Legend has it that in 1972 Ringo Starr called up his friend Harry Nilsson and pitched him the idea of doing a musical film that spoofed the Universal Monster movies of the thirties and forties. The story goes that Nilsson agreed almost immediately to Starr’s proposal and then inquired of his friend if the phone call had been prompted by the album cover for Nilsson’s Son Of Schmilsson. Ringo Starr didn’t know what the cover to Son Of Schmilsson looked like, but upon hearing Nilsson’s description took it as kismet. Two years later Apple films released Son Of Dracula (1974).
Son Of Dracula is one of those cult films that has so much going for it in terms of marketability yet remains available only as a bootleg. Nilsson (as Draculas) and Starr (as Merlin) are joined by horror luminaries Dennis Price (as Van Helsing) and Freddie Jones (as the Baron). Add to that the fact that Son Of Dracula was directed by Hammer Horror veteran Freddie Francis and one would assume that Son Of Dracula would have maximum appeal. Doesn’t everyone love The Beatles and Hammer Films after all?
Son Of Dracula has all of the wit and depth of dramatic performance as The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967) television special. Francis directs the hell out of Son Of Dracula visually whilst Price and Jones invest the lackluster script with enough campy gravitas to sustain eight Jess Franco flicks. The problem is that Nilsson can’t act and Starr appears out of his mind on drugs. This is a booze fueled passion project where the two leads seem more interested in having a good time than in making a watchable picture.
Thus lies the charm of Son Of Dracula. This is a “so bad, it’s good” movie. Son Of Dracula is completely off the wall in the same way as Geek Maggot Bingo (1983). If one watches a movie like Son Of Dracula one is essentially experiencing ninety minutes of the greatest, wildest party ever thrown. Nilsson’s musical numbers, cobbled primarily from his previous two albums, are islands of sanity in an ocean of ludicrous plot developments executed by a cast unsure of the film’s tonal aims.
There are three main reasons everyone has to see this movie. The first is to see Nilsson, Peter Frampton, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Klaus Voorman and Leon Russell all wasted and jamming together. The second is to savor Freddie Francis’ pastiche of old horror movies and his obvious relish for atmospheric production design. The final reason to see Son Of Dracula is out of appreciation for a moment in time where Harry Nilsson doing a Dracula spoof was the kind of project that could get the green light in the first place.