Beyond The Beautiful Hills: An Appreciation Of Dracula, The Dirty Old Man

Finally, somebody got it right.

Dracula is a perfunctory individual. Perhaps, he always has been. No matter how many times I’ve tried to finish Bram Stoker’s novel or attempted to survive any number of “classic” Dracula films, my sentiment remains. The guy just doesn’t have much to do. Any attempt at exploring his daily routine of nothingness can only beget more nothingness. It’s a vicious cycle. Dracula, The Boring, Undead Failure. Kind of sad.

On a related note, do you like big ones?

I don’t mean to be insensitive. It’s just that 1969′s Dracula, The Dirty Old Man makes me do and feel (and say) strange things. Which is quite fitting, as this film does and feels and says lots of strange things. As many times as I’ve watched it, I’ve never been able to pin down exactly why I watch it. Possibly, by the end of this exploration, a rationale will reveal itself. Like therapy. Possibly not. But as of right now, Dracula, The Dirty Old Man has made two things abundantly clear:

1. Dracula is no longer a boring, undead failure — he’s a Borscht Belt comedian.
2. Dracula likes big ones.

No wonder I never finished the novel.

Dracula, The Dirty Old Man is something that may happen in the middle of nowhere on a daily basis, but feels grossly foreign to anyone outside of that happening. It’s the film that every horny, monster-obsessed, 13-year-old-boy-with-the-inexplicable-prowess-of-a-used-car-salesman is dying to make after he sees Woody’s What’s Up Tiger Lily?. Terribly crafted. Probably improvised. Constantly dumbfounding. By the accepted laws of inside jokes, experiencing this movie should be as rewarding as trudging through Chantal Ankerman’s Je tu il elle. That is to say, not very rewarding at all. Yet, there’s a magic at work here, an age-old hex of People-Who-Seriously-Don’t-Care combined with the gift of debatable comedy. Dracula, The Dirty Old Man is a reckless, sleazy, and altogether mystifying inside joke that works — whether you’re in on it or not. Furthermore, Dracula has sex through his dress slacks. Twice.

“There, across the desert, is where I had my first experience…beyond the beautiful hills…I saw a panorama of beautiful hills…however, as beautiful as it may seem, death lurked behind those beautiful hills…and beautiful women. I don’t know which came first.”

With that bit of existential pantomime, the curtain rises on a nondescript landscape. A sloppy exotica quartet bashes away on a Hammond B3 organ. Suddenly, we find ourselves in Dracula’s poorly lit cave. He rises from a coffin. He talks to himself in a terrible Jewish accent, clears his throat repeatedly, and makes random puns and noises with his mouth. All post-dubbed. Skunk-wig included. Then, Drac transforms into a shockingly terrible bat-on-a-stick while moonlighting as a peeping tom outside of Mike’s naked girlfriend’s window. Who’s Mike?

Mike Waters. King of cool. Halfway between a pompadour’d Cesar Romero and Peter Sellers in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, Mike is a hot shot something-or-other who lands an assignment out at “Nelson’s Landing.” It seems that a certain Mr. Alucard wishes to purchase the property there. After exclaiming, “That’s an all-day trip!”, Mike concedes. And then it gets heavy.

Dracula greets Mike. Mike’s words (mostly) match his mouth. Dracula’s do not:

“I want for you to go out and get me, every night, a different girl. You like to do that for me? I’m gonna make you a jackalman. Irving! Irving Jackalman! I’ll call you that. You like that?”

Irving Jackalman! The most glorious no-budget, three-clawed, werewolf/hobo you’ve never asked to see! From here, the film’s most entertaining attributes are revealed: 1. Mike’s hilarious transformations into Irv, and 2. Dracula’s absurdist molestations of captured nude ladies (“I’m gonna go down and kissy-poo you on the good place!”). There’s also some minor gore, a trip to a drive-in, and incidental bystanders voiced by boozed-up cartoon characters. Then, Irving dry-rapes a suburban housewife to death. Midway through the deed, the woman asks, “Ooo, are you engaged or anything?” She might be dubbed by the same man who provided voices for both Dracula and Irving. After the deed, Irving rises, walks through the room, and surveys the scene. The camera holds. And it’s at this precise moment that I feel as if I’m witnessing a hoax snuff film shot in my grandparents’ living room by Henny Youngman.

If you’ve never spent time with actual human beings, this film might come off as contemptible. But let’s face it — if we can’t laugh with the defective sexuality of something like Dracula, The Dirty Old Man, then what hope is there? The point isn’t to justify or defend. It’s to appreciate.

From the closing scene of Mike and his girlfriend fucking on a filthy cave mattress to the post-dubber laughing at his own post-dubbed jokes, it’s clear that writer-director-producer William Edwards (who recycled Irv’s costume for The Mummy And The Curse Of The Jackal) had absolutely zero regard for doing it “right”. And that’s a wonderful thing. As the story goes, the film’s original soundtrack was damaged, forcing Edwards to compensate for the loss. It’s a tale which bears resemblance to the origins of Doris Wishman’s A Night To Dismember over a decade later — technical tragedy prompts inadvertent trash triumph. But the great thing about this film is that it’s not notable for any sort of structural insanity or presumed exploitation. It’s notable because we get to spend 70 minutes with a man who sat in a room and recorded impromptu jokes on a shitty tape deck while Dracula and a were-jackal touched some boobs.

Still, the novelty can only go so far. What lingers is the film’s sense of humor, which just so happens to align perfectly with my own. I watch, I laugh. Dracula has a laughing fit for 30 seconds while peering into the camera and it knocks me on my ass just as hard as Stan Laurel’s similar trick in Way Out West. That’s not to say that a film titled Dracula, The Dirty Old Man in any way approaches the comforting warmth of Laurel & Hardy’s two-reelers. But laughs are laughs. We take them where we can get them, and life becomes that much more palatable as a result. Bingo. That’s it.

Dracula, The Dirty Old Man slays me. And, as I get older, I begin to understand why movies like this one permanently find their way into my yearly viewing cycle, while past personal favorites such as Frank Perry’s Last Summer slowly fade away. Emotions come and go. Relationships evolve. Some things work out, while others don’t. But through it all, we mature, and fine-tune exactly what it is that’s required from our leisurely pursuits. We don’t need them to prove anything to ourselves, or anyone else. But, we do need them to provide us with a place of solace, somewhere that only we, and we alone, can go to smile and alleviate the pressures of the world. For me, that place can rarely be sought in emotionally cathartic or overtly intellectual works. However, it can be found when Irving Jackalman drops a Coke and blames it on his diarrhea. Does this proclamation make me any less of Thinking Man’s Man?

Of course it does. That’s why I love this movie.