Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Beatle, Monty Python, and Young Douglas Adams Project

Have you wondered what would have happened if a Beatle, a Monty Python, and a young Douglas Adams ever teamed up on a musical comedy? Too good to be true? Well, actually . . . In 1974, five years before publishing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams had the opportunity to work with Beatle Ringo Starr and Python Graham Chapman on a project called Son of Dracula, which spoofed 1970s horror flicks.

The cast for this project included not only Ringo Starr (and George Harrison on the soundtrack), but also Keith Moon of the Who, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and a young, still relatively unknown Peter Frampton. David Bowie was apparently tapped to play the young son of Dracula, Count Downe, but the part went instead to the legendary songwriter Harry Nilsson. The film is indeed rare. Even the handy, 1700 page film-reference guide, Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever: The Complete Guide to Movies on Videocassette and DVD, does not list it.

In the spring of 1974, Son of Dracula debuted in Atlanta to fanfare reminiscent of Gone With the Wind. “We had 12,000 kids screaming,” Ringo Starr (who played Merlin the Magician in the film) remembered, describing the fans who lined up in excitement. But the enthusiasm was not to last. Contemporary reviews panned it. “A confusing, flat, and utterly misguided attempt to blend horror, comedy, and rock ‘n’ roll,” one critic said. Awful, plain awful, many others concluded. The day after the debut, the cast and crew quietly slipped out of town. Not long afterwards, Son of Dracula would disappear from theaters as well.

Curiously, too, as if the humor were not strained enough, the production studio (Apple) later demanded that Graham Chapman and the gang rewrite the entire dialogue, which was then simply dubbed over top the original scenes. Horror film connoisseur Kim Newman calls Son of Dracula “one of the rarest of all ‘70s British horror films . . . barely seen in America. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll know why.”

As recent as M.J. Simpson’s fascinating biography of Douglas Adams Hitchhiker (2003), the film had not been re-released in theaters, video, DVD, or otherwise. Now, however, it’s available on, Youtube. Don’t expect a masterpiece. Son of Dracula is one of many projects that flourished in the frenzied post-Beatle, post-Python, and pre-Hitchhiker period, some of which were good, and others not. Watch the rock horror opera here for yourself.