Dracula’s Widow (1988)


USA. 1988.


Director – Christopher Coppola, Screenplay – Christopher Coppola & Kathryn Ann Thomas, Producer – Stephen Traxler, Photography – Giuseppe Macari, Music – James Campbell, Optical Effects – Fantasy II, Special Effects – Tex FX (Supervisor – Joe Quinlivan), Makeup Effects – Sirius Effects (Supervisor – Todd Masters), Production Design – Alexandra Kicenik. Production Company – De Laurentiis Entertainment Group Inc


Sylvia Kristel (Vanessa Dracula), Lenny Von Dohlen (Raymond Everett), Josef Sommer (Detective Hap Lannon), Rachel Jones (Jenny Harker), Stefan Schnabel (Helsing), Rick Warner (Caulfield), Traber Burns (Detective Citrano), Marc Coppola (Brad Thompson)


Raymond Everett, the proprietor of the Hollywood House of Wax, is surprised to find that there is an extra crate amid a shipment of antiquities from Poenari, Romania. A woman emerges out of the crate and introduces herself as Vanessa, the wife of Count Dracula. When Raymond informs her that Dracula is dead, Vanessa puts the bite on him and makes him her vassal. Meanwhile, grizzled detective Hap Lannon, under increasing pressure from his publicity-seeking superior, doggedly investigates the trail of bodies that Vanessa is leaving across the city.

Dracula’s Widow was an entry in the 1980s chic vampire movie stakes from Dino De Laurentiis’s short-lived DEG studio. Dracula’s Widow was the directorial debut of Christopher Coppola. No doubt trading on his family name, Christopher is the nephew of the better-known Francis Ford Coppola, powerhouse director of classics like The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979), as well as the older brother of actor Nicolas Cage.

The difference between the two Coppola’s – Francis Ford and Christopher – is worlds apart. It is perhaps best seen by comparing either’s approaches to Dracula – Christopher with Dracula’s Widow and Francis with Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Both attempt to create a sexy vampire movie and to take advantage of maximum technical flourish available at the time to show human/vampire transformations. Francis created a lush sensual interpretation of Dracula that was awash with dazzlingly arty visuals; on the other hand, Christopher creates a dull B movie whose greatest approximation toward style seems to be having discovered the Euro sex vampire film a decade-and-a-half after everybody else did.

Christopher Coppola jumps aboard the 1980s makeup effects revolution bandwagon created by films like The Howling (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Fright Night (1985). There are numerous tediously excessive gore effects and a cheap-looking bat into human transformation sequence. All of this was undeniably ambitious at the time but over a decade later only looks datedly cheesy. Like a number of other vampire movies, Dracula’s Widow for no good reason appropriates the names of characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) – a Harker and [Van] Helsing’s grandson – and has analogues of them operating in the present-day.

The surprise about Dracula’s Widow is how Christopher Coppola manages to mismanage a performance from Sylvia Kristel. The Dutch-born Kristel came to fame as the beautiful title character in Emmanuelle (1974) and sequel, before going onto a host of other roles in erotic films where she seemed one of the rare actresses known for taking her clothes off and also being able to act. Despite casting Sylvia Kristel, Christopher Coppola runs her through a stilted performance. Moreover, though he could have used Kristel to create a sexy female vampire, Coppola does almost the direct opposite and imprisons her in a severe angular power dress for the duration.

Josef Sommer, an actor who never started to become known until he was in his fifties, is identified with his genteel and kindly supporting roles in numerous films. Alas, the one thing that Sommer seems wildly miscast at is the world-weary gumshoe role that Christopher Coppola casts him in here. Moreover, the hard-boiled voiceovers that Coppola and co-writer Kathryn Ann Thomas write for him seem like a bad attempt to pastiche 1940s film noir detective stories. A cheap 1980s synth score is run over the top of everything.

Talent has touched much of the Coppola family – Francis Ford, Nicolas Cage (some of the time at least), Francis’s sister Talia Shire, Francis’s daughter Sofia Coppola and Francis’s father Carmine, a noted film musician. Alas, it seems that when it came to Christopher Coppola, whoever was in charge of talent distribution throughout the human race had decided that the Coppola family had gotten more than their fair portion. Subsequent to Dracula’s Widow, Christopher Coppola has made a handful of other films, all down the B-budget, video-released end of the spectrum. These include the thriller Deadfall (1993), the Western Gunfighter (1998), the Charles Band children’s film Clockmaker (1998) (where Coppola ended up substituting a pseudonym), the comedy Palmer’s Pick-Up (1999), the Sunset Blvd. (1950) copy Bel-Air (2000), the gonzo genre comedy G-Men from Hell (2000), the monster movie parody The Creature of the Sunny Side Up Trailer Park (2004) and a further vampire film Sacred Blood (2015).

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