My original intent was to do a good movie this week. There’s a couple of animated pieces I have in mind, as well as fascinating documentaries on uncommon subjects. This was all thrown away when a friend uttered one fateful phrase: “Have you seen NOCTURNA?” And that’s what brings us to this week’s Friday cheesefest, NOCTURNA, GRANDDAUGHTER OF DRACULA (1979)
Our title character, Nocturna, is the granddaughter of Dracula (played by Hollywood legend John Carradine) who assists him in running a hotel in Transylvannia. Between the day to day activities, helping assist her grandfather, and belly dancing for the guests, Nocturna has little time for much else, much to the chagrin of Theodore, the front desk clerk who has more than a passing interest in Nocturna (a role perfectly cast with underground star Brother Theodore). That is, until she falls in love with an Australian funk guitarist and reexamines her identity as a vampire. She follows her new boyfriend to disco-era New York City where she meets up with Dracula’s old girlfriend, Jugulia Vein (Yvonne De Carlo, known to most viewers as Lily Munster) and explores both her vampirism and femininity.
NOCTURNA never tries to take itself seriously. There is a rather funny sequence where the New York vapires discuss getting politically active at the BSA (Blood Suckers of America) meeting because urban life is ruining the quality of the blood supply. Preservatives are ruining the tastes and sugary cereals are making the blood of children dangerous to diabetic vampires. More often, though, the jokes just aren’t funny (“If I’m dead, why do I have to wee-wee?”). Since the vampires are played for laughs, they aren’t scary, so the movie doesn’t work that way either.
The saddest thing is how wasted a great cast was in this movie. Carradine, De Carlo, and to a lesser extent, Brother Theodore have had long, decorated careers and have shown that they can put in a great performance. But the script was just that bad, and Nai Bonet’s performance as Nocturna is so bad it taints everything around it. Unfortunately, she’s in almost every scene so that’s a lot of tainting. There’s about a half hour of story padded out with massive amounts of gratuitous nudity, sex, and belly dancing.
So why do I recommend this if its so bad? Partly because it’s so bad it’s fun to watch. The animated sequences where the vampires turn into hand-drawn bats is pure cinematic gold. There’s also the disco-time capsule soundtrack. There is one scene that De Carlo and Carradine share that, despite the horrible writing, harkens back to their grander days. And if you’re a fan of Brother Theodore’s crazy spoken word performances, they obviously set him loose to do what he does best.
NOCTURNA was the brainchild of belly dancer Bonet. Having started her professional career at age 13, Bonet was nearing forty when she decided her artistic endeavors needed a new outlet. She produced, co-wrote, and starred in this picture which, unfortunately, didn’t have the desired effect and she only made one other film. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s still a little sad to hear.
If, after all that, you still want to watch, here it is. Be aware there is a LOT of nudity.
Question of the night–what’s your favorite disco song?