Exploitation TV: Volume Three

A trio of horny bloodsuckers will drain you dry in this week's episode.

For cinephiles, the definition of home video label Vinegar Syndrome’s name is something like a secret handshake. The disease it references consumes celluloid. When film stock starts to degrade, it releases acetic acid, the key ingredient in (you guessed it) vinegar. This phenomenon became a plague during the 80s, chewing up prints of pictures improperly stored in hot, humid conditions. In many cases, where reels of smaller films were scarce due to budgetary restrictions, one bad case of vinegar syndrome could rob the planet of an artist’s work.

According to a ‘12 study conducted by the Library of Congress, only 14% of nearly 11,000 movies made between 1912 and 1930 exist in their original format. Around 70% were lost completely. Coming in at a close second in terms of casualties is the Exploitation Era. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as many of the weirder, more obscure movies made during these decades of disrepute are pictures we’ve probably never heard of in the first place. Thankfully, the Bridgeport, Connecticut boys at VS own a private archive, from which they’ve been pulling and scanning prints of overlooked horror, exploitation and smut cinema from all eras. To make it easier on all us degenerates, they’ve even established a streaming service, where you can log in and watch all the back alley oddities they’ve been uncovering and preserving, so that true vinegar syndrome doesn’t rob us of any more great trash art.

In the third edition of Exploitation TV, we drop in on a trio of cinematic bloodsuckers from the 70s, all looking to feed their hunger in very similar ways…

Dracula Sucks [1978] (d. Phillip Marshak, w. Darryl Marshak, David Kern, William Margold & Mitch Morrill)

Jamie Gillis appeared in nine hardcore films in ’78, including Bill Lustig’s second (and final) X-rated foray, Hot Honey, and the undercover homosexual sting, Manhole. But he only played Dracula in one of these endeavors, directed by Nazi fetishist Phillip Marshak (Blue Ice [’85]) and featuring nearly every famous porn star from the 70s. Audaciously credited to Bram Stoker’s original novel, Dracula Sucks kinda sorta sticks close to its classic source material, introducing Renfield (Richard Bulik) as he’s admitted into a Nazi asylum run by Dr. Seward (John Leslie), and his legion of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (’75) looking nurses. Count Dracula (Gillis) calls to him in the middle of the night, and Renfield unleashes the Prince of Darkness on the sanitarium, where numerous bouts of rough sex and simulated rape occur. Naturally, Mina (Annette Haven) and Jonathan Harker (Paul Thomas) get in on the action, while the tale intersects with Dr. John Stoker (John Holmes) and infamous slayer Van Helsing (Reggie Nalder). Dracula has always fucked, but never this much on screen.

To be honest, Dracula Sucks isn’t as interesting as that last paragraph may make it seem. This is still a fairly standard piece of late '70s porn, only sporting slightly higher production values and competent camerawork (the credits even go out of their way to brag about the movie being shot in an “authentic Northern California castle”). But there are quite a few interesting idiosyncrasies that could’ve only occurred during this time period. Early on, a black butler sings, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (along with Annette Haven), which is then intercut with a blowjob scene between two white people. Every patient in the sanitarium becomes sexually aggressive once infected by the Count’s bite, leading to the aforementioned scenes of sexual assault, which often have unsettling radio broadcasts regarding the Women’s’ Lib movement laid over them. Finally, the film climaxes not with Dracula being rejected by the object of his affection, but with him fucking Mina doggystyle on top of a coffin. Credit where credit’s due, Dracula Sucks certainly goes for it with bizarre gusto. You just wish the film had capitalized on the collection of performers and obvious budget it had at its disposal. It’s clear Marshak wanted to make what fictional porn auteur Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds in PT Anderson’s Boogie Nights [‘97]) labeled “a real movie”. He just didn’t seem to know how.

Vampire Hookers [1978] (d. Cirio H. Santiago, w. Howard R. Cohen)

Whenever John Carradine (Satan’s Cheerleaders [‘77]) shows up in a horror movie from the '60s/'70s, you almost always know the only way it's going to be enjoyable is in a dark rep theater, surrounded by a packed house of fellow trash hounds. Vampire Hookers – a late '70s Filipino piece of softcore sexploitation – certainly fits that bill. Featuring Vic Diaz (from previous Exploitation TV face-melter, Raw Force [‘82]) and a literal harem of foggy-eyed female parasites wearing neon nighties, Vampire Hookers is a gonzo bit of WTF, where Carradine’s pimp bloodsucker makes wild claims like “Shakespeare and Walt Whitman were both vampires.” Startlingly inept, yet never less than entertaining in that “what the hell is even going on?” fashion, Diaz’s Renfield character masturbates to his own reflection (a habit that will obviously be difficult should he ever get his undead wish) and becomes infected not with that night thirst, but a wicked case of the farts from…well, it’s never really made clear. This is absurdist weirdness of the highest order, peaking with a ten-minute orgy scene where the most titillating aspect is all the tan lines visible on these ladies of the night.

Best of all is the movie’s theme song, which isn’t the wah-wah slice of '70s disco you’d expect from a movie titled Vampire Hookers, but rather a country jingle that extolls the virtues of prostitutes who also drink plasma. Director Cirio Santiago was a staple of the grindhouse circuit, directing legitimate lo-fi classics in the female pirate action bonanza, The Muthers (’76), and black Vietnam samurai freak out, Death Force (’78). Santiago was a master at delivering the type of cheap thrills you desired whenever sitting down with this era of genre cinema. It's just that Vampire Hookers isn’t going to be quite the same experience from the comfy confines of your living as it would be inside the trash palaces it was originally intended to play.

Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides (a/k/a The Satanic Rites of Dracula) [1973] (d. Alan Gibson, w. Don Houghton)

By ‘73, Hammer was running on fumes, and you can feel these late period sputters in this trend-chasing follow up from the team who brought us the swinging, poppy Dracula AD, 1972 (’72). More lo-fi Brit spy riff than straight up vampire movie (Christopher Lee’s iconic bloodsucking Count doesn’t even show up until thirty minutes in), Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides follows a team of investigators who have an MI-6 agent deep cover inside a Satanic cult. The blood sacrifices he witnesses at the hands of an Asian high priestess (Barbara Yu Ling), are all in service of delivering new loves to the ancient unholy Prince of Darkness, so the boys at Scotland Yard turn to vamp hunting royalty Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) for advice in the matter. With the aid of his (naturally) beautiful granddaughter (Joanna Lumley), Van Helsing uncovers a plot conceived by the Count’s cult to bring about the (dun-dun-dun!) end of the world. It’s the narrative of lost Bond fan fiction, rejiggered to fit the Hammer Horror universe.

In fact, most of the fun in Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides (confession: I actually prefer the Satanic Rites moniker, but whatever) is mainly derived from watching Hammer stretch its house style to the breaking point. The studio was at the tail end of its heyday, and was desperately combining day players with whatever they thought could bring more pounds into the box office (their joint production with Shaw Brothers Studios, The Legend of the Golden Vampires [‘74] being the epitome of this commercial flailing). Beyond this being a formula remold with old faces, Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides also ups the nudity and gore quotient quite a bit, leaving the days of classy gothic horror in the cemetery. Nevertheless, if a studio’s going to churn out a blatant cash grab, one can only hope it's as entertaining as this, delivering two different genres for the price of one, and relying on a Canadian TV director (Alan Gibson) to execute both with cheap competency.

Tune in next week for three more picks from your new favorite channel. In the meantime, log in to Vinegar Syndrome’s streaming service to embark upon your own filthy adventures.