Have I ever seen this French import that cast Christopher Lee in the title role after his days with Hammer Films were through? Kind of. Years ago this would play on the one French channel we would get in Southern Ontario here in Canada. Since I studied the TV Guide on a weekly basis looking for rare gems to catch on the late show, I recall seeing this in the listings and trying to catch a few clips though I couldn’t understand a word of what was going on.
Where Christopher Lee is concerned, you just have to make concessions when necessary.
While not out right funny, this satire on the vampire genre has a few amusing bits to it and the casting of Lee makes it a must see. Even if it took me years to do just that. The opening scenes during the year 1784 are very Hammer like as a coach is racing through a darkened forest carrying it’s passengers along including a young woman and her older caretaker. It won’t be long before a wheel comes loose and another coach turns up to take the ladies to the local castle. Enter Chris Lee looking regal and aristocratic with that hungry glint in his eye.
He wants a son and the young maiden gives him one. After a sunny mishap, he’ll soon find himself a single parent raising his little hell raiser. Fast forward to modern times and the castle is overrun with party goers prompting Lee and Bernard Menez as his son to flee the country. Comedy ensues as they are enroute to England leaving them both buried at sea through a smile inducing mix up.
With the vampire duo separated and each believing the other is dead, they continue on as best they know how. Menez is a rather wimpy knock off of Lee and prefers to feast on animals and slaughterhouse beef as opposed to actually taking human lives. He’s just too nice to take over Lee’s reign as the king of vampires. Lee on the other hand finds himself filthy and bedraggled in England only to be discovered by a would be filmmaker looking to cast the title role in his next vampire film. Lee is of course the perfect fit.
Not surprisingly, Lee finds fame as the leading cinema vampire and through happenstance is reunited with his long lost son. This leads to a few funny vignettes including Lee taking his son coffin shopping to the bewilderment of the mortuary attendant. Complications in their father son relationship will occur when a young woman looking to hire Lee for a dental commercial comes between them. Marie-Helene Breillat plays the young woman whom Lee decides will be his bride for eternity while son, Menez decides she will not and intends to save her from Lee’s evil designs.
Lee isn’t impressed with the countless interruptions that continually occur at the point of “the bite.”
The stretch run gets a bit to repetitive but that’s a minor complaint as this proved to be far more enjoyable than I have been led to believe. Perhaps I’m just to big of a Lee as Dracula fan to be overly critical. Lee’s made some poor films but in the end, this isn’t one of them. He looks great as the Count carrying with him that authoritative presence that worked so well over his tenure as the screen’s leading vampire.
The edition I did see was the 96 minute version which I believe is the full edition. It was dubbed and thankfully, Lee did his own voice over. Was this more popular in France than it was here in North America? Could be, as it’s not uncommon for the “lost in translation” curse to harm the overall effect of a film showing elsewhere and in it’s dubbed version.
In the end, I found Lee looking fantastic, the film nowhere near as messed up as I’ve read and the comedy eliciting a chuckle or two along the way.