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The Bootleg Files: Doom of Dracula

BOOTLEG FILES 775: “Doom of Dracula” (8mm reissue of sections from the 1944 “House of Frankenstein”).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No perceived commercial value.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE:
Not likely.

In the years before video cassette recorders invaded living rooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s, movie lovers who wanted to own copies of their favorite films relied on portable projectors that screened the 35mm or 70mm Hollywood theatrical fare in the much smaller 16mm, 9.5mm, 8mm and Super 8 formats.

However, these smaller format reels could not accommodate feature-length films. As a result, many of the home viewing prints were heavily edited – and in the case of films sold on 8mm and Super 8 formats, the reels could only accommodate about 10 minutes of footage. As a result, only certain sequences of a feature film could be packaged and sold. But consumers didn’t seem to care, as this market flourished until the rise of video cassettes – and even in today’s video age, collectors can still snag these old films on eBay and other sites.

Castle Films was a key player in this market and one of the films they edited and repackaged for home viewing was Universal Pictures’ 1944 “House of Frankenstein.” In order to accommodate the truncated parameters of the 8mm format, the film was sliced and diced using the barest of the introductory passage and some (but not all) of the scenes involving Count Dracula. The resulting film was “Doom of Dracula,” which captures a fraction of the cheesy richness of “House of Frankenstein.”

“Doom of Dracula” opens with a bearded Boris Karloff and an oversized hunchback played by J. Carroll Naish helping to dislodge a horse-drawn wagon from a muddy pothole – except that it doesn’t explain that Karloff is a mad scientist escaped from a prison and the hunchback is helping him with the promise of being cured of his disfigurement by having his brain transferred into a handsome hunk. (Uh, yeah.)

The wagon belongs to Professor Lampini, a traveling showman with a house of horrors exhibit that he displays at carnivals around Central Europe. Lampini is played by George Zucco, but he barely makes his presence known before Naish’s character, acting on Karloff’s direction, fatally strangles him.

Karloff and Naish assume the identities of Lampini and his assistant – the assistant is not present in “Doom of Dracula” and it seems curious that Naish’s deformed body could fit so perfectly into the jacket used by the assistant in his tasks. They set up shop at a carnival where Karloff spies the Burgomaster responsible for his incarceration – the Burgomaster vaguely recognizes Karloff, but cannot place the face, while a pretty babe (Anne Gwynne) who is the Burgomaster’s granddaughter-in-law is intrigued by Karloff’s eerie spiel.

Eager to enact revenge, Karloff pulls the wooden stake from a coffin-framed skeleton that is supposedly the remains of Count Dracula. And wouldn’t you know it, but the skeleton immediately transforms into a fully-clothed Dracula (played by John Carradine). Karloff and Dracula have a quick conference – if the vampire will enact revenge as directed by Karloff, then Karloff will agree to serve him faithfully.

From here, a none-too-convincing rubber bat transforms via Walter Lantz’s animation in a top-hatted Dracula (don’t ask where the hat came from – it didn’t materialize in the coffin). That pretty babe from earlier is sleeping on a couch and awakens as her front door magically opens on its own. She joins Dracula in a horse-drawn carriage that he is driving, but her husband chases after them and alerts some constables on horseback to follow.

Karloff and Naish see the constables galloping from a distance and mistakenly believe they are after them. When they realize they want Dracula and the babe, Naish tosses Dracula’s coffin from their wagon. The fastener securing Dracula’s carriage to his horses comes lose and the carriage crashes. As the police and the babe’s husband locate the miraculously uninjured lady, Dracula climbs up a hill to his coffin but his greeted by the sunrise, which reduces him back to a skeleton.

“Doom of Dracula” is short on logic but heavy on atmosphere, particularly with Carradine’s wonderfully hammy acting – whether staring with apprehension at the stake removed from his heart or going into the most traumatic death throes ever suffered by a sunbaked vampire, he is the best thing in this presentation. (Bela Lugosi was originally considered to revive his Dracula role, but he had a previous contractual engagement in a theatrical touring company of “Arsenic and Old Lace” playing the role that Karloff originated on Broadway.) In contrast, Karloff seems utterly bored by the proceedings and is not the least bit terrifying.

Yes, “Doom of Dracula” is just a sampling of much wider concept, and much of Carradine’s juicier scenes in the wooing of the fair Gwynne were callously scissored away. But for an eight-minute-and-change 8mm distraction, it is a nice piece of no-cal fun.

A so-so print of “Doom of Dracula” can be found on YouTube, and the full “House of Frankenstein” can be located online and on home entertainment formats. While it always best to see the complete original, “Doom of Dracula” offers an amusing consideration of what movie lovers settled for in the days before director’s cut and special edition versions of beloved films.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to the award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud. Phil Hall’s new book “Jesus Christ Movie Star” is now available from BearManor Media.