Color, 1979, 95m. / 74m.
Directed by Phillip Marshak
Starring Jamie Gillis, Annette Haven, Reggie Nalder, John Leslie, Serena, Seka, Kay Parker, John Holmes, Mike Ranger, Paul Thomas, Richard Bulik, Pat Manning, Bill Margold
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1979, 95m. / 74m.
Relocating the story of Bram Stoker's Dracula to the 1930s American desert, this erotic take on the classic horror tale is the most overtly erotic vampire offering from 1979, the disco-heavy year when moviemakers suddenly went crazy for anything with fangs. (See also: Love at First Bite, Nosferatu the Vampyre, John Badham's Dracula, and several others.)
Here the plot gets tweaked a bit as Count Dracula (Gillis, surprisingly good and sporting a beard) moves into Carfax Abbey next to a sanitarium run by Dr. Arthur Seward (Leslie). Dracula pays a visit the night he arrives where he becomes smitten with Arthur's niece, Mina (Haven), who is engaged to Jonathan Harker (Thomas). Meanwhile Dracula's real estate agent, Renfield (Bulik), has already turned into a raving fiend while his wife (Manning) hangs out unaware of the encroaching menace. Later the same night, Dracula unleashes his vampire brides onto the premises and takes a bite out of Mina's college friend, Lucy (Serena). The esteemed Dr. Van Helsing (Nalder, who also played a vampire the same year in Salem's Lot) arrives to assess the situation, with Dr. Seward's progress on patients suffering from sexual mania has been derailed by the bloodthirsty predators. (Van Helsing advises, "I suggest warm water enemas" and "break out the cocaine.") Soon everyone's getting bitten, with Dracula intent on sealing his bond with Mina at any cost.
The kind of film that absolutely couldn't be made today, this relatively lavish production is usually marketed as a spoof but, despite some ridiculous dialogue and a few bits of visual lampoonery, it's actually a fairly entertaining straightforward vampire film. Of course, it also has a lot of sex (with varying degrees depending on which version you see), but the atmospheric lighting, distorted camera angles, extremely phony blood effects, and sheer oddness of the entire production make it a bit difficult to classify overall. The film was directed by first timer Phillip Marshak, who went on to helm the horror film Cataclysm (later edited into Night Train to Terror) and a handful of other adult titles like Olympic Fever and Space Virgins. Of course there's also just sheer fascination value in seeing Nalder rubbing shoulders with one of the most impressive adult film casts ever assembled. The fact that almost all of them turn in reasonably solid, stylized performances when they have their clothes is an extra plus, with many clearly emulating the feel of classic Universal monster films. Considering this film was shooting for a somewhat more mainstream audience than usual, it's also a little shocking how extreme some of the content is (especially some fleeting solarized water sports and a mostly implied but twisted scene involving Gillis and Thomas in front of a fang-baring Haven).
The distribution and editing of Dracula Sucks remains a bit difficult to parse out, with most viewers stumbling on it in the softcore adult sections of video stores from Media on VHS or via theatrical prints running 87 minutes or less. The Media version was significantly less salacious than the cast and title implied, though it left in enough of the John Holmes quasi-rape scene to cause a bit of a jolt. A completely different hardcore version (minus bloody fang bitings, stakings, any deaths at all, and other random bits of footage) circulated on the XXX VHS circuit as Lust at First Bite, which was later transferred in very dated condition for an Alpha Blue Dracula triple feature. (Confusing matters even further, Jamie Gillis also appeared in the straight-up porn film Dracula Exotica in 1980.) Meanwhile rumors abounded about longer versions of the film, with a supposedly 108-minute assembly entitled Dracula's Bride claimed to have existed as early as 1978.
Disc one features the video premiere of the "director's cut" of Dracula Sucks, which runs 95 minutes and includes a substanital amount of explicit material missing from previous versions bearing that title (and some of which isn't in Lust at First Bite.) The sole extra on this disc is an audio commentary with William Margold, who has a supporting role as an apple-tossing orderly and also co-write and assistant directed the film. He's candid and hilariously inappropriate as usual with a nonstop barrage of anecdotes about Marshak (and his clan), every single cast member, and other fun tidbits like throwing in an unscripted incestuous sex scene between Leslie and Parker. The widescreen transfer is a vast improvement across the board with far more clarity than the prior, murky video transfers; a simple browse through the screen grabs here should convey how much better it is.
Disc two starts off with the alternate, 74-minute Lust at First Bite version (which can't exactly be called the more explicit one anymore); it's obviously less preferable for many viewers since it suppresses the horror elements almost completely out of the film and jettisons huge swaths of the plot, but it's still a fascinating variant. For one thing, it's structured entirely differently with the Haven/Gillis climactic sex scene now moved to the very beginning and a happier ending now created through the magic of editing and voiceover. The disc also contains the very silly Dracula Sucks trailer, a 22-minute "Return to Castle Ranch" featurette with Margold and Marshak's son/producer Darryl revisiting the location in Death Valley (where they reveal the film was originally intended to be filmed on the Queen Mary!), and a slideshow of German poster and still images.