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Of Love and Other Demons: ‘Blood for Dracula’ (Paul Morrissey, 1974)

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The squeaking drawl of “Wirgins” has made Udo Kier’s performance in Blood for Dracula iconic and enlivens the cultish power of Paul Morrissey and company. At the height of Andy Warhol’s cinema productions, Blood for Dracula has best stood the test of time as a campy and confrontational portrait of sexuality in the contemporary era. The film doesn’t cater to good taste and instead revels in contradictory and baffling ideals of purity. Tackling the cultural appreciation of virginity, the film is a howling and unsettling example of masculine sexual dominance.

The film’s opening sequence features an undeniably handsome Udo Kier making himself up. We are meant to understand that his body is deteriorating as Dracula, the most iconic of all vampires, is literally fading away. Building on the xenophobic fears of Bram Stoker’s novel, which presented the handsome and threatening Dracula as a threat to the purity of white protestant women, Morrissey renders his interpretation of the prince of darkness to a pitiful “wirgin” craving monster. This is not a simple matter of preference. If Udo Kier’s vampire consumes the blood of impure women, he finds his body turning against him. In outlandish Morrissey style, this mostly involves Kier bent over a toilet crudely vomiting blood.

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Blood for Dracula features exploitative and over the top sex scenes which complete the film’s cult status. As Mario, Joe Dallesandro is the idealized male presence who is sexualized as much — if not more — than the sexually hungry women. His patriarchal lead is a servant within the house and a crude portrait of male entitlement. Yet, never content with easy interpretations, he is also the film’s hero (sort of). Dallesandro is incredibly sexually aggressive and insistent, and when he finally realizes it is the only way to save the youngest daughter from becoming Dracula’s bride, he rapes her. The scene is disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. It is clear that Morrissey is playing with our conception of heroism and, in a way, posits Dracula as a far less sinister threat than the dispassionately handsome Mario. This rape puts into question questions about body and ownership, and Morrissey’s flippant style is troubling. It is difficult to parse through what is really being said about women’s authority over their own bodies, which is likely why many are quick to dismiss the film. Is rape, like our ideas about virginity, just not a big deal? It’s hard to parse whether this is what Morrissey is arguing or not, if he’s arguing anything at all.

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The film is confusing thematically, but I think that’s part of the point. As pulpy as it is, Blood of Dracula strongly confronts and challenges our ideas of purity and gender. Kier’s queerness, unlike many Hollywood interpretations of homosexual villains, is not further evidence of his otherness and monstrosity. Instead, his sexual and gender fluidity seem representative of a figure doomed by troublesome value ideals. The performance is one of the greatest takes on Dracula and demonstrates Kier as an actor who is far more nuanced than people give him credit for. He skirts both comedy and pathos within the same breath, and he’s as engaging in silence as he is with the poetically accented lines.

Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she is the former film editor of Sound on Sight and a freelance writer.

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