[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]
Kris Kristofferson seems to be about the only recent folk rock star to have come to films with any degree of dramatic acumen and at least some feel for what is involved in establishing a credible screen presence. Others—Dylan, for example, in Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid—seem always to be somehow looking at themselves in a mirror of selfconsciousness. While this may have something to do with writing good songs, it is disastrous in front of a camera. James Taylor, in Two Lane Blacktop, comes to mind as another screen casualty; he had to be given short, heavy “message” lines because he apparently couldn’t handle normal dialogue. But at least Taylor didn’t come on with selections from his greatest hits at every lull, which is more than can be said for Harry Nilsson in Son of Dracula.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, the one aspect of this movie which in some way justifies its existence (Nilsson’s songs certainly don’t) also leads to its downfall. It seems that Freddie Francis had in mind a campy little allegory cloaked in the ostensible garb of a spoof on horror movies with, you know, different levels of meaning. It seems aimed at literate groupies more than anyone. Here we have Harry Nilsson as the son of Dracula, who also happens to be an aspiring rock star when he isn’t seducing women and sucking them pale. He is on his way to becoming King of the Monster World when he discovers it isn’t blood, but love, that he really wants out of life. His kingdom of goons (read fans?) just can’t cope with the fact that they won’t have a god to paw over—that their destined leader will not lead them after all. Well, it isn’t too difficult to muck your way through the sludge of horror genre mumbo-jumbo and see that perhaps we have a Statement here: the son of Dracula is actually a kind of allegorical Everystar, and his withdrawal from the underworld might be likened to such phenomena as Dylan’s decision a while back to drop out of his poet/prophet role and to go raise a kid and catch rainbow trout in Utah (that must be what it’s all about). The star doesn’t want to be a star anymore. He doesn’t want to live within the fog of some make-believe image. In Performance, we saw Mick Jagger depicted in similar fashion: a pop culture dropout who has withdrawn from the public floodlight, in this case only to wind up stumbling down some identityless road toward the outer reaches of nihilism. But whereas the comment Son of Dracula wants to make about star images might be viable with a figure like Dylan or Jagger—whose popular images have become so blown out of proportion that they are, in a sense, cultural “monsters”—with Harry Nilsson it just doesn’t work. He lacks the mythic/mystic aura of a Dylan or a Jagger, or even a Beatle, which is needed to make this Apple Film work on the level of pop allegory. Even with Merlin the Magician pulling the cosmic strings and Ringo Starr supplying the money, Freddie Francis can’t quite conjure the proper alchemy to turn his second-rate star into the real article.
The resulting overall impression is one of sham. We get the feeling that, on any level, we are being lied to by this movie. We simply can’t take its allegorical overtones seriously, and as a straight horror movie, forget it. Even if you choose to see the film as a spoof on itself, examining through self-parody just how pretentious and egotistical rock stars can be (and this seems to me to be the only potential seed of value contained within the entire movie), there is still a glaring contradiction which unfortunately spoils everything. For Nilsson, even though he may be playing his role as rock star sickie with tongue in cheek, ultimately winds up succumbing to his ego as the last strains of his shabbily lip-synched hit tunes fade quickly from our memory.
SON OF DRACULA
Direction: Freddie Francis. Screenplay: Jay Fairbanks. Cinematography: Norman Warwick. Production: Ringo Starr.
The Players: Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr.
Copyright © 1974 Rick Hermann