Exploitation legend Al Adamson approached filmmaking like creating a patchwork from various sleazy sources, frequently creating vague and hazy renditions of the kind of schlock that succeeded on the drive-in circuit. One of his best creations, in itself a patchwork culled from other Adamson films, is the luridly hilarious and appropriately janky Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Presented here in a two-disc (BD and CD) slipcovered package from Severin Films with a terrific transfer and accompanying supplements previously seen in Severin’s sold-out Al Adamson box set, this release comes Recommended!
Al Adamson flit across genres just about as quickly as he made films, speaking to just how much of a workhorse the man was. But in the pursuit of what? To be honest, even Adamson himself wasn’t always sure of what he was pursuing, but the act of filmmaking continued to be his guiding force. And frequently, Adamson created things truly like no other exploitation filmmaker could. In some cases, it’s the mashing of multiple storylines that produce the awe feel, and in others it’s the vulgarity and lack of refinement to produce such emotions.
Then comes something like Dracula vs. Frankenstein, the woolly Z-grade horror epic that shows the absolute best of Adamson’s child-like tinkering. With a title that bold, you’d of course immediately think that there’d be a big showdown between the two legendary monsters. And at one point, that does happen, but what precedes it all is an absolutely unrestrained mélange of Adamson hallmarks; we’ve got bikers, a musical number, a romance that feels far removed, some lumbering beasts, and most important of all, a ton of common collaborators reflecting the ugly, creepy and sometimes beautiful mash-up of plots right back at the audience. On top of all that, it’s got that 1970s hippie vibe that makes the proceedings feel even more unpredictable when violence punctuates jarringly.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein purposefully flails and fails, only to succeed because of the euphoria created by its haphazard madness. Adamson also had the benefit of having multiple horror legends in front of the camera, including Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish in their final roles. At its base level, the film follows wheelchair-bound mad scientist Dr. Durea (Naish), who happens to be a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein. He’s carrying on his ancestors work by murdering young girls and experimenting on them. When his thirst to bring a monster to life needs a backer, he finds a partner in Dracula (Zandor Vorkov), who asks that the doctor only help him find a solution to averting daylight so he won’t die. Oh, and there’s an axe murderer on the loose, plus some bikers are after a Vegas performer and…well, you get the point. There’s a lot going on.
Simply put, this is the kind of film you have to give yourself over to, enjoying the lurid monster mash along the way. Like most Adamson films, it’s a weird concoction of child-like goofiness and sleazy violence that will put you in unease, then that unease will grow into self-effacing laughter. This is why Adamson was truly one of a kind.
Also included in this release is a bonus movie, Al Adamson’s Brain of Blood, which is another monster movie that works again because of the cast of horror genre stalwarts aiding Adamson’s purposefully vague style of storytelling. The plot is again simple, following the beloved leader of a country known as Khalid and his search to find a new brain to prolong his life. Gruesome and campy in equal fashion, this is another fun and easy watch this spooky season.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
They're alive, they're alive! Dracula vs. Frankenstein battle it out in Severin’s two-disc (BD-50 and CD soundtrack) release that comes in their standard black Viva case with a slipcover that offers art of both films included (DvF on the front, Brain of Blood on the back) with some fun spot gloss effects. The BD-50 disc boots up to a menu screen giving you the options to play either film, explore their special features and choose languages.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein get amped up for the fight of the century with a 1080p presentation sourced from a restoration performed by MGM Studios from archival film elements. Although that description is a touch vague, it’s not surprising given how many of Adamson’s films had been pulled together from various sources. That should give you a hint as to how film grain behaves in this presentation. Sometimes it can be thick and clumpy, while the newer footage has grain that’s much better resolved. It’s not to the detriment of this stellar presentation, as the AVC encode handles those drops and increases in fidelity with aplomb.
This is the same transfer seen in the now sold-out Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection box set that was released by Severin Films in 2020, but it still stands tall as a big standout from that previous release. Blacks and shadows are given terrific depth, and those clay-based, clumpy monster makeup effects look as egregious as they did on release day. For a film that has been plagued with terrible transfers for years, it’s a treat seeing it look as good as it will ever look, maybe even better than Adamson would have wanted.
Brain of Blood is in a similar camp as DvF, with a transfer previously seen in both Severin’s Adamson box set and their Hemisphere Box of Horrors release from 2019. Although the restoration notes aren’t included with this release, I looked at the booklet from the aforementioned box set to find that Brain of Blood was scanned and restored from the 16mm internegative. The negative is lost and since the internegative had a different title printed on it, a faded 35mm print was used for the title card. This is a tougher presentation to look at than DvF, but that’s not surprising given the limited film sources available. Grain is still resolved well despite being unpredictable from shot to shot. Some haziness is cast over the image that can make things look a bit too heavy on contrast. Otherwise, this is a decent transfer that is representative of the source limitations.
For a film that’s culled from so many different pieces of footage, Dracula vs. Frankenstein has a rather full-throated and clear mono soundtrack that rarely suffers from any damage. Even when I expected effects to sound washed-out due to production limitations, I was pleased to find the opposite occurring. While range is also limited, dialogue comes through crystal clear and achieves a nice balance. Brain of Blood gets a mono soundtrack as well, but it definitely suffers more than its counterpart due to source limitations and damage. Dialogue can frequently sound tinny and music comes off a bit hazy, yet dialogue is still clear.
If you’re at all familiar with Severin’s Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection box set, then you probably know just how packed this release comes with bonus features. Severin carries over all the supplements used in disc six of the aforementioned set. As a matter of fact, I believe this BD-50 disc is identical to the one used in the Adamson box set.
With all that said, the previously produced supplements are all stellar, like the video essay produced by film historian Howard S. Berger that’s equally as fun and rollicking as an Adamson film can be. It’s an academic approach to an exploitation figurehead, yet it makes easy work of dissecting Adamson’s various influences and themes applied to the film.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein bonus features:
Brain of Blood bonus features:
Severin Films brings back the madness of Al Adamson with a two-disc release of Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Brain of Blood that carries over all previous supplements and adds a CD soundtrack. The transfers will please horror fans, especially for those who missed out on the Adamson box set from 2020, and the new slipcover with spot gloss adds some more life to a couple of whacked-out cult masterpieces. This release comes Recommended!