Director: Jess Franco
France/Spain - 1972
Once again, I found myself misguided by a video
The box to The
Screaming Dead promised a battle royal between Count Dracula, the
Frankenstein Monster and the Wolfman. How could that not be, at the very
least, entertaining? I hadn't seen such a star-studded creature line-up
since Orgy of the Dead! But
lacking any semblance of shame, I have no problem regurgitating the cliché:
One can’t judge a book (or
video, for that matter) by its cover. Unless, of course, that cover
depicts the “Full Moon” logo – a
tell-tale sign of inevitable suckiness. Oh, and anything starring a rapper
(i.e. “Big Daddy” Kane) is usually a pretty strong clue as well.
Unfortunately, the box to The Screaming Dead didn't offer up any of the aforementioned
evidence. Once again, I had to learn the hard way.
it pretty much boils down to this: Baron Frankenstein wants to take over
the world. For one thing, I didn't know Frankenstein was evil; I've always
understood him to be a more tragic character - a misguided scientist. One
whose epitaph might read: "He tampered in God's domain." But I
digress, for the sake of argument, Frankenstein is a heel. Now, being said
bad guy, he naturally wants to take over the world, and has decided that
the best way to accomplish this less-than-novel idea is to team up with
Count Dracula and his legion of vampires (a legion, in this case, being
two or three) and become an evil conglomerate. With both Dracula and the
Frankenstein Monster in the Baron’s corner, who could possibly stop him?
problem, Dracula is dead. Wait, I mean Dracula has always been dead –
excuse me, undead - but now he's really
dead, having been recently staked by Dr. Jonathan Seward. (Not Dr. Van
Helsing, mind you. My guess is that the filmmakers ran out of money after
dishing out the cash for the use of the names Dracula and Frankenstein.
Penniless, they could no longer afford Van Helsing, so they made this guy
up.)* All of this wonderful exposition is explained through scrolling text
ala Star Wars, derived from
deep within the Baron’s diary.
through the *magic* of even more scrolling text, the Baron explains to us
that rebels forces have banded together against the evil Empire...wait,
that's not right...oh, he explains that the only way to revive Dracula is
with blood. But not just any old
blood, it has to be the blood of a girl.
But not just any old girl, it has to be the blood of a young girl. Given the date of this piece, I have my doubts about an
HIV scare way back then, but once again, I digress.
the Baron sends his Monster to a local bar where he hijacks a very popular
exotic dancer. But the kidnapping, unfortunately, is delayed until after
we, the viewers, have been subjected to her full dance routine, during
which I came to the conclusion that the poor patrons of this village are
truly starved for
entertainment. Not only is she not much to look at, but her dance moves
just aren't that funky. She's no Michael Flatley, but the desperate crowd
eats it up nonetheless. So after a drawn-out number, the Monster finally
bursts into the girl’s dressing room, she conveniently faints, and he
hauls her unconscious carcass off to the castle.
– using the dancer’s blood, of course – the Baron attempts to revive
the Count, which brings me to the despicable aspect of The Screaming Dead – unnecessary bat cruelty. I'm not a member of
PETA or anything, but they really whoop on some bats here. In the revival
scene, they put the Count (as a bat) in a jar. They then feed an IV into
said jar and begin to fill the receptacle with blood. Watching this poor
bat flail around in a jar filling up with blood was quite unnecessary. And
then there's the matter of making the vampire bats “fly.” In some
scenes, they achieve this "effect" with ludicrous (and I do mean
ludicrous) rubber bats. In others, they have real bats attached to
an unseen device where they are basically splayed out to their limits by
the tips of their wings, then trick-shot with the camera to form the
illusion of flight. As far as illusions go, David Copperfield this ain’t.
Nobody likes bats - save perhaps Goths - but do we really need to torture
them for our bad movie?
after Dracula's revival, he and the Baron proceed to wreak havoc upon a
nearby little village. (And either the name of the village escapes me,
they didn't mention it, or like the effects of a car crash, my memory just
chooses to block it out.) After the Count abducts an annoying woman who
lives in Dr. Seward's attic (just who
was that woman anyway?), our hero (Seward, that is) then takes it upon
himself to head back to the castle for a second round with the evil
vampire. But immediately upon Seward’s triumphant arrival to his lair,
our hero is immediately pimp-slapped unconscious by the Frankenstein
Monster and left in the woods for dead.
Seward's body is soon found by some gypsies and brought to Ahmir (A-Meer?),
who, like Seward, is dedicated to ending Frankenstein and Dracula's evil
reign. After nursing the good doctor back to health, Ahmir explains how
they will collaborate their forces to rid the world of the evil which
plagues them; and they will do so through the use of some obnoxious gypsy
chants - and if that doesn't work, she’ll employ the help of her buddy,
the Wolfman. How Ahmir ever got around to actually befriending the Wolfman
is beyond me.
before they have a chance to execute their master plan, Ahmir is killed by
the vampires. But not to worry, she says on her deathbed, for the Wolfman
will come that very night to vanquish these ne’er-do-wells. To be quite
honest with you, how she knows all this baffles me. My guess is that there
must have been some kind of Wolfman newsletter
she got on a daily basis. I mean, does the Wolfman even have a phone?
now, approximately ten minutes before the film is about to end, the
Wolfman makes his first appearance. Unsurprisingly, the Wolfman turns out
to be a major disappointment. Wolfie's make-up consists of a little
pasted-on hair and mud (?!). And when the muddy Wolfman finally gets
around to tangling with the Frankenstein Monster, the confrontation takes
place in a shadowy setting where it's hard to make out much of the
"action." I vaguely recall seeing the Monster powerbombing
Mud-Wolf once, but overall, the fight – not unlike the film - is nothing
spectacular. And it doesn't even get resolved, for the Monster eventually
saunters off and the Wolfman unexplainably disappears.
for no reason at all, the vampires suddenly turn on Baron Frankenstein.
Why not? The story is such a mess up to this point, why not just throw any
semblance of logic right out the window? Naturally, this mutiny ticks the
Baron off, so he heads down to the Count's labyrinth and drives a stake through him – all the while, the Count just lies in his coffin with the
same expression plastered on his face that he’s had throughout the
course of the film. This is no exaggeration - not only does Dracula not
have any dialogue, but his countenance never once seems to fluctuate. He
maintains a kind of menacing/constipated look.
disposing of the Count, the Baron then packs his Monster into its
convenient carrying case – suddenly, through some unexplained mishap,
the Monster is unexplainably electrocuted and dies. Summing up the
casualty list, we have one dead Dracula, one dead Frankenstein Monster,
one dead Ahmir, and one MIA Wolfman. Conveniently enough, after all the
creatures are gone, who should show up with his band of vigilantes? Dr.
Seward! Too late moron, the bad guys disposed of themselves. The idiot
then takes all the credit for ridding the
world of the monsters.
is a lot of unexplained, mysterious phenomena in the world. The Bermuda
Triangle. The Loch Ness Monster. Bigfoot. But perhaps the most mysterious
is the relatively large fanbase of director Jess Franco. Granted, I have
seen only a small portion of his work, but what I have been made privy to
really bites. Incoherent stories. Action and drama replaced with tedium
and ambiguity. A total disregard for extravagant dance numbers. Will
someone please explain Franco’s popularity?
perhaps more specifically, could someone explain:
happened to the Baron?
the heck the Wolfman went?
did that woman who lived in Seward's attic do nothing but scream and annoy
let’s be completely honest, if only for a moment: Who really cares?
yourself a favor. Skip it.
-- Copyright © 2000 by J. Bannerman
All the Franco you
can possibly stomach is conveniently found here: