Dracula Dead and Loving It Witty and Full of Gags
By Kristin Battestella
I’m not a hardcore Mel Brooks fan, but I adore the 1995 spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Though perhaps not as classic as Brooks’ earlier delights to some, the whole family can have a fangtastic time here.
English Solicitor Renfield (Peter MacNicol) travels to Transylvania so his mysterious client Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) can sign the contract for the Carfax Abbey property. Unbeknownst to Renfield, Dracula is a vampire! He makes the dimwitted lawyer his servant; and upon arriving in England on the Demeter, Renfield is committed to Dr. Seward’s (Harvey Korman) sanitarium. Dracula meets Dr. Seward’s assistant Jonathan Harker (Stephen Webber) and preys on his fiancée of five years Mina (Amy Yasbeck) and her sultry best friend Lucy Westerna (Lysette Anthony). As the ladies weaken, Dr. Seward calls in occult authority Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) to thwart the vampire.
Largely a spoof of the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other traditional Dracula films, director Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs) and co-writers Steve Haberman (Life Stinks) and Rudy DeLuca (The Carol Burnett Show) have plenty of room for repressed English jokes, latent Victorian innuendo, and stereotypical vampire myths. Though some of the humor does fall flat or seems like filler even in a short ninety-minute movie, most of Dead and Loving It sticks to a traditional Dracula retelling with witty anachronistic jabs and slapstick fun to lighten the tale. Even the excessive, totally unrealistic gags work in the first viewing; the jokes smartly slide into the vampire frame with fourth wall breaks and individual wink wink and all in good fun performance. While this obviously makes the film un-uber scary, there is a very pleasing element of goth atmosphere and spooky décor. I think it’d be a lot of fun to play dress up and fang out with this gang!
While not as perfect here as in classics like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, the late Leslie Nielsen is always a treat to watch. The script hampers him at times, but his physical comedy and mock Dracula hold Dead and Loving It together. Harvey Korman (Mama’s Family) is also a delightfully stuffy send up as the enema obsessed Seward. Wings alums Steven Weber and Amy Yasbeck do their best feigning at the stiff upper lip British cliché, and each have some great slapstick moments. You can tell the cast was having a good time, and Lysette Anthony (Dark Shadows: The Revival) clearly enjoys being sexed up as Lucy. Ironically, the person who seems the flattest here is director Mel Brooks as Van Helsing. Perhaps he adds too many of his old school ethnic quips and quick nonsensical interplays, and this style doesn’t quite fit with the Dracula themes elsewhere in the film. For me, he’s the least funny player here and actually, he becomes kind of annoying in the bumbling battle against the Count. Thankfully, a goofy cameo by the Oscar winning Mrs. Brooks Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate) is unexpected and very bemusing. In truth, Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal, Ghostbusters II, ‘He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!’) is the one who steals all of his scenes. Perfect as the clichéd Englishman, MacNicol is a riot as Dracula’s insect eating squire. His simple yet over the top actions get me every time.
I know it’s usually a cop out to say a film is meant to look bad, but Dracula: Dead and Loving It really means it! The cardboard sets are somehow accurate, yet stupid and fun. The Victorian dressings all look well and good, even lush and to the hilt with big mirrors, bustles, and chandeliers. However, we know Styrofoam columns, fake tombstones, and Astroturf greenery when we see it. Dead and Loving It pokes fun at the cheapness of early horror predecessors whilst also making the basic smoke and mirrors work. The classical music and up-tempo score also adds a layer of fun rhythm- along with the usual crackles of thunder and lightning for ambiance. Though the costumes for the ladies are the Victorian satin sweets we expect- and they are very corseted and low cut- there isn’t anything major naughty here to shy away a family viewing. Adults will notice some of the sexual repression and innuendo in the dialogue, but a lot of that is mostly harmless or will go right over tween and younger heads. Yes, some audiences may find the entire picture an unfunny preposterous miss. However, there are enough witty twists and amusing performances to keep Dracula: Dead and Loving It entertaining. Fans of the cast or Mel Brooks completists can enjoy even if serious vampire audiences may want to skip the spoof and parody. Those looking for a lighthearted Fall viewing or Halloween party filmage can certainly sink their teeth in here. Bad pun, I know!