Svengali VS Dracula
USA 1974 Directed by Paul Aratow
USA 1978 Directed by
Al Adamson & Paul Aratow
Rafael Films/AIP/Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Zone A
Warning: Yeah, this one has spoilers
if you’re worried about that kind of stuff.
This is another one of those stories where a film was made, Lucifer’s Women... and then, four years later, Al Adamson was asked to direct a whole load of new scenes and recut it with bits of the original picture, making and releasing what amounts to a completely different movie with kind of ‘guest highlights’ from the first version. In many cases the originals were often better than Adamson’s, admittedly enthusiastic effort to turn them into completely different films and, yeah, this one is no exception.
Lucifer’s Women is a case of the original being thought lost until the wonderful Vinegar Syndrome label managed to release an uncut, fully restored version of it to Blu Ray a couple of years ago. I’m really glad they did because, otherwise, the Adamson excerpts would have been all that remained of what is actually a pretty good movie. I’ll review the original first.
Lucifer’s Women is a real gem... a kind of marriage of an occult plot mixed with soft core pornography. This one stars Larry Hankin as an academic writer who has published a book about Svengali, only to have been helped by the ‘Bleeding Rose’ society in the form of his publisher, a black psychic, to become possessed by the spirit of Svengali himself. So Hankin is Svengali, who is also, on occasion, fighting a battle with his former self to control his host body.
The film starts strongly with one of his magic shows (there are at least two magic acts by him in the film) where he levitates a woman and cuts off her clothing so she’s floating topless. I don’t know what night clubs he plays but we never got magic shows like this on television in the UK in the seventies.
Anyway, his publisher wants him to procure a specific girl, Trilby, played by the wonderful Jane Brunel-Cohen. She is one of a number of strippers who work in a night club run by obnoxious pimp Roland, played by Paul Thomas (oh yeah, I’ll get to him in a minute). Svengali’s task is to bring the girl to his publisher Sir Stephen (played by Norman Pierce) in seven days’ time... because she has a pure, psychically charged soul she is not aware of... and hypnotically manipulate her while having sex in a black magic ritual with Sir Stephen so that she first kills Stephen on the stroke of midnight at the point of orgasm... and then kills herself so that his soul can be reborn in her body.
However, complicating things is the fact that Svengali’s body’s former personality is falling in love with Trilby. Shenanigans ensue and the film has a wonderful, laid back charm of its own as another girl also falls prey to Sir Stephen and his occultist friends, while Trilby and her fellow stripper and room mate indulge in lesbian sex ripped straight from the pages of an underground comic book she is reading. Finally, there's a threesome with their boss Roland... who is later put in a trance by Svengali and accidentally gets run over because of it.
There’s a bizarre double ending too, where Svengali’s former personality rescues the girl and everyone else dies... but, as they run off, another Svengali and all his friends are suddenly alive again, watching and laughing from the grounds of their big house. It’s a little like the end of Fellini’s Eight And A Half in tone, rather than a conclusion from which you are meant to gain any insight from, I think.
But, I found myself thoroughly entertained as it’s a nice little movie including an interesting score which has a kind of mild atonalism with creepy but charming synthesiser overlays on top of it in some sections. And some interesting personalities... despite what one of his co-stars says of him in the extras, Larry Hankin is a tremendous Svengali. He has hypnotic, expressive eyes and a kind of laid back attitude which really works for him and the movie. Jane Brunel-Cohen is absolutely amazing too, giving off ‘young Margot Kidder’ vibes and channeling that same kind of ‘naive innocent energy’. I can’t believe that her only other credit, apart from archival footage from this used in Adamson’s Doctor Dracula, was as a masseuse in Freebie And The Bean. This woman should have gone on to be a huge star, if there was any justice in the world.
And then there’s Paul Thomas. Starring in almost 400 adult movies and directing almost 500 of them to date, Paul Thomas is a porn star who also had a mainstream movie career around the same time, for a bit... you may recognise him as playing Peter in the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar. And he gives a hilarious, 20 minute interview about his time on the film (one of his last mainstream movies) and his career in general. In one story he talks about the threesome involving Jane Brunel-Cohen and how she didn’t want his ‘hard cock’ touching her because she wasn’t a porn actress. He says that usually, on one of his porn shoots, the crew has to keep taking breaks to enable the lead male actor to be able to achieve and maintain his erection again for the next shot... which is a hard thing to do, apparently. Here, it was the exact opposite situation... he was so enamoured of the actress that he kept getting an erection and, since it was an R rated movie, they couldn’t afford to have his penis getting into the shots... so they kept having to take breaks to try and get his erection to cease and desist while piecing together the scene. It’s a great extra and worth a watch almost as much as the film.
And then there’s Doctor Dracula. Okay, so Adamson has a new, animated title sequence more in keeping with many of his other movies of this time. He grafts a completely new story onto it involving psychiatrist Dr. Gregorio (played by Geoffrey Land) who kills a lady at the start by biting her on the neck... as he’s really Dracula. The film uses bits of the Lucifer’s Women footage as a background canvass for Dracula’s efforts to stop the Bleeding Rose Society, now headed up by John Carradine in a number of spliced in scenes trying to look like they all belong with the original movie.
It’s about what you’d expect from one of Adamson’s more ‘hands on’ cut and paste jobs and some of the scenes kind of make sense and others don’t. Adamson’s characters are all played by completely different actors in fresh roles (including his wife Regina Carrol, giving some bad line readings in this) but he did manage to get Larry Hankin back for a few new scenes in an effort to integrate the two films together more credibly... including a scene where Hankin crosses two candles in an effort to kill Dracula, but dies instead.
The bizarre thing is... although Adamson adds scenes of women undressing and having baths... you never see any nudity in this cut of the movie. This includes all the footage recycled from the original film, where the sex and nudity has been completely excised from this ‘lowlights’ version. This must have made for some bizarre jumps in logic for people who hadn’t seen Lucifer’s Women. For example, when asked about the nature of what she does, Trilby talks about it just being a job and, unless you had seen the original cut where you see she works as a stripper in a night club, you might have been scratching your head at this point wondering what the heck they are talking about.
Similarly, the character of Roland is barely glimpsed in one brief scene from the start in this one... he’s been taken out almost completely. So when Svengali confesses in a throw away line to Trilby later that he’s killed him, the audience must have found it strange, to say the least, that this character had killed someone... especially since it’s someone they don’t know about. Cutting these scenes back into a completely different movie sure makes for a lot of problems here, that’s for sure. Not to mention the comic moments of a night club audience watching a magic show then cutting to a close up of people like John Carradine, who are also suddenly supposed to be part of the same audience. Stuff like this kept me smiling, for sure but, not necessarily for the right reasons.
I found it interesting that both directors used posters in character's bedrooms from famous films but that, neither shot made it into each other’s version. In Lucifer’s Women, Trilby has a Sands Of Iwo Jima poster in her apartment. In Doctor Dracula, random female victim number ‘whatever’ has a poster for Cassavetes’ A Woman Under The Influence in her house. So we have one director acknowledging his admiration for classic Hollywood and Adamson showing his support of the contemporary independent scene. Good stuff.
At the end of Doctor Dracula, the film finishes with the cult all deceased and then, when Dracula gets into a car with one of his victim’s daughters (played by Susie Ewing), she blows the car up with a remote device in her hand, killing them both. Being as this is Adamson, I immediately recognised the shot of the car blowing up as featuring in at least one of his other movies. I’m not sure if it was recycled for this one or whether this was the first use of the footage but, I guess it doesn’t really matter.
And that’s me done on these two. I had a really good time with Lucifer’s Women and would recommend it... not such a good time at all with the Adamson, recalibrated Doctor Dracula version but at least it’s interesting to see how that director would take the material and reshape it, although I’d probably say steer clear of that version. Either way, Vinegar Syndrome’s welcome Blu Ray release of the 'two on one' edition is pretty good and worth the admission price, as far as I’m concerned. So thanks to them for their ‘Half Way To Black Friday’ sale, where I picked up a few of their titles.