Putting the ‘I’ in ‘vampire’: Dracula’s Last Rites (1980)

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I first encountered Dracula’s Last Rites (sometimes simply known as Last Rites) in a Melbourne video store circa 1996. Corporate vampires from the ‘greed is good’ decade, complete with a bargain-basement budget and a synthesiser soundtrack.

What could go wrong, dear reader, what could go wrong?

Well, plenty could go wrong— and does. But before discussing this film’s shortcomings, let’s look at the plot. Or the thing resembling a plot. Yeah, that thing. Let’s look at it.

The scene is upstate New York. Not quite Gordon Gekko territory, but the local mortician is turning a nice profit. It would help that the bloke’s name is A. Lucard (subtle!), and he’s a card-carrying member of the undead. It would also help that Our Man Lucard is assisted by the local police chief and doctor, who are also bloodsuckers.

For the last little while, Lucard and co have been boosting business by snacking on the locals. At the end of their feast, they pound a stake into their victims’ hearts, to avoid their group expanding and local eyebrows being raised.

Well, they do forget to stake one — Mrs Bradley (Mimi Weddell, of Sex and the City fame). The matriarch rises from her coffin before the plank of wood winds its way into her chest, and goes walkabout. It’s up to Lucard and co to stop her before she tries out her new plastic fangs, and her family (Michael Lally and Patricia Lee Hammond) get their shackles up.

This is amateurish stuff, people. Hell, Dracula’s Last Rites makes amateurishness an art form. The plot has more holes than the neck of a vampire’s victim, and the limp dialogue is robotically recited by a listless cast.

The camerawork looks faded, though this actually gives the film a nicely dreamlike, VHS aesthetic (and then there’s that synthy soundtrack …) Some of the latter scenes have an almost surrealistic worn-out print.

And all is not lost. This will never be counted among anyone’s favourite vampire films (I think), but it should hold a distinguished place in the bloodsucker canon for two reasons.

Firstly, Dracula’s Last Rites boasts the most boring Dracula in cinematic history. This bloke is bureaucratic businessman through and through, and about as terrifying as Michael Douglas’ 80s coiffure (though Our Man Lucard is bald).

Secondly, Dracula’s Last Rites boasts the most inept vampires ever committed to celluloid. How the group have managed to keep their charade running for so long is a mystery. This mob squabble constantly; they each make decisions based on their own, personal desires, and pay dearly. There is not a team vision statement in sight.

Or maybe I’ve missed the point. Maybe the fanged fiends in Dracula’s Last Rites have embraced the individualist, neoliberal ethos that would characterise the 1980s. With that in mind, this film has one valuable lesson: There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is an ‘I’ in vampire.

  • Update: 24 December, 2016 – Michael Lally (this film’s leading man) has notified me that Dracula’s Last Rites was actually “set in South jersey (i.e. New Jersey) in what was then a farm community.” I thank Lally for providing me with this information, and for taking the time to engage in correspondence about a film that he made so long ago.

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