Old Dracula is a 1974 British horror comedy.
It was originally released as Vampira. The reason for that name is that Vampira (Teresa Graves) is Dracula’s old flame, who is now dead. Well, I guess she was dead before, but now she’s dead dead or in a coma. I didn’t see the beginning of the film.
Dracula (David Niven) wants her back. Old age is so lonely. So he gets blood from a number of Playboy playmates. But this turns Vampira into a black-skinned woman. So the film is about Dracula’s attempt to turn Vimpira white. In the end, Dracula is turned black.
Racial Politics In 1970s Film
This was 1974, after all, and inter-racial couples were still taboo. Although they were not all that unusual, they were certainly not something seen in mainstream films. So it’s a happy ending, even if David Niven looks ridiculous in black face.
Shortly after Vampira was released, Young Frankenstein was released and became a huge hit. It was the fourth highest grossing movie of 1974, even though it was released on 15 December.
Roger Ebert Pretends He Doesn’t Know How Films Are Made
So when the distributor took the film to the US in 1975, they called it Old Dracula, hoping to goose the film with the similar title. It doesn’t make much sense to me, because it took me forever to connect “Old Dracula” with “Young Frankenstein.”
The films couldn’t be more different. Old Dracula is a very British comedy — more droll than exquisitely silly like Young Frankenstein.
So the distributor changed the name. This led the supposedly good film “critic” Roger Ebert to write, “The movie’s obviously intended as a rip-off of Young Frankenstein, right down to the artwork in the ads.
Old Dracula Was Released Before Young Frankenstein
But Old Dracula was released before it. It was doubtless also conceived and produced before it. Ebert knows how movies are made. He can’t possibly have thought that the producers of Old Dracula saw Young Frankenstein doing so well at the very end of 1974, got the money and casting set, had a screenplay (that is clearly not targeting the same audience) written, shot, edited, and released it within a year.
But there he is. He gives the film one star and calls it incoherent. I haven’t created a page for the film, because I’ve only been able to see the last half of the film, and I had no problem following it.
What’s more, major film “critics” get a whole package on the films they are going to review. That’s how, in the days before Wikipedia and IMDb, film “critics” knew lots of inside information about the films, including the names of minor actors.
How Roger Ebert Could Have Liked Old Dracula
But let’s face it. If Young Frankenstein had never been produced, Ebert would have given the film a chance. (He spends two paragraphs trying to convince us that he did give it a chance because of Niven and director Clive Donner. In a 5 paragraph review, that screams, “I went into this film determined to pan it!”)
I’m not suggesting that Ebert would have loved the film. From what I saw, I’d guess he would have given it 2 and a half or 3 stars. Or maybe only 2 stars. But not one. Not with this movie.
In the quote above, Ebert says the artwork was meant to rip-off Young Frankenstein. I’ve included the images of both posters. Could any objective person say one was trying to rip-off the other?
Film “Critics” Suck
I’m so tired of film “critics.” And it’s particularly bad when you consider that popular music criticism is actually pretty good. Yet people continue to listen to these film blowhards.
Look forward to a full page on the film. I’m hoping I can rent it, because it sells for $20, and I’m not that interested in the film.
 Although spelled the same way as Maila Nurmi’s character, her name is pronounced with soft “i” — undoubtedly not wanting to associate the character with Maila Nurmi.
 For the record, the brilliance of Young Frankenstein is due to Gene Wilder, not Mel Brooks. From interviews, it’s clear that Brooks had very little to do with the writing. A less narcissistic director wouldn’t even have put his name on the credits. The same is largely true of Blazing Saddles where Brooks did everything he could to minimize Andrew Bergman, the brilliant comedy writer and director. I will admit that I have a very low opinion of Brooks, but it is based on everything I’ve learned over the years. Read the chapter on The Producers in Ralph Rosenblum’s book When The Shooting Stops … The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story.