so gut (Darling, You Suck So Well)
... aka: Lust at First Bite

Directed by:
Phillip Marshak

There are many different versions of this film; some with more nudity and sex (both hard and softcore) and some with more blood and violence, on the market. Not only that, but depending on the edit, dub and country of release, you could be watching an incoherent porn movie, a dead serious horror film, a comedy spoof, or an incredibly awkward mixture of all three! Usually it's the latter. This is a highly-confused tonal mishmash coming from filmmakers who don't appear to know what kind of film they're even making. It's no surprise then to learn that five different writers are credited (not including Mr. Bram Stoker) and, according to at least one cast member, the film was in the process of being rewritten while shooting was going on. That's always a recipe for success!

What we'll be covering here today is the 95 minute version (under the title Dracula Sucks) that was released by Vinegar Syndrome in 2022, which contains all of the horror content but only some of the hardcore sex footage. I will provide some brief details about the other versions down below if you're interested, but the VS release is certainly going to be the version most people will be seeing nowadays. This is also one of those instances where there's really no approximation of a definitive director's cut. The intent all along appears to have been to prep multiple releases from this one shoot; a horror / soft sex exploitation film and second as a straight porn film. Scenes steering it in one direction or another are utilized when needed for different markets.

Irene Renfield (Pat Manning) brings her mentally deranged adult son Richard aka "Dickie" (Richard Bulik) to Sewards Sanitarium, a castle mental institution in the middle of the California desert run by crippled, monocled Dr. Arthur Seward (John Leslie) and his sister, Dr. Sybil Seward (Kay Parker, of Taboo fame). Later that night, Dickie hears the voice of his dead father calling to him. He's lured outside and into another cobweb-filled estate called Carfax Abbey, cracks open a casket and removes a stake from the heart of Count Dracula (a bearded Jamie Gillis), reviving him and somehow simultaneously resurrecting his two vampire brides in the process. Dracula then bites Dickie, with hopes of making him a loyal servant just like his father before him had been. He's found the next day crawling around outside behaving like even more of a lunatic than before and has to be restrained in a straight jacket.

Coinciding with Dracula's arrival in the area are a number of guests showing up for a protracted stay at the sanitarium, including Dr. Seward's sweet, virginal niece, Mina (the lovely Annette Haven), her bland "homo" fiance Jonathan Harker (Paul Thomas) and Mina's saucy college acquaintance, Lucy Webster (Serena), who isn't quite as innocent as her buddy. Also prominently featured are Seward's intern, Dr. Peter Bradley (Mike Ranger), maid-diddling physician Dr. John Stoker (John Holmes), nurse Betty Lawson (Seka, in her X-rated film debut), Austrian scientist Dr. Van Helsing ("Detlef van Berg" - more on him later), a couple of orderlies (co-writer William Margold [whose screen appeal is virtually nil as usual] and hairdresser / make-up artist / prop man Martin L. Dorf) and a couple of black servants; a nameless maid (Irene Best) and chauffeur Jarvis (David Lee Bynum), who breaks into "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" while Serena gives Ranger a blowjob out on the patio (!) and seems to be attempting to channel Mantan Moreland with his cartoonish performance.

Most of the patients at the asylum, who were once well on the road to recovery, have suddenly gotten worse... and now have some strange puncture wounds on their necks for obvious reasons. Aside from Renfield, who has to be kept restrained, there's a woman whose mind has regressed to that of an 8-year-old, a cowboy and a Nazi. Van Helsing chimes in that "Ninety-nine perzent of all 'uman eells is chronic constipation!" and comes up with a possible solution: "I zuggest varm vater enemas!" As the cast are killed off one by one, Dracula zeroes in on Mina, who he'd like to add to his vampire harem.

While seeing a film of this nature with some atmosphere, decent 35mm cinematography, passable production values and good shooting locations, art direction, props and costumes is certainly a novelty (consult virtually any shot-on-video 80s vampire-themed porno quickie for comparison purposes), the movie itself is extremely uneven bordering on irritating much of the time. In fact, this actually may be the most disappointing horror porn hybrid I've ever watched. Yes, there are worse... most actually are far worse than this, but nobody is expecting quality from a one-day-wonder from the video era. This film actually has quality components, and had a budget, so watching the good things getting trampled over by inept writing, direction, sound and editing here is almost painful to endure. And speaking of painful, the non-stop "comic" voice-overs (inner monologues from various characters, intercom and radio voices...) are the absolute worst!

On the plus side, there are bits here and there that are tasteless, outrageous, nasty and / or just weird enough to kind of work. The most memorable of these seem to revolve around Holmes, who gets his giant penis bitten after having sex on a pool table with the vampirized maid and then is involved in a rough, bloody rape scene with Seka. Another crazy bit features Serena sitting on the toilet when Gillis barges into the bathroom, hypnotizes her and then masturbates after biting her on the tit and urinating all over her. In the 95 minute version, the more explicit bits from this scene are only shown in brief shots with some kind of reverse image / solarization effect added.

You also get a vampire girl biting a rabbit, rabbits humping, a rubber bat, bloody bite wounds on crotches, Vaseline-smeared hallucination sequences, sibling incest, necrophilia, flubbed lines (Leslie even mixes up character names at one point) and forced male-on-male oral, though that's hidden behind Dracula's cape.

While most of the top adult film stars from this period are present and accounted for (none of whom rise above fair in the acting department), more attention is usually bestowed upon the previously mentioned and pseudonymous "Detlef van Berg." Having mainstream actors in hardcore porn movies was a rarity back then, so seeing 70-something Austrian-born character actor Reggie Nalder, who'd previously acted for Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, John Frankenheimer and other esteemed directors, playing Dr. Van Helsing was a surprise. Nalder (thankfully!) doesn't participate in any of the sex scenes but he does have to spout a lot of embarrassing dialogue about bowel movements and mixing semen with blood. The good news for him is that immediately after appearing in this, he'd land one of his most famous roles as the vampire Kurt Barlow in the Stephen King adaptation Salem's Lot (1979). 

In an interview with David Del Valle conducted some time in the late 80s (and first published in a 1993 issue of Video Watchdog), Nalder called his time on the film "a very nerve-wracking experience" because of the constant rewrites ("Nobody knew their lines...") and the constant sex, both on and off set. He likened the whole thing to "an orgy."

Though no great talent, director Marshak seems to have been an interesting character in real life. He was a Korean War vet and entrepreneur who started several small businesses before attending Lee Strasberg school acting classes in New York, studying film at UCLA, opening one of the very first gay bars in Los Angeles (along with his wife) and making pseudo-arty shorts, mainstream features and a number of bizarre-o hardcore films. 

One of his earliest efforts - Savages (1971) - was a violent bisexual western (!) with both straight and gay sex and rape scenes. He co-directed the truly weird R-rated horror film Cataclysm (1980), a troubled production best known - in heavily truncated form - as one of stories in the notoriously bad anthology NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985). Some other ultra-obscure titles from him appear to have disappeared off the face of the planet. IAFD currently attributes a 1985 version of Frankenstein starring John Holmes (!) to him that is nowhere to be seen. Cine Mag (a more reliable source than IAFD) lists him as director of a million-dollar-budgeted Canadian production called Dante's Inferno (1982) starring John Ireland, which is also missing in action. And there is perhaps even more...

Combing through filmographies and browsing through a couple of other films, I think I've made a little discovery along the way: Marshak probably had even more X-rated credits under his belt than what many realize. You can link him directly to a mysterious chap who operated in the late 80s called "Max Schenk" or "Max Schreck." Not only do all of the "Schenk"-credited films feature Bulik (usually billed as "Long Chainy") in a non-sexual, acting-only capacity, but so do most of the Marshak films. There are also some thematic similarities. Marshak seemed to be a bit obsessed with Nazis as they figure into this film, Cataclysm and his later porn film Blue Ice (1985), which incidentally also features Nalder. Again, same can be said for a number of the "Schenk" films, like The Sex Life of Mata Hari (1988) and She Wolves of the SS (1989). One of the others is called (hmmm...) Hitler Sucks (1988). So, if I were a betting man, I'd place my chips on Mr. Schenk and Mr. Marshak being one in the same.

Phillip isn't the only Marshak in the credits. His son, Darryl A. Marshak, co-wrote the script, was one of the producers and receives a credit as third assistant director. He would go on to become a talent manager representing the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, James Franco, Hillary Swank, Alice Cooper and David Bowie (!) over the years. His other son, Shane Marshak, is credited as assistant best boy. Thanked in the end credits are parents Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Marshak, Phil's wife Pamela Marshak and his daughter, Tracy Marshak, who went on to co-star (as "Tracy Lea") in the minor cult item Desperate Teenager Lovedolls (1984) and its sequel Lovedolls Superstar (1986) before becoming a production accountant. Hey, ya gotta love seeing families spending quality time together, whether that be mandatory dinners at the dining room table, trips to Disney World or shooting porno vampire movies at a castle in the desert.

Associate producer and editor Nettie Peña, another UCLA film / theater grad, went on to make the slasher Home Sweet Home (1980) starring bodybuilder and fitness guru Jake Steinfeld. The camera operator was Ray Dennis Steckler film regular Titus Moede, Norman Thaddeus Vane (1983's FRIGHTMARE) was the second assistant director and Gillis and Leslie are credited as additional third assistant directors.



As for all of those alternate versions out there... An R-rated cut eliminating all of the hardcore material but still featuring full frontal nudity was released to theaters and on VHS here in America by both Media and Unicorn with a running time of 88 minutes. In other countries, such as the UK, it was whittled down to as little as 73 minutes. In 1980, a 75-minute new version titled either Lust at First Bite (its most common VHS title) or Dracula's Bride was released. This cut (which Vinegar Syndrome has included as an extra in the same release) is a complete re-edit of the film that shuffles the scene order around. Most of the plot, violence and blood are thrown out and lengthy explicit sex scenes that were filmed at the same time but not present in the earlier R-rated version or the 95 minute X version reviewed here are substituted in their place. This is likely the same cut that was released (dubbed) in France under the new title Dracula X. I have no clue what the South Korean VHS release (hilariously re-titled "Dracula Sucks Buttocks and Bossoms [sic]") featured. Fans of the film have put together composites of footage found in the various releases and the running time is well over 2 hours.

Though usually given an incorrect 1978 release date, this actually debuted in early 1979. Gillis would get to play Count Dracula yet again in Shaun Costello's Dracula Exotica (1980; aka Love at First Gulp). He was also in the vampire-themed PRINCESS OF THE NIGHT (1990).

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