‘The First Rock-and-Roll Dracula Movie!’
Son of Dracula – aka Young Dracula – is a 1973 British rock ‘n’ roll musical horror comedy film starring Harry Nilsson and ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr as Merlin the Magician. It was directed by Freddie Francis and produced by Starr for Apple Films. It is also the title of a Harry Nilsson album released in conjunction with the movie.
Ringo Starr had recently played drums on Nilsson’s album Son of Schmilsson, which had spoofed horror movie motifs. A few months after those sessions, in August 1972, Starr decided to make a rock ‘n’ roll Dracula movie (originally titled Count Downe), and invited Nilsson to come on board. Keith Moon of The Who and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin both appear in the film, alternating as the drummer in Count Downe’s band. Other band members include Klaus Voormann, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell, and the regular Rolling Stones horn section of Bobby Keys and Jim Price.
Soon after filming was completed in November 1972, Starr called in Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, who was writing with Douglas Adams at the time and had been working on a proposed Ringo Starr TV special. They, along with Chapman’s other regular collaborator, Bernard McKenna, were asked to write a whole new script to be dubbed over the film’s weak dialogue, and they recorded an alternative, Pythonesque soundtrack, however, the whole idea was then shelved.
Later, attempts were made to market the movie, but as Ringo Starr later said, “No one would take it.” It was eventually released in the USA in April 1974 by Jerry Gross’ (I Drink Your Blood) Cinemation Industries distribution company.
After the killing of his father (Count Dracula, the Lord of the Underworld), by a mysterious assassin, a hundred years later Count Downe (Nilsson) is summoned from his travels abroad by family advisor Merlin (Starr) in order to prepare him to take over the throne. Baron Frankenstein (Freddie Jones, also in The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Vampira) is also on hand to help in any way he can.
However, Downe wants no part of this responsibility and instead wishes to become human and mortal − especially after meeting a girl named Amber (Suzanna Leigh, also in The Deadly Bees and Lust for a Vampire), with whom he falls in love. He approaches old family nemesis Dr. Van Helsing (Dennis Price, also in Twins of Evil and Horror Hospital), who agrees to enable the Count’s transformation, much to the dismay of the residents of the Underworld.
Despite the best efforts of a host of monsters, as well as one traitorous figure who is dealt with by the trusted Merlin, Van Helsing performs the operation and removes Downe’s fangs. He then informs the Count that he can now live out his days in the sunlight, with Amber at his side…
“Son of Dracula is dull. Most of it consists of Harry Nilsson wandering around without ever doing much. Occasionally he sings a song. Towards the end, there is some skulduggery as Baron Frankenstein (Freddie Jones) tries to thwart Nilsson’s plans to shuck off his destiny at the coming astrological conjunction and become a mortal for the sake of love.” Richard Scheib, Moria
“Yet another resounding failure from the unfocused minds at Apple Corp., the entertainment conglomerate formed by the Beatles, Son of Dracula is confounding not only for its reason-free plot and for being bereft of direction, but for its sadly lackluster musical performances.” TV Guide
” …Son of Dracula is a stone cold bore with Ringo’s dull playing maybe a notch above Nilsson’s. Freddie Jones does good work as Baron Frankenstein, the villain of the piece, but that’s about it. It’s no mystery why this film has stayed buried since the 1970s. The Exhumed print had a Young Dracula title card clumsily inserted into the opening titles.” Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot
“It vacillates between unamusing comedy and what Starr considers ‘outre’. All the standard cliches are here, plus figures from the rock world, and while there is an obvious love for horror movies underlying the project, results are wishy-washy.” John Stanley, Creature Features
“Son of Dracula is just plain boring. Not over-the-top bad. Just uninspired, a big ol’ vanity project for Ringo and Harry. I just hope they had more fun doing the movie that I had trying to stay awake.” Bad Movie Night
“Is it good? Gosh, no. Is it interesting? Completely. It makes so little sense that you just watch it slack-jawed and staring. Is it available on DVD? No, of course not. There’s a good quality one on YouTube and it shows up as a bootleg at conventions.” B&S About Movies
Cast and characters:
- Harry Nilsson – Count Downe
- Ringo Starr – Merlin the Magician
- Freddie Jones – The Baron
- Suzanna Leigh – Amber
- Dennis Price – Van Helsing
- Skip Martin – Igor
- David Bailie – Chauffeur
- Shakira Baksh – Housekeeper
- Jenny Runacre – Woman in Black
- Beth Morris – Wendy
- Dan Meaden – Count Dracula
- Lorna Wilde – Countess Dracula