The Screaming Dead

Director: Jess Franco

France/Spain - 1972

   Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!


Once again, I found myself misguided by a video cover.

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 – Perhaps if I close my eyes no one will see me in this dreck...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.

So 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?

One 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.

Then, 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.

Anyway, 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 forEven after Divine Intervention, the film continued to suck 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.

Then – 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?

Anyway, 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.

Luckily, 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.

But 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 newsSolid proof that they were writing the script as they filmedletter she got on a daily basis. I mean, does the Wolfman even have a phone?

So 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.


Then, 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.

After 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"I'd give my left fang for some Metamucil!" world of the monsters.

The end.

There 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?   

Or perhaps more specifically, could someone explain:

What happened to the Baron?

Where the heck the Wolfman went?

Why did that woman who lived in Seward's attic do nothing but scream and annoy me?

But let’s be completely honest, if only for a moment: Who really cares?

Do yourself a favor. Skip it.  


-- Copyright © 2000 by J. Bannerman



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* Scott, of Stomp Tokyo fame, writes: 

"The character of Dr. John Seward is not strictly made up. In Stoker's
Dracula, Seward is one of the men courting Lucy, and the man who brings 
Van Helsing into the story. So constructing a Dracula sequel around him 
would not be out of the question."

Yeah, so I screwed up. I admit it when I'm wrong. Besides, reading is for nerds.