16 February 2009

DVD: "Dracula: Dead and Loving It"

Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Directed by Mel Brooks
Story by Rudy De Luca & Steve Haberman
Screenplay by Mel Brooks & Rudy De Luca & Steve Haberman
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Peter MacNicol, Steven Weber, Amy Yasbeck, Lysette Anthony, Harvey Korman and Mel Brooks
DVD Release Date: 29 June 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Comedic Sensuality and Gore)
List Price: $14.97

The Film
Despite being a Mel Brooks project where things are played for laughs, this is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel.  Several plot points, as explained in the commentary track, were taken from various cinematic versions of the story--some because they were iconic, great shots that they wanted to parody, but some because they lent themselves to a better story (surprise!).  Leslie Nielsen, of course, is a master of deadpan comedy and he is an inspired choice for the Count--and he can be genuinely menacing, as he is in the film's climax.  The real scene-stealer, though, is Peter MacNicol as Renfield.  He is absolutely delightful throughout the film.

Other than the film's original theatrical trailer, the only bonus feature is a commentary track.  It becomes obvious while listening that, while there are five people talking, they were not all recorded together.  The three screenwriters--Brooks, De Luca and Haberman--and two of the cast--Weber and Yasbeck--were recorded separately.  Not surprisingly, the writing trio offer far more insightful comments, such as the origins of certain scenes or shots, and random Dracula mythology trivia throughout.  Weber and Yasbeck are generally occupied in pedantic banter; she laughs at everything and borders on being obsessed with her own on-screen appearances, and he seems not to really remember anything other than frustrating director Brooks by laughing during while shooting.  If you can endure the actors, the writers have much to offer fans of the Dracula mythology.

The Recommendation
This is yet another film from the long list of those I wanted to see in its theatrical run but did not, for a variety of reasons.  At one point, the screenwriters discuss how much funnier this film gets with repeat viewings, and how kind time is to good movies once the memories of box office performance fade.  They're absolutely right about both points.  I chuckled at several things the first time through, and I found them much funnier the second time around, even buried under the commentary track.  (It helped that they frequently stopped commenting for several of the funnier moments of the film.)  This was another Half Price Books purchase, so I feel we've certainly gotten our money's worth.  It's not going to rank among Blazing Saddles or Spaceballs in Brooks's filmography and it won't displace Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula or Francis Ford Coppola's 1991 version among Stoker adaptations.  Still, it's a worthy entry in both lists, and fans of either should take at least 180 minutes and watch this twice.

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