Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) – An Underrated Mel Brooks Comedy

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“Dracula: Dead and Loving It” was a film critically panned when it was released and I’m not sure why. This is a film that knows exactly what it is, it is a satire and comedy about “Dracula” and from there your humor may very since it is subjective. I for one found it solidly good and will explain why deeper in the review.

The film was directed by Mel Brooks who co-wrote the screenplay along with Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman.

The story follows Renfield (Peter MacNocil) when he arrives at Dracula’s Castle to complete the purchase of Carfax Abbey for Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen). The story unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Allusions – This film pays allusion to a few films I have scene, those being “Dracula” from 1931 and the Hammer films with their emphasis on gore. These things do work but it doesn’t make the film any deeper. I felt like this film could have been great if it had depended less on parody.

The Characters – As someone who thought the Lugosi “Dracula” of 1931 was a a solid good horror, this is a solid good satire of that. It doesn’t go beyond that but I appreciate the effort.

Renfield – Peter MacNicol does a good job with the ham is just is just more inept. This works given how driven he is initially. He is also one of the stronger parts of “Ghostbusters 2.”

Dr. Van Helsing – This is the Mel Brooks character and he works. He is the only one who critiques characters and is the only one one aware of a film. I thought this would possibly annoy but it doesn’t here. He still has chemistry with the cast.

Count Dracula – Leslie Nielsen does a good job of playing up the comedy of his role while still being a threat. He still does all the tropes and can still play the laughs while still being competent. That is not easy to do. As a threat for an hour and half he carries this. So I don’t get the hate.

Mina, Lucy and Harker – These are all characters who were blank slates in the initial review. This one gives them some level of depth. Mina is flirtatoious, Lucy does the “Jekyll and Hyde” extremely well and Harker has something going on. Originally he was a prop, at least he is sexually conflicted here.

The Comedy and the 3 S’s of Mel Brooks – This film captures the 3 S’s you will find in any Mel Brooks film. Sex, Satire and Slapstick. This film has all of these and caused me to chuckle consistently through the film. Comedy is subjective but Mel Brooks does the 3 Ss really well and is easily one of my favorite comedic directors.

The Cons:

Overdependence on Prior Films – One of the things that hurts the film from reaching levels of greatness is it does depend too much on the films it references. The story is Lugosi’s “Dracula” just with jokes so it never quite fully has it’s own identity.

No One Performance Can Carry – Tying into the fact that it doesn’t quite have it’s own identity none of the performances really stand out. The performances are good but they never reach the level of Lugosi or Lee so the film is never elevated.

After watching this film I don’t understand why it is so hated. It has all the Mel Brooks comedy tropes and does them well. I was never bored during the film and I enjoyed the takes on the characters even if there weren’t any great performances. Suffice to say, if you are a Mel Brooks fan, this is worth a watch.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solid Mel Brooks Comedy.

Jojo Rabbit (2019): A Masterpiece of Satire and Heart

Image result for Jojo rabbit poster

     Taika Waititi is brilliant. “Jojo Rabbit” is one of the best satires I have ever seen as it mixes the feel of a Wes Anderson film with the biting edge of a Mel Brooks comedy. This film has so much heart and the powerful message alone are reason enough to see it. This might be my favorite film from Taika and will most likely make my Top 5 Films at the end of the year.

The film was directed and written by Taika Waititi and based off the story Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.

The story follows “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a German child at the end of World War 2. He’s fully bought into the Nazi propaganda and has an imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi). His world is soon changed when he finds his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is sheltering a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Characters and Performances – The main characters are wonderful. You have the naive Jojo who grows out of the fascist propaganda over the course of the film. You have his mother Rosie who is fighting against the Nazis trying to spread the word of resistance through Berlin, this is one of the best performances I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson do. Elsa is the heart of the film as the Jewish refugee who forms a friendship with Jojo over the course of the film.

The Satire – The satire is brilliant. Like Mel Brooks mocked Hitler in “The Producers,” Taika does this hear with a cartoonish Hitler who acts like a child that is eventually seen by Jojo to be the insane man he is. It is gradual but we see how it is from made up mythological stories that Hitler built his brand on in the lies told about what it means to be German and the lies about anyone considered an enemy of Germany. Be they Jewish, Romani, Russian, etc. Over the film you see this revealed in the people fed up with the lie or those embracing it even as it ruins their lives and those of the people around them.

Dangers of Fascism – One of the strongest themes of the film is the danger of fascism. In it you see how the populace suffers and only a very small group of the delusional are those who profit from the status quo they create. A women’s role becomes to bear children for the Empire, minorities are killed off and anyone who is injured or damaged is cast aside and forgotten about. Any difference from the ideal has no place and it is this ideal that is used to blind enough people to fulfill the will of those in power. This film illustrates all this beautifully and it is part of what gives the film so much power.

The Emotional Core – The emotional core of the film is in witnessing everything Nazism has destroyed and our heroes finding life at the end. Elsa lost her betrothed and family to the Nazis. Jojo goes from “Othering” Elsa to becoming her friend and it is powerful seeing him go through deprogramming himself from all the fascist propaganda. Jojo’s mother is hung for fighting against the Nazis and in the end one of the Nazi soldiers who protects Elsa risks his life to save Jojo. These moments lend the film so much power. It is this heart that makes it more than simply a brilliant dark satire.

The Cons:

Ending Length – This was a film that could have gotten to the final scene faster. The last third of the film drags at times, which does a good job of putting you into Jojo’s mindset but also hurts the narrative flow, since before this I never noticed pacing at all. This is the only con I could find though, which says a lot for how great this film is.

This is a powerful film that is well worth your time. The message of fascism’s danger and the evil in “Othering” people is relevant as ever now. I hope more people see this film and that the message is taken to heart. This film is a masterpiece and I can’t wait to see what other films Taika Waititi makes in the future.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Near perfect.