Dracula Sucks (1978) is one of the most famous films from the golden age of porn. Filmmaker Philip Marshak envisioned a Dracula epic that was true to the aesthetic sensibilities of the old Universal Monster pictures and cast the biggest names in the porn industry to realize it. Dracula Sucks isn’t the kind of bland porn parody that is so prevalent today. Marshak takes the material of Bram Stoker’s novel and renders all of the sexual subtext as literal text; opening up the novel to become a film that is as much a meditation on the nature of desire as it is a loving homage to a bygone era in the horror movie genre.
Rather than taking place across Europe, Dracula Sucks is set at an isolated sanitarium for the insane. Sometime in the late thirties Renfield (Richard Bulik) arrives at Dr. Seward’s (John Leslie) sanitarium. Unknown too Seward, Renfield is an agent of Dracula (Jamie Gillis) who has been sent to make preparations for the vampire’s arrival. Dracula has come for the virgin Mina (Annette Haven) and will stop at nothing to possess her. However, Seward’s mentor Van Helsing (Reggie Nalder) has also just arrived and may be the only man who can stop the vampire.
In Marshak’s hands the sanitarium becomes an eerie, castle-like structure. Dracula Sucks is bathed in cold moon light, cobwebs, melting candles, and long ominous shadows. Though the film leans towards pastiche at times it still takes itself seriously most of the time. The production design is worthy of a classic Tod Browning film and it clearly aids the performers in giving more to their scenes than just their bodies. Of course the pacing is uneven since the film has to stop for various sex scenes but even these are made more interesting by the juxtaposition between the sounds of a spooky old radio program and the images of human bodies locked in intercourse.
At times these aesthetic combinations become oddly affecting. In the scene where Annette Haven, Paul Thomas and David Lee Bynum sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” around a piano and Marshak cuts to fellatio the saccharine quality of the song imbues the images of oral sex with an emotional quality uncommon for adult films. Likewise, in the final moments of the film where Mina traps Dracula till sunrise by having sex with him the piano score lends Mina’s sacrifice of virginity and mortal soul a true sense of tragedy that preserves perfectly the intent of Stoker’s novel.
Of course Dracula Sucks isn’t an entirely serious affair. With the exception of Annette Haven all of the performances fall back on campy iterations of established archetypes. Not to mention that everyone’s hair is totally at odds with their period accurate wardrobe. And there are even those moments that are intentionally funny like Bulik’s quips or any of the scenes with John Holmes. These moments of levity keep Dracula Sucks from becoming too self-serious. The thing that Dracula Sucks does best is to balance Marshak’s sincere desire to make a serious Dracula film with the inherently comic nature of an American adult film.