Skip to content

Plot: nobleman is having a mental breakdown, or is he possessed by a demon?

Byleth (Il demone dell'incesto) (or Byleth – The Demon Of Incest, simply Byleth hereafter) is a curio in the pantheon of Italian gothic horror that has remained remarkably minor and elusive despite having all the hallmarks of an Eurocult favourite. Have history and contemporary retrospective reviews in the blogosphere been unfavorable or unkind to Byleth? Who knows, the truth undeniably lies somewhere in the middle. What’s certain is that Byleth has perhaps been somewhat unjustly relegated to nothing but a footnote in the context of Italo gothic horror history. Regardless of its place in history Byleth pushes all the right buttons and is just weird enough to warrant a cursory glance if not a nod of approval.

Leopoldo Savona is more famous for whom he assistant directed under than for most of his own repertoire. Over the decades he assistant directed under Giuseppe De Santis, Luigi Zampa, Riccardo Freda, and Pier Paolo Passolini. He had a respectable career and directed 18 films in the 22 years between 1954 and 1976. He was active as a screenwriter and an actor and in that capacity could be seen in an uncredited role in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) as well as in The Giant of Metropolis (1961) and Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter (1962). Savona infamously was fired from Knives Of the Avenger (1966) with Mario Bava being brought in at the last minute to salvage the project. Bava scrapped most of the footage and rewrote/reshot the entire film within the span of just six (!!) days. After the usual amount of peplum and spaghetti westerns he contributed to the giallo explosion with Death Falls Lightly (1972). The most logical thing following that would be to contribute to the gothic horror revival that was going on at the time. At the dawn of the 1970s interest in the occult – and witchcraft was at an all-time high – and who was Savona not to exploit it to the fullest? Thus was born Byleth.

More damningly Byleth is - often rather lazily and quite facilely - described as a companion piece to Luigi Batzella’s unabashedly preposterous The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973). While the comparison is not entirely without merit this nifty little genre exercise places giallo styled killings in a 19th century Italian gothic horror premise. It’s very much like The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle (1963) in that way. In other words, this is a completely different beast from Batzella’s delirious offering. In truth, this etches closer to The Night Of the Damned (1971) and The Witches Mountain (1972) than anything else. Featuring lush photography from the baronial palace of Castello del Sasso and Piazza Santa Croce in Cerveteri as well as the beautiful Fontanile Testa di Bove near the Bosco di Macchia Grande in Manziana, both in Rome. Which bring us to the million dollar question: who or what is Byleth? In demonology Beleth (or Byleth) is a king of Hell who has eighty-five legions of demons under his command. He’s seen riding a pale horse, and a variety of music announces his arrival. He’s mentioned in Johann Weyer's Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, Jacques Collin de Plancy’s la Dictionnaire Infernal, and the Ars Goetia. For good measure Astaroth, Behemoth, Belphegor, and Lucifer are also mentioned. Here Byleth is the demon of incest because that’s a very Italian thing and very popular in commedia sexy all’Italiana of the day. Apparently this was a German co-production as it features a duo of German warm bodies during the opening – but Byleth is thoroughly Italian otherwise. Also, Savona loves his redheads, auburns and gingers – and by The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed) Byleth is chockful of them.

Headlining are American import Mark Damon and Spanish minx Claudia Gravy who are supported by an array of Italian character actors and the odd German or two. Damon had starred in the Roger Corman produced House of Usher (1960) (opposite of Vincent Price). This led to an invitation from director Luchino Visconti after which he relocated to Rome, Italy and starred in around 40 movies including, but not limited to, the romantic comedy God, How Much I Love You! (1966) (with belle du jour and Eurovision Song Contest 1964 winner Gigliola Cinquetti), the Antonio Margheriti giallo Naked You Die (1968), and LWO favourite The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) (with Rosalba Neri and Brazilian leading lady Esmeralda Barros). In the early 1970s Margaret Markov was one of the many svelte blonde grindhouse/drive-in starlets having starred in the Gene Roddenberry written and Roger Vadim directed Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), the Filipino women in prison classic Black Mama White Mama (1973) from Eddie Romero, and The Arena (1974). In fact it was on the set of the latter where producer Damon and Markov met and by October 1976 the two were married. Damon retired from acting and turned to producing.

Claudia Gravy was one of the lesser Eurocult queens who, despite amassing a respectable resumé in Euroshlock and remaining a beloved supporting actress, never quite made it to the big time. Gravy was born in 1945 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then still Belgian Congo) and made her screen debut in 1964. Her first role of note was in the Spanish James Bond imitation Scorpions and Miniskirts (1967) whereafter she fell into the claws of Jesús Franco for the duo of Red Lips (1969) (with Rosanna Yanni) and Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969) (with Romina Power). She then found steady employment in macaroni – and spaghetti westerns but also appeared in diverse offerings as the soccer comedy Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971), the nunsploitationer The Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973), the sex comedy Healthy Married Life (1974) (alongside Teresa Gimpera, Amparo Muñoz, Nadiuska, and Josele Román), the jungle goddess adjacent peplum hybrid Kilma, Queen of the Amazons (1976) as well as the thriller Sweetly You'll Die Through Love (1977). Unbelievable as it may seem, Gravy somehow was able to escape her exploitation past and built a legitimate career in movies and television afterwards.

The young duke Lionello Shadwell (Mark Damon) has returned to the ancestral homestead after a year abroad. More than anything the nobleman longs to see his sister Barbara (Claudia Gravy) again after her year-long stay in England. He’s dismayed to learn that in the twelve months since their last encounter Barbara has married elderly aristocrat Giordano (Aldo Bufi Landi). Lionello has a deep affection for his sister that borders on the morbid and wants nothing more than to have her exclusively to himself. The thought of having to share Barbara with Giordano (even if he’s a distinguished man with all the virtues of culture, intelligence and sophistication that his estate affords him) sickens him. A simple friendly fencing match exposes the duke’s animosity for what it is. In his emotional destitution and desperation he consults the grimoires of his warlock father (Mark Damon) and recites an incantation conjuring the demon Byleth for assistance. The killing of prostitute Dolores (Karin Lorson) coinciding with the arrival of the duke piques the interest of the local judge (Franco Jamonte) and magistrate (Alessandro Perrella).

They dispatch the sergeant (Antonio De Leo, as Tony Denton) to lead the investigation. Devastated Lionelle seeks comfort in the shadows of the stable where he spies on chambermaid Gisella (Caterina Chiani) in a passionate tryst with virile stablehand Dario (Franco Marletta). Once again Lionello experiences an episode and blackout. When he comes to the maid is dead. Having seen the trident-shaped injuries Giordano seeks an audience with Father Clemente (Antonio Anelli) and after consulting his private occult library the two men agree that the murders must be attributed to Byleth, or at the very least that Byleth has taken possession of the duke – with his consent or without. As a welcome breath of fresh air and to ease Lionello’s shattered nerves Giordano graciously invites his pretty cousin Floriana (Silvana Panfili, as Silvana Pompili) to stay at the estate. Does Lionello’s fragile mental state express itself in a pathology of murder, is Byleth a manifestation of his all-consuming jealousy over having to share his sister with another man – and who is that mysterious blackrobed rider (Mark Damon) that seems to guide all these strange going-ons and haunt Lionello’s waking hours?

Besides Damon and Gravy the remainder of the cast is filled with notable character actors Aldo Bufi Landi, Fernando Cerulli, minor starlets Caterina Chiani (not using her Marzia Damon alias) and Silvana Panfili as well as German professional warm bodies Florian Endlicher and Karin Lorson. Landi was in, among others, Dario Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971) and Alfonso Brescia’s wholly inept slapstick martial arts peplum spoof Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women (1974). Cerulli was a Fernando Di Leo regular who could be seen in the giallo The Beast Kills in Cold Blood (1971), the poliziottesco Caliber 9 (1972) and the sex comedy satire To Be Twenty (1978) as well as in the giallo Savona directed the same year Death Falls Lightly (1972) and the similar Watch Me When I Kill (1977). Chiani had a mostly indistinct career that never really went anywhere. She could be seen in Joe D'Amato's More Sexy Canterbury Tales (1972), The Sex Of the Witch (1973), the hilariously titled commedia sexy all’Italiana Excuse Me, Padre, Are You Horny? (1975), as well as the ill-fated Alfredo Rizzo gothic horror The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975). Peroxide blonde Silvana Panfili (who probably should have had a bigger career, especially in commedia sexy all’Italiana – as an alternative to ass queen Gloria Guida) and Bruna Beani from Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972), and Enter the Devil (1974). Also present are Germans Florian Endlicher and Karin Lorson. Both specialized in completely different things. Endlicher could be seen in the Alois Brumer Tiroler sex comedy hit Beim Jodeln juckt die Lederhose (1974) as well as Ernst Hofbauer’s colorfully titled Wenn die prallen Möpse hüpfen (1974) (at least you knew where Hofbauer's true passion lie or where his head was). Lorson worked with the likes of Eberhard Schröder and Walter Boos and her career crescendo was probably Hubert Frank's hilarious Tiroler sex comedy masterpiece Oh Schreck mei Hos' is weg (1975). She transitioned into hardcore porn from 1975 onward and has done little of exploitation note since.

If anything, Byleth leans in on its occult elements as far as it possibly can. The credit montage is filled with Gustave Doré engravings, most of which seem to come from the 136 plates of his 1857 illustrations for Dante’s Inferno. This is in itself comparable to the engraving of a witch burning from Jan Luyken and his 1685 Religious Persecutions collection in The Night Of the Damned (1971). The Demon (1963) was almost a decade in the past by this point but its echoes can be felt reverberating through this. Interestingly, Byleth was filmed a year after The Exorcist book (published in 1970) and released a year before the William Friedkin big screen adaptation (which famously stole all its most legendary and memorable scenes from its little known Italian forebear). That exactly the Italians (and Spaniards) would take to imitating The Exorcist (1973) with such religious zeal surely is evidence of unbridled Catholic guilt. If there’s something that really rubbed us the wrong way it was Gravy’s attire. For whatever reason (probably having to do with budget) Claudia’s wardrobe is strangely reminiscent of the spaghetti western she made a living in. None of her supposedly 19th century dresses follow the American, French, or British (they are neither of the Regency nor Victorian era) trends of the time.

Speaking of which, wouldn’t this have been ten times as memorable if this had starred anybody else but Gravy? Claudia acquits herself well enough but imagine what this could have been with Rosanna Yanni, Silvia Tortosa, Nieves Navarro, the Cristinas, Suriani and Galbó, or the always underestimated and greatly underappreciated Spanish redhead par excellence, Betsabé Ruiz? This is something that screams out for Rosalba Neri, Agostina Belli, or Femi Benussi yet here it’s Claudia Gravy. Wasn’t Claudia better off in the considerably lesser The Demon Lover (1972)? Gravy frequently worked in Italy, and there too she played second fiddle to illustrious exploitation pillars as Helga Liné, Dagmar Lassander, Rosalba Neri, and Erica Blanc. Apropos of nothing, Damon’s performance is completely unhinged and terrifying. It’s clear he was ready to go out on a bang before turning to producing exclusively.

Whether Byleth is a gothic horror with giallo stylings or a giallo simply within a gothic horror setting is up for debate, the true question is: is there even a definitive version? According to most sources the original Italian version ran 95 minutes but it ran in German blue cinemas in a trimmed down, sex-heavy version as Byleth - Horrorsex im Geistersschloß or Byleth - Horror Sex in the Haunted Castle and alternatively as Byleth - Der Dämon mit den blutigen Fingern, or Byleth - The Demon with Bloody Fingers. Said truncated cut ran a meager 81 minutes or excising about 14 minutes of dialogues and exposition. As fate would have it the German print appears to be the only surviving (and widely available) version. In a trick that only the Italians would pull director Angelo Pannacciò that try to pass the promotional poster of his The Sex Of the Witch (1973) as his own while the Mario Piavano art was clearly stolen from this. Equally mystifying is that the soundtrack of The Sex Of the Witch (1973) has been released the score to this has remained in limbo. Not that the organ and guitar score from Vasili Kojucharov is anything special. It’s as portent, pompous, and playful as you’d expect. While The Demon Lover (1972) is outright odious and gravely impoverished in just about every aspect Byleth knows where its strenghts lie and at least tries. Byleth is hardly bad just incredibly underwhelming given its ripe concept. Imagine what Luigi Batzella, Renato Polselli, or José Ramón Larraz could have made of this.

Plot: Wallachian warlord Vlad Tepes vows to find his love Elisabeta again.

Informed by three decades worth of Spanish, and Latin American gothic horror tradition and bursting at the seams with all the expectant excesses Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dracula hereafter) is Italian gothic horror kitsch on a Hollywood mega-budget with all the attendant bells and whistles. Announced by Francis Ford Coppola as the most faithful adaptation of the old folktale Dracula was going to be a monumental genre piece no matter how it turned out. Not only was Dracula custodian to some of the hottest young stars of the day, some old veterans and awe-inspiring special effects; it grossed an impressive $215 million ($82 million domestically plus $133 million internationally) on a $40 million budget. Dracula introduced the world to, among other things, Coppola’s love for Italian gothic pulp, Keanu Reeves’ shaky English accent and Monica Belucci’s milky-white breasts.

While the nineties were a barren wasteland to many subgenres in horror the vampire movie thrived, above and below the mainstream. The decade saw the release of the high-profile Ann Rice adaptation Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) as well as Robert Rodriguez’ genre-hybrid From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) took a more comedic approach while smaller productions as Cronos (1993) from Guillermo Del Toro and The Addiction (1995) from Abel Ferrara put interesting new twists on the age-old lore. The old vampire conventions were lampshaded in parodies as Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Vampirella (1996) just as much as Blade (1998) missed the impending DC Comics and Marvel superhero craze (one that hasn’t subsided since) by just a few years and have been largely forgotten. Roger Corman stood at the cradle of said decade’s gothic horror revival with Frankenstein Unbound (1990). However it was Dracula - Francis Ford Coppola’s big-budget, mostly faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel – that ushered in the vampire horror revival in 1992. While horror is it’s genre of choice Dracula really wants to be a sprawling, timeless romance instead….

Francis Ford Coppola needs no introduction. He got his start with Roger Corman and in the seventies left his indelible mark on worldwide cinema with the likes of Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972) and The Great Gatsby (1974). Coppola commandeered budgets and possessed industry clout like no other. His Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979) – plagued by disaster and well-documented production woes - and the box office bomb One from the Heart (1981) changed all that. Coppola was bankrupt and forced to sell his American Zoetrope Studio in 1983. He would spent the next decade working on smaller projects to pay off the debts. The ill-fated The Godfather Part III (1990) had been lucrative enough but he was in dire need of a bankable property to re-establish himself as a reliable director in the face of the Hollywood bigwigs. What better way to do that than to re-imagine the classic tale of Romanian folk hero Dracula as a gothic romance the way only an Italian could? Dracula was the scion of the vampire horror films from Renato Polselli and Luigi Batzella as well as the atmospheric potboilers from Spanish directors as Amando de Ossorio, León Klimovsky, and Paul Naschy. Coppola delivers a sumptuous designed, blood-drenched gothic horror tour de force redolent of the best vampire films of the sixties and seventies. Dracula overflows with all the pomp, decolettage and religious hysteria you’d expect from an Italian-American director. Apparently quite a few people were surprised that a respectable filmmaker as Francis Ford Coppola would lower himself to a big budget iteration of a classic bloodsoaked Meditterranean / Filipino vampire movie. Lest we forget, Coppola debuted with the Corman produced proto-slasher Dementia 13 (1963) almost thirty years earlier.

The Universal Horrors of the thirties had inspired Hammer Film Productions from Great Britain to update them for the fifties and sixties. Hammer Film in turn led to a veritable gothic horror cotton industry in Mediterranean Europe and Latin/South America with the Italian, Spanish, Méxican, Filipino, and Argentine producing a spate of imitations for the local – and international market and even spawning a few sub-classics in the process. With the dawning of the eighties the gothic horror went all but extinct as the American slasher horror craze (which truly was pioneered in Germany and Italy some two decades prior with the parallell genres of the krimi and the giallo, respectively) and gritty action came to dominate the multiplexes. The following decade saw the genre turned into a pariah of sorts as horror turned into thrillers and scares were replaced by self-reflective witticisms and slapstick – or situational humor. In that hostile environment Dracula – the convergence of several decades worth of international vampire lore – was released. The last hurrah of the big-budget American gothic came with enough blood, breasts, and religious iconography to satiate even the most ravenous fans of Latin/South American - and European horror. At times Dracula almost deigns to collapse under the weight of its own pompousness. Never before, or since, has Hollywood embraced the exploitation film ethos so unabashedly.

1462. Constantinople has fallen. Voivode of Wallachia Vlad Drăculea (Gary Oldman), member of the Order Of the Dragon, returns home victorious from the Night Attack at Târgovişte. He discovers that his love Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) has flung herself into the chasm after receiving a false writ from the forces of Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire that he died in battle. The head priest (Anthony Hopkins) informs Drăculea that Elisabeta has eternally condemned her immortal soul by committing suicide. Enraged, the Kaziklu Bey desecrates the chapel, renounces his faith in God and declares that he will avenge the death of his beloved. Drăculea drinks the blood from the desecrated chapel’s stone cross and becomes a vampire. Four centuries later, in 1897, in late Victorian Age London, newly-qualified solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is given an important assignment by his chief employer Mr. Hawkins (Jay Robinson). Harker is to travel to the land beyond the great vast forest, Transylvania, to attend to matters relating a number of real-estate acquisitions that his colleague R. M. Renfield (Tom Waits) – now rendered a babbling, bug-eating madman sequestered away within the walls of Carfax Asylum for the Insane - was unable to finalize before succumbing to insanity.

After an arduous journey by train through the grim mountains and haunted forests on the borders of Hungary, Moldavia and Bukovina Jonathan is picked up by an armor-bound spectral coachman who brings him to the imposing castle of eccentric and decrepit nobleman Count Drăculea (Gary Oldman) in Carpathia. Having per chance glanced at a photograph of Harker’s fiancée Wilhelmina Murray (Winona Ryder), who he believes to be a reincarnation of his Elisabeta, the Count insists Harker stay with him for a month to finalize the necessary administration for his estate acquisitions in England. Soon enough Jonathan realizes that he is in fact the Count’s prisoner and sees no other option but to indulge the Count’s requests to preserve his own hide. One night he is seduced and nearly ravaged by the Three Sisters (Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, and Florina Kendrick), the Brides Of Dracula, but manages to escape within an inch of his life. Partially exsanguinated by the Brides, Jonathan is able drag himself to a convent in Budapest where the nuns in Christian charity nurse him back to health.

Meanwhile in London Mina has been staying with her debutante friend and lady-in-waiting Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) over at the Hillingham estate in Whitby. While Harker is on assignment in Transylvania Mina makes her acquaintance with a suave young East-European prince (Gary Oldman) who insists that they have met before. Mina eventually falls for the prince’s considerable charms and two engage in a passionate illicit affair. While Mina does not recall her past life as Elisabeta, her blood does. At a high society ball Lucy is courted by three different men: the Texan Quincey P. Morris (Billy Campbell, as Bill Campbell), the clumsy but highly intelligent proprietor of Carfax Asylum Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant), and Sir Arthur Holmwood, Esq. (Cary Elwes). That night Lucy is bitten by a wolfen creature and falls into an inexplicable maladie that Seward finds impossible to diagnose. In his desperation he summons his aging mentor Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins). Mina, having finally heard from her ailing Jonathan, travels to the distant Romania to marry her betrothed. Enflamed Drăculea transforms Lucy into one of his undead minions necessitating Van Helsing and her three former suitors to stake, behead, and incinerate her remains.

Harker, now rapidly aged and despondent from his Transylvanian ordeal, along with Van Helsing and the three men agree to hunt Drăculea down. As Mina becomes increasingly corrupted by the Count’s evil the men learn that the fiend is traveling back to ancient Romania. The hunting party travels in haste to Varna, Bulgaria where the Count reads Mina’s mind and manages to evade them. The party splits up in Galatz, Romania with Mina and Van Helsing traveling to the Count’s castle near the Borgo Pass. Once more does the party face the Three Sisters but it is Jonathan who mortally wounds Drăculea in the fracas by slitting his throat. In the same chapel where he renounced his faith centuries ago Mina confesses her eternal love for the Count. As the Count regains his faith Mina lifts his curse of immortality and bloodlust by driving a stake through his heart and beheading him. At long last the Count is reunited with his beloved Elisabeta as a fresco depicts their two souls ascending to the Heavens.

What a cast was Francis Ford Coppola able to assemble for his first (and, so far, only) foray into horror since the early sixties. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Monica Belucci, Tom Waits, and… Tina Cote? Okay, so maybe Tina Cote wasn’t exactly a star at any point and her role was merely that of an uncredited extra but there are far worse places to start. Cote regrettably would end up making a living in Albert Pyun productions which was a hell not unlike the crazy, mixed up worlds of Andy Sidaris, Rene Perez, or… god forbid, the Neils, Johnson and Breen. Reeves’ star was on the rise after Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), Point Break (1991) and My Own Private Idaho (1991). Ryder had a few classics to her name in the form of Beetlejuice (1988), the teen comedy Heathers (1988), the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire! (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Mermaids (1990).

In 1991 Gary Oldman even made the pulse of redblooded hetero men race whereas Anthony Hopkins evinced that even a respectable serious actor can appreciate some old-fashioned pulp. Ginger seductress Sadie Frost had appeared in music videos from Spandau Ballet and Simply Red in the early-to-mid eighties and Dracula was her first big Hollywood role. And then there’s marvelous Monica Belucci. Coppola clearly considered himself an American first and an Italian second as in a post-Miranda (1985), Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987), Top Model (1988) and Paprika (1991) world perhaps Serena Grandi, Luciana Ottaviani, Pamela Prati and Debora Caprioglio would have been more logical choices in the wordless, mostly clothing-free, parts as the sensuous Brides. Arguably la Monica was chosen for her acting chops rather than her delectable figure. Belucci was an up-and-coming star, no doubt, and - like Stefania Sandrelli, Donatella Damiani and Claudia Koll before and Maria Grazia Cucinotta after - she too oozes sex from her every pore.

If anything, Dracula is a love letter to primitivism as Coppola staunchly insisted on the usage of in-camera practical effects. Dracula leaned heavily on foamlatex appliances that were revolutionizing monster make-up at that time, and some old-fashioned visual trickery and movie magic (miniature models, forced perspective, stationary matting, conventional animation, et al) to realize his grand vision. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka was ordered to make the wardrobe Oriental which she, understandably, interpreted as meaning East Asian and not Byzantine. Where else are you going to see an ancient, pallid, parchment-skinned Dracula in a red silk kimono with a train as long as any bridal dress and a hairstyle resembling that of an Edo courtesan complete with two-feet Manchu pigtail? Where else are you going to see castle Dracula in the shape of a man sitting on a throne and the man himself desecrating a lascivious, partially disrobed, maiden in wolven form with all the lust and vigor out of a Paul Naschy El Hombre Lobo episode?

Mina and Lucy are giggly ditzes that secretly read erotic literature and their experiments with lesbianism recall the best of Jean Rollin. The Brides are dressed in veils closer to the Arabian Nights or a peplum than anything else. Where rapid aging is nothing but a scant few hairs strategically painted grey (if it worked for Jess Franco, it’s good enough for Coppola). Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is – in tradition of Naschy’s Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) and The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) - both the villain and the romanic hero. For someone as avowedly Catholic as Coppola Dracula is rife with blasphemy and heresy – or at least as much as Hollywood would allow. It might not be Don't Deliver Us From Evil (1971) or Alucarda (1977) but it damn well pushes the envelope as far as it can. The ominous and lovingly creaky score from Wojciech Kilar – he of the Polish fantasy horror Lokis, the Manuscript of Professor Wittembach (1970) - is just as pompous as it is portentous. Blood flows freely, beheadings are many and often the baring of boobs is left to supporting players. This is Hollywood, after all. Frost and Belucci take off their tops and Ryder staunchly remains in hers.

The central love triangle and gothic romance is, while true to the source novel, something straight out of The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962). Dracula is Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) or The Dracula Saga (1973) on a mega-million budget. It’s everything that The Living Corpse (1962) wished and wanted to be. As a genre piece Dracula is far closer to lovable Mexican kitsch as Blood Of the Vampires (1966) than it is to Argentinian sleaze as Blood Of the Virgins (1967) – and that tells you everything you really need to know. Considering that this was written by James V. Hart, or he of Hook (1991) and the cheerleader comedy Gimme an 'F' (1984), this could have been worse. At any rate, this would have been a perfect storm and creative opportunity to drag once-and-future queen of Italian exploitation cinema Edwige Fenech out of retirement for a prominent guestrole or extended cameo. Instead it would take another decade and a non-Italian director (the Mexican Robert Rodriguez) to do such with Hostel II (2002). Dracula is tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s early days in exploitation. In retrospect it’s unfortunate that Coppola never got the chance to reimagine his Dementia 13 (1963) on a massive budget as a tribute to the Italian giallo. Dracula did not usher in a new era of gothic horror but proved that it was well and truly dead. If anything it offered ample evidence that unlike the ravening undead the expiration date of the subgenre was reached – and that the coffin was firmly nailed shut.