Dracula: Dead and Loving It is an embarrassingly poor end to Mel Brooks’ legendary directing career.
No matter how you slice it, Dracula: Dead and Loving It is an embarrassingly poor end to Mel Brooks’ legendary directing career. Whether viewed as a spoof of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its myriad film adaptations or as an attempt to recapture the magic of Brooks’ masterpiece Young Frankenstein, this bloodsucker is simply a dud. Slight, unfunny and strangely slow, only the hardest of hardcore Brooks fans will find it worth watching.
The film primarily mimics the 1931, Tod Browning-directed and Bela Lugosi-starring version of Dracula, which itself was adapted from the 1924 Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston stage version. Which, of course, was based on Stoker’s book. So, the potency of the gothic original was already much-diluted and over-told by the time Brooks got his hands on it. And much like his preceding directorial effort, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Brooks adheres too closely to his chosen source material, forgetting to parody in the process.
In this version, Dracula (the great Leslie Nielsen, looking a bit bored) moves to London, accompanied by his stalwart assistant, Renfield (Peter MacNicol from TV’s “Ally McBeal”). Dracula starts dining on the locals and eventually attracts the attention of Van Helsing (Brooks), who sets out to take the ancient vampire down. No one embarrasses themselves, but no one stands out, either – except perhaps MacNicol, who throws himself into his bug-eating part with gusto.
The precipitous drop in the quality of Brooks’ films in the ‘90s is hard to explain. The emergence of gloriously dumb films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber and Wayne’s World was happening, but unlike these ‘90s comedies, Dracula: Dead and Loving It doesn’t try to milk laughs out of stupid situations. Its major problem is a lack of ingenuity, not intelligence. Between its strangely slow pace and lack of surprises, the movie does very little to justify its existence.
As they are both based on gothic novels, or at least based on films based on gothic novels, Dracula: Dead and Loving It begs comparison to Young Frankenstein. However, while that film had its own distinct visuals, crisp pacing, surprising performances and unique hair, make-up and special effects, Brooks’ career-closer is woefully generic in its presentation–and in its jokes. The real reason so many of Brooks’ best films work is their inventive humor, at once original yet gently mocking its inspiration and even the audience that enjoys that inspiration. This vampire doesn’t mock, settling instead for a slapstick version of its source material.
This isn’t a case of the industry catching up with an auteur. Dracula: Dead and Loving It simply doesn’t measure up to Brooks’ previous work. It is hard not to dream of what the director could have done with richer subject matter or with a cannier approach to this subject. Also not helping matters is what a bitter taste this film leaves because Brooks’ hasn’t directed anything else in the nearly 25 years since its release.
There are certainly worse films out there, but likely none worse on Mel Brooks’ small but illustrious directorial résumé. However, ending on this note also serves to show how difficult it is – even for the greats – to maintain such a high standard in one’s filmmaking. Brooks provided us with laughter and cheer for so long and even the clunkiest of endings to his directorial career cannot mess that up.