Bonfire Night is scarcely over- it was celebrated up here in Cooper Park last Saturday- but already the Xmas adverts are being screened on tv. For Hallowe’en a week before, however, I took a nostalgic trip back to 1977 and the dvd of the BBC’s adaptation of Count Dracula.
This production, you may know, was responsible for the shelving of Terrance Dicks’ vampire story for Doctor Who, The Witch Lords aka The Vampire Mutations. It finally appeared in 1980 as State of Decay. The serial had been abandoned allegedly because it was feared a Tom Baker vampire adventure might be interpreted as a parody of the ’77 Louis Jourdan vehicle.
All these years later, the pace is slow by modern tv standards but there’s a powerful streak of psychedelia. It’s very atmospheric despite a rather rushed climax and Jack “Wycliffe” Shepherd steals the show with his wretched, poetic Renfield.
Earlier in the Seventies, Dracula Lives was launched alongside Planet of the Apes as Marvel’s 4th and 5th Uk titles, just before Hallowe’en in 1974. DL was the only one of the UK titles for which I didn’t have an order at our local shop. Whether this was for economic reasons or parental censorship, I’ve never known.
However, I had already been exposed to the lurid and confrontational cover of the first issue of the b/w US iteration in the blue-tinted pages of the first issue of FOOM magazine. That had been over a year earlier. Now, a staggering four decades later, I finally own a copy of Dracula Lives 1.
So: what are these Tales of Terror from the Count’s own crypt? This Marvel Monster magazine opens with A Poison of the Blood. It’s gorgeously drawn by Gene Colan, Dracula’s daddy at the House of Ideas. However, the plot is a bit of a silly idea by first Marvel crypt-writer ( ho ho) , Gerry Conway. Dracula becomes a junkie after fanging a drug addict. He cures himself after a clash with the leader of the “Mysticologist” cult, who claimed to be a reincarnation of Cagliostro. Future DL tales would centre on the historical rivalry between the alchemist and the Vampire Lord. In the early Marvel Dracs, Vlad shares some of the suave presence of Dr. Doom, the exoticism of Namor and the man-out-of time alienation of Cap. Marv Wolfman, two or three years later, introduces the idea of Dracula as a supervillain with a plan for world domination, “borrowed” I think from Hammer’s Satanic Rites of Dracula.
One of the most striking aspects of the comics features in this ostensibly “mature” magazine is the use of hot pink spot colour, indicating blood spilled amongst the black-and-white pages. I associate this gimmick with a playfully sensationalist tone, suggesting we don’t take these images of virginal Puritans or 70s Swinger cultists too seriously. Essentially, it feels like hucksterish showman Stan is wittily but gently toning down the material.
Suffer Not a Witch: Thomas, Weiss and Giordano introduce a dashing, rather piratical Dracula in a story of the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century. It’s more (mildly) erotic than most colour Marvel fare of the time- those nubile Puritans I mentioned. It also reminded me of the look and atmosphere of Witchfinder General. Thomas shows his literary education here by referencing the events of The Crucible.
Zombie: Atlas artist Tony DiPreta, of whom I’d never heard, produces a primitive but moody short about voodoo. Oddly, no vampires.
Ghost of a Chance: 2-page Fifties short with a first person narrative about being tricked by a ghost. Historical curiosity value only.
Fright: Stan Lee and Russ Heath deliver an EC-style update of the Karloff vehicle, Bedlam. Grotesque but again, really a curio.
To Walk Again in Daylight: this is a rough and ready story set in 19th century Vienna as Drac seeks a cure for his vampirism. The gimmick of an immortal anti-hero in a variety of time periods is interesting and provides artists with a challenge. It’s by Gerber, Buckler and Marcos and is archetypal Bronze Age Marvel. But it’s not a patch on Colan.
Aside from the corny captions for a variety of movie images from the 30s-50s, the magazine is rounded out by an editorial from Thomas, explaining the presence of the photos and the Fifties reprints – it was to cover costs, naturally- and an inconsequential, plodding essay on Dracula movies by neo-scripter Marv Wolfman.
Next time, more Marvel Dracula and before Xmas, 50s Batman, Supergirl and Dr. Who’s Fiftieth Birthday
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