Mel Brooks Monday: Dracula: Dead and Loving It

I have no idea how to feel about Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Part of me thinks it’s terrible, another part thinks it’s actually really well done. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who see this movie are similarly split.

Like Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’ final film as director is interesting not because it’s a spoof of its source material, but because it’s actually a very faithful adaptation. Dracula (played by Leslie Nielsen), is living in a creepy Transylvanian castle when an unsuspecting Thomas Renfield (Peter MacNicol), who is visiting the castle to sign an English land deed over to the Count, is bitten and turned into his bug-eating slave. The duo travels across the ocean, where they settle into Dracula’s new estate. But the vampire has more sinister plans than relocation; he desires the young blood of Mina (Amy Yasbeck), but her father, Dr. Seward (Harvey Korman) enlists the help of Dr. Van Helsing (Brooks), who attempts to stop the bloodsucker by proving he’s a vampire and driving a stake through his heart before he turns Mina into his undead bride.

The worst thing about the film is, surprisingly, the acting. Brooks usually brings out the best in his actors even when his scripts let them down, but this one is overacted to death. It must be some cinematic sin to waste the great Leslie Nielsen, but his bumbling version of the iconic character only gets a couple of okay slapstick gags. The rest is him making perplexing facial expressions and laying on that Transylvanian accent a bit too thick. I know that Renfield is supposed to be an over-the-top character, but MacNicol’s overacting is distractingly bad.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It is a strange brew, but has some unique and surprising strengths and weaknesses within Brooks' filmography.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It is a strange brew, but has some unique and surprising strengths and weaknesses within Brooks’ filmography.

Brooks himself also really overdoes it. The only actor I think made out good here is Korman, who, for once, is the most subtle one. I like that he gets to play a different character than in other Brooks’ films; his acting is still uproarious, but in a subtler and in some ways more effective way. He comes across closer to an actual human being rather than a caricature.

The movie’s tone is all over the place. It gets really dark and even gory, but Brooks is still trying to be lighthearted in terms of gags. The sometimes grim tone doesn’t always mix well with the traditional warmth of Brooks’ humor.

The movie also lacks consistent laughs, but the ones that are here are far more than minor chuckles. There are two scenes that are so insanely over-the-top that they left me rolling. One involves Renfield’s preferred diet of bugs and the other involves some of the practical aspects of staking a vampire that I’ve never properly considered (hint: it’s a pretty messy business).

But man, I have a tough time hating this film for one main reason: it is gorgeous. I mean, absolutely beautiful. The production design here is stunning. I’ve gotten used to the cheap-looking nature of many of Brooks’ films, but this is something completely different. Everything from the grimy, cobweb infested corridors of Dracula’s castle to the lush reds and golds of Mina’s bedroom pop with color. The movie also makes great use of fog, and some scenes use lighting and shadow so well, they border on Oscar-worthy. There’s also some really cool special effects, especially considering the movie is 20 years old, and a sequence involving some visual trickery near the end kind of blew my mind. Despite its famous source material, the film has a moody, eerie atmosphere all its own.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It is a mess, but it’s an entertaining one. It’s not a good movie, but it’s not a bad one either. In all honesty, I prefer it as a proper Dracula tale to, say, the original film from the 1930s, which is somehow even cheesier than this one. If nothing else, it nails the visual style and tone of Bram Stoker’s delightfully twisted world, even if its humor and performances are a letdown.

And with that, Mel Brooks Monday is officially over! I hope you’ve enjoyed looking back at the career of this very funny filmmaker. Thanks for all the laughter, Mel! 

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