It’s hard to believe, but at the end of the day, the most faithful version of Jonathan Harker came from the parody of the Dracula movies. Can you explain zat? I cannot explain zat. NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN ZAT!
But yeah. After watching two movies and a television series that portray Dracula as a sexy beast who just wants to be loved, I get to watch a movie that makes fun of that idea, and boy does that feel refreshing! Unfortunately, Dracula: Dead and Loving It doesn’t take the opportunity to also do justice to Mina’s character. But at this point, I will take whatever I can get.
Adaptation-wise, this one’s a unique entry because it’s an adaptation of Stoker’s novel but also an adaptation of the Dracula movies, in a way. Do parodies count as adaptations? Eh, I say they do. They’re certainly not original stories. They’re just a different kind of adaptation- taking the story and making changes to it that kind of examine and poke fun of it. Like A Very Potter Musical, this movie doesn’t come off as mean-spirited, which is good. It’s not as funny as Team Starkid’s parodies (and oh, how I would love to see Team Starkid do a parody of Dracula), but I enjoyed it.
It starts out following the same story beats as the 1931 film: Renfield goes to Transylvania to help Dracula move to Carfax Abbey instead of Jonathan. The villagers warn him not to go and he ignores them. He meets Dracula, who creeps him out, they go over the purchase, Dracula gets excited when his guest gets a paper cut, the Brides visit Renfield at night, etc.
There are references to the Coppola version too, namely, Dracula’s ridiculous wig and his attempts to turn Mina into his bride. Also, unlike the 1931 film, this movie draws out Lucy’s illness and includes the part of the plot where she dies, becomes a vampire, and gets staked. After that, the plot reverts back to the 1931 movie except for a new scene at a ball. But even the ball is just a version of the mirror scene on a bigger, funnier scale.
The climax happens in London, not Transylvania. Luckily, it’s a lot more dramatic than the Lugosi one, involving a battle between Dracula, Van Helsing, Jonathan, and Dr. Seward. And instead of fleeing every time Van Helsing holds up anything resembling garlic or a crucifix, Dracula actually fights back and almost wins! Seriously. How come the films that are trying to be dramatic and frightening let the heroes stomp all over him and the parody is the one that pits them against each other almost like equals? How?
NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN ZAT.
Although the movie pokes fun at Jonathan’s chastity, he’s nothing like the 1931 or 1992 versions of his character. Instead of challenging everything that Van Helsing says, he tells Dr. Seward that even if he’s not sure what he believes about vampires, he wants to watch over Lucy’s grave just in case the professor might be right. Dr. Seward becomes the one who questions everything (and he’s back to being Mina’s father). That’s actually more accurate to the book because Dr. Seward still had doubts after seeing Lucy disappear and reappear in her coffin.
I love the scene where Undead Lucy tries to seduce Jonathan in the graveyard. It’s funny its own, but after watching the episode in the TV series where Lucy successfully cheated with Jonathan, it became so much more beautiful to watch her fail miserably in the movie. She may be undead, but he’s “not un-engaged,” as he puts it. That’s right, Mr. Harker, you aren’t!
Mel Brooks is very entertaining as Prof. Van Helsing. He acts more like a parody of the movie versions of Van Helsing than the book version, since there’s nothing about him that comes exclusively from the book. He’s zany, like you’d expect from a parody, but he’s also kind-hearted and passionate about defeating Dracula.
Peter MacNichol does a very impressive impersonation of Dwight Frye’s Renfield. He has some funny scenes, i.e. trying to convince Dr. Seward that he doesn’t eat bugs as he’s eating them. But unfortunately (probably because it’s a parody) we don’t get to see Renfield’s cunning here, the way we did in the book and a bit in the 1931 film. Here, he’s just an “imbecile,” as Van Helsing puts it.
Leslie Nielsen would not be the person I’d imagine in the role of Dracula, but he does a great job. His facial expressions when things don’t go his way are hilarious and I like all of the jokes where his attempts to hypnotize people go wrong. He schemes to turn Mina and Lucy into vampires but also seems to genuinely enjoy the times when he socializes with regular people. He’s a nice exaggerated form of Dracula.
Sadly, there’s not much to say about Mina and Lucy. It’s a shame; Mel Brooks could have gone farther and poked fun at the differences between Mina in the movies and Mina in the books. He could’ve had Mina constantly suggest the right thing to do, only for the men to talk over her and then decide to try her suggestion. He could’ve shown her fighting back when Dracula kidnaps her and holding up just fine until the rest of the heroes showed up, to everyone’s shock (especially Dracula’s). He could’ve gone the Blazing Saddles route to mock sexism the way he mocked racism.
Nonetheless, I appreciate what he did for poor Jonathan’s character and I think it’s a pretty funny movie. I recommend checking it out. However, I also recommend reading the book or watching one of the movies first. Otherwise, it’s difficult to appreciate all of the jokes.
And so ends Dracula Month! HUZZAH! Thank you to those of you who read all of these posts!