The son of “Z” grade western director Victor Adamson, exploitation horror director Al Adamson came by his credentials honestly. Tragically, Adamson also unintentionally secured his own cult status, in a lurid example of life imitating art, when he was brutally murdered by a contractor. Several weeks later, the director’s body was discovered buried under freshly laid cement and bathroom tile. It could have been a scene culled from one of Adamson’s movies, and has the makings of a cult film in itself.
Like his father, Al Adamson was a hack, and never put on the pretense of being anything more than that. His formula for low-grade trash was female udders and genre actors well past their tether. Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol, his version of Chesty Morgan, usually supplied the udders. Similar to the partnerships between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi or Jack Hill and Boris Karloff, Adamson had aged horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. for two films: The Female Bunch (1971, part of which was shot on Charles Manson’s Spahn Ranch) and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). Both films were actually a smorgasbord of faded “B” celebrities.
In Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Adamson also cast J. Carrol Naish, who had once co-starred opposite Chaney in the Universal monster mash House Of Frankenstein (1944). Vs. turned out to be the last film for both actors, and neither were more frightening than they were here, albeit not intentionally. Chaney does yet another mute Lenny variation (he barely rasped his few lines in The Female Bunch as Adamson filmed the actor happily downing vodka). Bloated, splotchy, yellowed with jaundice, and dying of throat cancer (like his father), Chaney was too ill to speak by the time of Dracula vs. Frankenstein.
In contrast, Naish is wheelchair-bound and frighteningly emaciated. Two-foot dwarf Angelo Rossitto (from Freaks), Russ Tamblyn (from West Side Story) Jim Davis (best known for his later role as Jock Ewing in the ‘Dallas’ TV series) and “Famous Monsters Of Filmland” founder Forrest J. Ackerman makeup the remaining cast of debatably familiar faces.
However, it is newcomer Zandor Vorkov as a Dracula-with-an-afro that one remembers the most. He has been called the “worst Dracula in cinema,” and considering the competition, that is quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, Vorkov only made one other film, also in 1971, also for Adamson: Brain Of Blood, another “all-star extravaganza” that cast the actor as “Mohammed,” opposite Rossito and The Incredible Shrinking Man‘s Grant Williams. Although Vorkov is still living, he reportedly went into seclusion, founded a religious cult, and has long refused to grant interviews.
Vorkov’s nemesis is John Bloom as Frankenstein’s monster, who looks like an oversized cauliflower. The titular showdown between the two titans of terror is late coming, partly because the film was originally intended to be a biker flick, and only midway through somehow morphed into a horror film.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein opens with beautifully cheesy, headache-inducing 70s graphics, complete with lightning bolts, the blood red eye of Drac’s death ray ring, and bleepy, wheezing psychotronic music. After an obligatory vampire resurrection, we get transported to Las Vegas just in time for a revue by worn out go-go dancer Judith Fontaine (Carrol). Yes, she sings, she dances, she cakes on the eye shadow, she spills out of her tight top, she wears leopard fur coats, and she smokes Virginia Slims. What’s not to love?
Cut to a dilapidated amusement park carnival. Grazbo, the evil dwarf (Rossitto) eats money and feeds poor unfortunate souls to Dr. Durea, the last of the Dr. Frankensteins (Naish, as probably the 100th incarnation of the last Dr. Frank) and his human monster Groton (Chaney). Poor Groton needs his nightly fix of virgin blood before wielding his mighty ax. Once that juice hits Groton’s vein, he puts down his puppy and stumbles into the night, a mass of barely animated, slobbering rubber hell bent on dismembering his latest victims.
Cue the Lord Of The Undead, talking through an echo box. Afro-Drac knows Durea’s secret identity, and solicits the good doc to revive the original monster. Groton goes chop, chop. The guy from West Side Story falls long and hard. Judith is trying to find her missing sister. JR Ewing’s pappy is one busy cop, but he helps long enough to give Judith the bad news: “Your sister was last seen in a hippie commune.” Unknown to all, sis has wound up as one of Groton’s elixirs. Judith is on a mission, but detours long enough to bounce her cleavage dancing in a rock and roll club. Cue flashing multicolored gizmos to indicate that Dr. Frank is continuing his family tradition. Drac hitches a ride with that “Famous Monsters Of Filmland” cat, who hugs his favorite monster.
Meanwhile, Judith meets a helpful stud, which calls for stock footage of surfers at the beach (!) Groton chop-chops pesky flower children. “Step right this way, folks,” says Grazbo, before that mean Ewing patriarch shoots Groton dead, and Judith’s man shoots Dr. Frank dead.
Drac’s plans to use Dr. Frank’s serum to revive the “league of the living dead” are spoiled. Drac gets revenge. Taking a much needed break from bondage with big breasted girls, Drac brandishes his death ray ring .”Kaboom! Zap! Splat!” Exit stage left for the electro-fried stud.
Of course, the million dollar question is: who will win in Dracula vs. Frankenstein? On the excitement meter, it’s a tad lower than “Muhammad Ali vs. Superman.” Both ghouls have some serious handicaps: mod Count Chocula forgot his tanning lotion and cauliflower Frankenberry is no Stretch Armstrong (worse yet, it turns out that Mr. Magoo has better eyesight). Dracula vs. Frankenstein ranks as one of the most shabbily made movies I’ve ever endured. On those grounds alone, it is a contender for the 366 Weird MovieList.