Saturday Frights: Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned (1980)


Hey you creeps, remember that time Dracula ate a hamburger while fraternizing with Satan who may I add showed a marked propensity to not wear pants? What? No, I’m not insane! Strap on your disco shoes and sharpen up your neon fangs ‘cuz we are headin’ back to the Satanic Seventies with tonight’s feature, Dracula Sovereign of the Damned!

Thirsty for more info o’ demented Drac fans? Well, you see back in the 70’s Marvel Comics had a hit book on their hands with the masterfully macabre magazine The Tomb of Dracula that ran for 70 issues from 1972 to 1979. And while a feature film or television show was never produced here in the States, Japan more than ably picked up the slack. Released in 1980 for Japanese television by Toei, Dracula Sovereign of Darkness (or Yami no Tei?: Ky?ketsuki ) boiled down the essence of the series into a 90 minute animated feature (although a lot of elements from the comic were dropped including everyone’s favorite streetwise slayer Blade). The film was dubbed into English in 1983 by Harmony Gold (who released Robotech as well), and was played sporadically on cable TV.

But tonight you are in luck, as my boss, Violent Vic Sage has given me permission to rock your socks off with this long forgotten gem! So, allow Phisbo3ns to punch your ticket, Doug McCoy to sell you some treats (although those nachos are clearly a trick), and Claymation Werewolf to take you to your final resting plac…err I mean seat as we begin tonight’s frightful feature!

Burger King Universal Monster Figures

We’ve all gotten some great premiums in Happy Meals and other fast food kids’ dinners. Definitely in the running for the greatest premiums of all time, though, are the Burger King Universal Monster action figures.

Burger King was giving these gems away in 1997. They were 3.75 inches high (the proper height of an action figure, as we all know), had those Star Wars holes in the feet so they could be stood on those Star Wars pegs, had articulated heads and limbs, and came with little settings. The Wolf Man had a cellar he rose out of, Dracula a coffin, and Frankenstein’s Monster a lab table. I don’t know what set the Creature came with, but I doubt it was a lagoon.

These figures are really great, especially considering they were give-away toys, and you can still get them on Ebay, even unopened, fairly cheaply today.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Though he had shown hallucinatory flourishes in such films as “Apocalypse Now”, “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish”, director Francis Ford Coppola didn’t unleash his full psychedelic storytelling prowess until he attacked the tale of Dracula in 1992. Utilizing a broad range of visual techniques, Coppola delivered a lusty, feverish dream of a film that adhered much more closely to the original novel by Bram Stoker. Coppola’s adaptation was released 5 years shy of the novel’s 100 year anniversary in 1997 but special attention was paid to replicating customs and costumes of the late 1800’s, along with cultural curiosities such as phantasmagoria shadow plays that were precursors motion picture theaters. Gary Oldman heads a brilliant cast including Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves and Tom Waits. Oldman’s portrayal of the ancient yet eternally youthful Vlad Dracul is compelling and highly nuanced. Here Dracula is a creature forged by destiny and circumstance into something that is tormented, filled with rage, and above all, cursed by God himslef. From the bloody fields of battle where Vlad dispatches his foes in wolfish armor to the deserted castle where he drifts thought the halls like a living undead specter in silk robes, Dracula’s personal journey is captured like never before by one of cinema’s most acclaimed and accomplished directors.

Retro Gaming with 8-Bit Dracula

Even back at the dawn of the home gaming, some titles dared to scare.  Or, at least tried to scare.  And what better source material than the Lord of the Vampires, Count Dracula?  But, given the limitations of early technology, was Dracula all that fearsome?  Let’s explore some of the pioneering titles.

Dracula by Imagic for Intellivision

Released in 1982, Dracula offered some of the best graphics ever seen on the Intellivision system.  You play as Dracula, biting terrified citizens and drinking their blood or turning them into zombies.  You not only get to rise from a cool coffin, but you also have the ability to turn into a bat.  On the downside, you’re hounded by stake throwing policemen, wolves, and vultures.  What’s worse, when you’re biting someone, you resemble a muppet with a gaping mouth – not dissimilar to Sesame Street’s The Count.

Fun Factor:  3 stakes out of 5

Fear Factor:  1 stake out of 5

Transylvania by Penguin Software for Apple IIe

Also released in 1982, Transylvania was a text and graphics adventure that placed you in the role of an intrepid explorer trying to save a princess.  Although the vampire you’re battling in this game doesn’t introduce himself as Dracula, I think given the location and other similarities, we can safely assume it’s him.  This game has some random elements that significantly ramp up the tension.  However, you’re much more likely to be attacked by a werewolf than Dracula himself.  (This game has recently been re-introduced on the iPhone with a handy text wheel for common words – making it surprisingly playable.)

Fun Factor:  4 stakes out of 5

Fear Factor:  3 stakes out of 5

King’s Quest II by Sierra On-Line for PC

Released in 1985, the King’s Quest games offered some of the most impressive graphics of the era.  In this game, you must travel to Dracula’s castle, located in the midst of a poisonous swamp.  Once there, you must kill Dracula, but he doesn’t seem to hold a grudge since he later attends your wedding.  Without the proper tools, Dracula is impossible to beat – but if you have the right items, staking him is a snap.

Fun Factor:  5 stakes out of 5

Fear Factor:  2 stakes out of 5

In conclusion – early games offered some fun opportunities to either be or battle Count Dracula.  But, don’t look to them to scare your socks off.

Castle Films Dracula Super 8 reel

The Projectionist‘s presence on the site reminded me of a time when, before the glory days of VHS, our film projector was the bringer of dreams in our house.
I’d gleefully set up a make-shift theater by taking out and rolling down the projection screen (or just use the fridge door) and spool one of my dozen Super 8 reels for some selective entertainment, in a darkened room.

A favorite one was this eight minute edit of Universal’s 1931 Dracula, which was held in a blood red plastic reel.

It was my first encounter with Stoker’s story of the prince of darkness.
I’d seen The Count teach numerics on Sesame Street, but Bela Lugosi was the real deal.

Here’s a digitized version uploaded on YouTube, thanks to 2reelers.

This video is from a sound edition, but turn down the speakers and, instead, imagine the whirring motor and clicking reels filling the air, as you seem to hear imperceptible screams from the victims and delight in that hint of madness.

Then you get the idea.