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  Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned Damned if he do, damned if he don't
Year: 1980
Director: Minori Okazaki, Akinori Nagaoka
Stars: Nachi Nozawa, Keiko Mari, Hidekatsu Shibata, Hiroko Suzuki, Junpei Takiguchi Kazuyuke Sogabe, Keichi Noda, Kenji Utsumi, Mami Koyama, Reiko Katsura, Yasuo Hisamatsu
Genre: Horror, Drama, Action, Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In modern day - well, early 1980s - Boston, devil-worshipper Lupeski is poised to offer Domini (voiced by Keiko Mari) as a sacrifice to his satanic lord, when in flies Dracula (Nachi Nozawa), prince of darkness. The count takes a fancy to the young woman and, surprisingly sparing her his vampire bite, spirits her back to his castle. One year of wedded bliss later, she bears him a son named Janus. Meanwhile, wheelchair-bound Quincy Harker (Hidekatsu Shibata) and crossbow expert Rachel Van Helsing (Hiroko Suzuki), son and granddaughter of Dracula’s old enemies, realize a spate of Boston murders are the work of their arch-nemesis, and recruit kung fu kicking disco stud Frank Drake (Kazuyuke Sogabe), a descendant of Dracula ashamed of his vampire heritage.

Also part of the anti-Dracula brigade is Elijah, a super-intelligent Doberman raised in a church until caught drinking holy water (!), whose nose is “an unerring radar - incredibly sensitive to the scent of EVIL!” With Elijah’s help our heroes trace Dracula to a local church (huh?) to which Lupeski lures him with the promise of baptising his infant son (huh?!). In the skirmish that follows, Lupeski shoots and kills baby Janus. But no less a personage than almighty God resurrects Janus and transforms him into the ultimate vampire-slayer with superpowers. Before Janus can kill his father, Dracula and Domini are brought to hell by Satan, for whom their love is an unbearable insult. Satan blasts the vampire into dust, but Domini’s holy love resurrects Dracula once more, as a mortal man…

During the Seventies, Toei Studios negotiated with Marvel Comics about producing anime versions of their superheroes. The eventual outcome of this short-lived liaison was their live-action Spider-Man (far from faithful, but worth checking out folks! Spidey drives a sports car - and pilots a giant robot!) and this animated feature based on Tomb of Dracula, the long-running comic created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. The atypical artwork recreates Colan’s original drawings, although neither he nor Wolfman receive credit.

Scriptwriter Tadaaki Yamazaki condenses virtually the whole series into a sprawling epic that doesn’t always make for the most coherent narrative, but scores points for invention. In presenting a semi-sympathetic, occasionally heroic Count Dracula, this foreshadows Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and delivers images that reoccur in Francis Ford Coppola’s film. A flashback to the Middle Ages reveals Dracula’s origin as Vlad the Impaler wherein a striking visual shows rows of his impaled victims strewn across the valley.

Like many a Euro-horror movie from the decade prior, Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned exists in an appealing dreamlike world where gothic castles and supernatural horror rub shoulders with flared trousers and disco dollies. Comic book super-science and exploitation elements blend within the iconography established by Universal horror. Seiji Yokoyama’s strings and harpsichord title theme is suitably haunting, but the gothic atmosphere is occasionally undone by disco ditties and outbreaks of unintentional silliness. These include a romantic montage where Dracula and his missus hit the town in full period costume and arguably the dumbest wheelchair bound kung fu fight ever.

Our fearless vampire killers don’t really do that much. Neither Frank’s kung fu nor Rachel’s crossbow prove much use against a Dracula whose greatest weakness seems his own propensity for self-pity. Soapy and melodramatic, the plot has the vampire moping for long stretches. After Dracula fails to convince New York dwelling vampire vixen Lilith to restore his bloodsucking powers, the action shifts to Transylvania and becomes somewhat akin to those later scenes in A Clockwork Orange (1971) where Alex repeatedly suffers for his crimes. He protects a group of children and saves his Transylvanian subjects from legions of the living dead, led by a new King of the Vampires. Dracula even endures unspeakable agony by wielding a cross.

There are visual flourishes, including God’s divine intervention via an awe-inspiring shower of light, and Dracula and Domini’s visit to the fiery pits of Hell. But the filmmakers repeat certain scenes to pad out the running time and, unlike most anime, dwell on interminable talking heads. Nevertheless it’s a fascinating example of foreign hands reworking familiar material and proved successful enough in Japan that the same team reunited for Frankenstein (1981).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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