It may open with a Hammer-esque galloping horse and carriage but this Mel Brooks spoof has the whole Dracula oeuvre in its sights. From Lugosi to Coppola, Brooks and his co-writers leave no coffin unopened in the search for gags. A pity, then, that they found so few.
When Renfield (a wildly overacting Peter MacNicol) arrives at Castle Dracula to complete a property deal, he is very quickly transformed into the willing servant of Dracula (Leslie Neilsen) himself. Once in England, Dracula sets his sights on young Mina Seward (Amy Yasbeck) as his bride. Only Dr Seward (Harvey Korman), who runs the local asylum and Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) stand in the fiendish vampire’s way.
Bringing with him many of the cast of his previous spoof “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”, Brooks’ sure-footed direction and still sharp comic timing can’t do anything to resuscitate the desiccated corpse of a script. Oh, there are funny moment, sure, but not enough of them and it seems torn between spoofing the story of Dracula – which has been through so many cinematic incarnations (good and bad) by this point its almost immune to parody – and telling its own story, which would have freed it up to follow its own funny instincts.
Neilsen is dependably good value as the Count, his deadpan delivery and penchant for pratfalls put to decent use but his discount Drebin Dracula doesn’t have enough going on around him to make the most of his talents. Peter MacNicol is way too far over the top in his Dwight Frye homaging performance and time and again both master and servant are forced to hammer home the ‘jokes’ through clumsy dialogue. There’s something oddly charming about Harvey Korman’s Dr Seward though, heavily influenced by Nigel Bruce’s turn as Doctor Watson in the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films it would appear. Brooks’ Van Helsing fares a little better (it’s good to be the Director/ Producer/ Co-writer) and the scenes he’s in are markedly better and more tightly written than the others but the hallmark of the film seems to be if it’s funny once, it’ll be funny again and again and again, so a decent visual gag lampooning Gary Oldman’s absurd updo is amusing the first time and then not at all when it’s repeated.
The best gag of the whole film comes when Harker (Steven Weber) has to stake Lucy (Lysette Anthony in a lazy bit of casting), aided and abetted by director Brooks (who’s also in the scene) not telling Weber exactly what was about to happen. It’s touches like that which keep the film from being a total loss and there are enough intriguing sequences, such as the dancing in front of the mirror, that make you wonder what Brooks might have done had he ever tried his hand at directing directed a straight horror movie. As Brooks’ last film as Director and arguably his weakest (the argument being it might be “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”), it feels like he should have finished on a better comedy than this, because as far as spoof movies, you can stick a stake in this one, it’s done.