Tender Dracula, or Confessions of a Blood Drinker (French: Tendre Dracula or, alternately, La Grande Trouille) is a 1974 French horror film directed by Pierre Grunstein.
Peter Cushing, Alida Valli, Miou-Miou, Bernard Menez, Nathalie Courval.
Two writers take their girlfriends to a castle where an actor (Peter Cushing) who has played vampires in many films is living. The longer they stay in the castle, the more likely it seems that the actor is an actual vampire…
A frantic television executive dispatches two bungling writers, Alfred (Bernard Menez, La Grande Bouffe, Dracula and Son) and Boris (Stéphane Shandor), to convince acting legend MacGregor (horror mainstay, Peter Cushing) not to throw away his peerless career playing a vampire in order to branch out into the world of slushy romance. They head off to a remote Scottish castle where the actor resides, taking with them two budding actresses, Madeleine (Nathalie Courval) and Marie (a regularly undressed, be-wigged Miou-Miou) and soon encounter resident butler Abélard (Percival Russel) and MacGregor’s wife (Alida Valli, another horror legend, seen in the likes of Suspiria and Lisa and the Devil), both of whom veer from Carry On to existential experimentation in the blink of an eye. We finally meet a Keats-spouting MacGregor, already way beyond convincing to change his new career path but the remaining 70 minutes care little about such frippery.
Struggling to decide which genre it wants to demolish, we are regularly distracted by a stream of nudity, none of which is anything other than typical 70’s softcore but all of it somewhat jarring when considering Mr Cushing’s name is above the title – those alarmed at his participation in the sleazy Corruption should take a cold shower.
Some singing also ensues but fortunately both Valli and Cushing steer clear, both looking occasionally like they are prepared for the film to start in earnest. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell whether the actor is leading his guests along or he has grand designs on his prey.
The presence of Valli and Cushing, as well as a castle, should be foolproof enough to ‘get by’ but this oddly-pitched French production is far too satisfied with its props to go to the effort of story/script/wit/point. This, mercifully, was Pierre Grunstein’s only directorial effort, though his career as a producer (Jean de Florette, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) would suggest he wasn’t utterly blind to talent and film-making skill.
Made in the period during which Cushing was still in deep mourning for the loss of his wife, Helen, it is easy to see the actor throwing himself into any old project to distract him from his misery, though this is somewhat wobbly as an appeal, given it also being the period of some of his greatest roles, Tales from the Crypt, Horror Express, Madhouse and so on.
The muddled cast, with Cushing’s voice dubbed by French acting titan Jean Rochefort in the original release, appear to be acting alongside rather than with each other; both Courval and Miou-Miuo regularly burst out into song in a strange Greek Chorus, seemingly an attempt to remind everyone where we are in the plot. In the most preposterous scene, Cushing spanks Miou-Miou, the kind of thing you could get away with in 1974, with the chances of English-speaking audiences ever viewing the film being slim. What we do get is a glimpse of is Cushing as The Count, more redolent of the smooth Lugosi vamp than Lee’s aristocrat but still only an interesting footnote than a statement.
So confused is the aim, especially as Euro-humour rarely travels well at the best of times, that it’s hard to be too damning of the film, purely because it’s difficult to know what the point was in the first place. Towards the end, Cushing’s character flicks through a scrapbook containing photos of some the real actor’s most famous roles. You’d think that at this point someone would have twigged that something had gone terribly astray in the very production they were working on.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia
Some of the images above appear courtesy of the Peter Cushing Blog