Today we're reaching back into the vault for one of our favorite Halloween features about the hilariously terrible anime Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned.
I've mentioned before that Marvel's long-running Tomb of Dracula comic by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan features my favorite version of the Lord of All Vampires, and reading through the series I remember thinking that it would be a great source for a TV or movie adaptation. Little did I know that that already happened in Japan, thanks to a feature-length anime special from 1980 called Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned, which largely centered around Dracula stealing the girlfriend of the actual Devil and trying to keep Satan himself from getting laid. Like so many things in the 21st century, the entire film has made its way to Youtubein six parts, and we've got commentary to take you through the whole thing.
0:35: Right from the start, things have already gotten crazy. Not only does a movie about Dracula open with shots of outer space -- setting up the promise of Space Draculas that I assure you will not be delivered upon -- but we also get maybe the most uninspired font choice of all time:
Even so, that's a pretty awesome title. Though I do feel compelled to point out that I'm pretty sure the title "Sovereign of the Damned" was actually held by Ronnie James Dio in 1980, and has since been passed down to Lemmy Kilmister.
0:37: You'd think telling a story of Dracula that begins "at the dawn of creation" would be pretty exciting, and yet this narrator could only be more obviously phoning it in if he was, in fact, on an actual phone.
1:24: Seriously, this dude sounds like a narrator in an educational filmstrip. "No, it's not magic, Timmy! It's the magic of... Chemistry!"
1:44: At first, I thought that the long, long looks at Dracula's wall decorations might have been an aesthetic choice I just didn't get, but then a friend of mine pointed out that they were probably meant to have credits superimposed on them at some point. Why they don't, however, I have no idea.
2:53: The Lord of All Vampires would, of course, set up shop in Boston, as he thinks it's absolutely hilarious to hear people shout things like "Holy Crap! I just saw Dracular out inna gahden!"
3:08: Well, at least our narrator brings the jazz when it's time to say something like "unholy desecration."
3:52: Okay, seriously: What kind of rinky-dink Satanic Death Cult schedules a team of contractors to come over and install their unholy pentagram with a set of chisels at the exact same time as their daemonic rituals?
That is some monumentally poor planning. Get it together, Satanic Death Cult. Yeesh.
7:34: Here's how you know Dracula is awesome: That dude just rolled up into a party and stole the Devil's girlfriend. That is baller as Hell. Literally.
8:53: Dracula's light-up fangs are amazing and need to be in every single version of the character, ever.
LED technology is there, filmmakers. Get on it.
9:10: Ha ha, okay guys. Real funny. Now where's the REAL voice you're going to be using for Dracula?
10:35: At last, we see the terrifying extent of Dracula's power! His bite can take a normal woman...
...and turn her into Smurfette! All this time you thought Gargamel was a bad guy, turns out he's just trying to keep that forest safe from the scourge of the undead.
10:48: All joking aside, this shot is pretty fantastic:
It's incredibly dynamic and evocative, and I believe is inspired directly by Gene Colan's art, from when he drew the crossover between Dracula and one of Toei's other properties, Daft Punk's "Interstella 5555."
12:52: "Long pointy teeth like a wolf or somethin'!" Yes, a wolf. That is certainly the best way to describe a humanoid creature with fangs who drinks blood by night. Surely, there is no other word, one that pretty much everybody knows, that could be used in that sentence to make things a little more clear.
14:24: This is Frank Drake, who, along with Quincy Harker (who is for some reason called Hans in this movie) and Rachel Van Helsing, was the primary protagonist (or antagonist, depending on how you look at it) of "Tomb of Dracula" Everything you really need to know about him is summed up pretty quick right here at the beginning of the movie, in that he's a distant descendant of Big D's who has changed his name to avoid the stigma that goes along with it. His original name was "Francis."
Also of note: Frank Drake isn't into mysteries, buttercup.
0:03: If the voices are anything to go by, tonight the part of Quincy Harker will be played by Snidely Whiplash.
0:40: WARNING: Quincy Harker will flick the cane and slash you in the face.
I could seriously watch that all day. The little flare on the blade just cracks me right up.
0:45: And speaking of things I could watch all day, this is now a movie where a young lady pushes an old dude in a wheelchair around a park while he tries to stab a young man for not hating Dracula enough, all of which happens in broad daylight. If this had been the entire content of "Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned," it would justifiably be regarded as the single greatest animated film of all time.
1:01: In case you had any doubts that this thing actually was anime, dig Frank's "DragonBall"-esque slow motion flying kick:
What it lacks in the all-but-mandatory speed lines, it makes up for in windswept bellbottoms.
3:03: Far be it from me to criticize Abraham Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker's vampire-slaying technique here -- my expertise being limited to beating Dracula to death with a magic whip in "Castlevania" -- but they have got to be the most ineffectual vampire hunters ever. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if you go into a castle to kill a vampire and he wakes up when you've got the stake up against his chest, just go ahead and pound it in. Or at the very least, don't just stand there not doing anything while he stands up and starts to murder you with his teeth.
These guys are amateur hour, I swear.
4:08: Between Drake's oddly familiar character design and Rachel's pretty perfect "ugh" at the prospect of going out with him, this thing is basically two wristbands away from being "Scott Pilgrim and Kim Pine Fight Dracula." Which, now that I have written it down, needs to happen yesterday.
6:57: Turns out Satan is totally not cool with having his girlfriend stolen.
Other things Satan is not cool with: Pants.
10:59: Brother, if you don't think Dracula's son being born on Christmas Eve is some foreshadowing of things to come, you may want to just bail out now. This thing has not yet begun to get crazy.
11:58: No lie, the map of Dracula's likely locations is fantastic.
It makes me wonder if Dracula picked the spots to commit his murders on purpose in order to create his own logo just in case anyone was plotting it out on a map, and I'm going to go ahead and say yes, that is exactly what he did. Because he's Dracula. And that's how Dracula rolls.
13:08: Oh man. Giving your old lady the "I'm actually Dracula, not Satan" speech. We've all been there, am I right fellas?
0:14: It's about this point where the movie starts to lose me, with its portrayal of Dracula as a sensitive guy who was totally bummed out about having to do all that impaling back in the day. Admittedly, the real-life Vlad III may have had perfectly good reasons for actions that filled his Wikipedia entry up with phrases like "those who did not die from exhaustion were impaled," but I like my Draculas to be unrepentant bastards who say things like this:
The bow-tie and Mr. Miracle's cape are optional.
3:28: Yes. You heard that correctly. This entire movie is predicated on Dracula attempting to keep the Devil from getting laid. Say what you want about his role as the eternal enemy of mankind, but basing your whole operation around cockblocking Lucifer? That takes moxie.
3:29: So that's really the voice you're going with for Dracula, guys? And you're going to record it in an empty broom closet? well, okay...
4:40: As it turns out, Dracula doesn't need to rely on his hypnotic powers and command over the creatures of the night to get women...
...he does it by smooth listening, and talking to them, not at them. Take notes, guys.
In a related story, that might actually be my favorite picture of Dracula ever: Dressed up for a fancy meal, having a cup of coffee with a fine lady, striking a classic Senior Portrait pose. Amazing.
4:58: Is there anything more romantic than matching His 'n' Hers insanely anachronistic billowy high-collar vampire capes? ... Yeah, you're right. There are probably many, many things more romantic than that. Especially since Dracula is wearing his cape at home, while having a nice chat with his wife. I love that guy so much.
5:06: It's important to note that when Dolores says that Dracula "could not possibly be all evil," she's still comparing him to the actual Devil. Dude is still Dracula, lady; he definitely eats people.
6:32: Considering how full it is of shots like this...
...I'm legitimately surprised that this movie was never just repackaged as an animated "Dark Shadows" tie-in. Also, I'm not sure what the proper tone of voice is for a line like "It's a message from the Disciples of Satan" is, but I'm going to go ahead and say that "perky optimism" may have been the wrong choice.
Of note: Dracula still primarily corresponds via carrier pigeon and only travels by horse-drawn buggy. In 1980.
6:46: Wait, did you guys not just now finish talking about how you pissed off the Disciples of Satan? And now you're totally into their offer to monkey around with your baby using their devil magic, which at least one of you knows firsthand is usually meted out in the form of terrible curses?
Dracula, you f***ing idiot.
11:04: Of course, why waste time with curses...
..when you could just pull out a gun and shoot a baby.
I think I can see why this movie never got wide distribution.
12:15: Villain or not, I'm not sure anyone has ever had a better reason to go banana, choke dudes out and start throwing girls at dudes in a wheelchair than having one's baby shot with a flintlock pistol. That is straight up justified.
13:30: So justified, in fact, that I'm actually not that into seeing Frank's amazing attempt to bring down Dracula...
...with the power of Karate. And normally, I would be way into that.
0:02: As of this writing, there are zero -- that's zero -- rap songs that sample both Dracula's "NOOOOO MY DARLING BABY!" and the beat from Justin Bieber's smash hit "Baby." Come on, Adam Warrock. Get your head in the game here.
0:22: It is absolutely astonishing to me that this shot has never been used as the cover for a Heavy Metal album. It does look pretty familiar, though.
Hang on, let me look through my collection of rarities and see if I can't find the rare import-only Japanese release from AxeWulf, Sweden's most brutal thrash metal band.
I knew it was too good to be missed.
0:35: Dracula's terrible, drawn out "BAWWWWWW." Still better than Darth Vader's "NOOOOOOO."
1:14: Even when it's done reasonably well -- like in the Darwyn Cooke-directed opening sequence of "Batman Beyond" -- there is nothing funnier to me than cartoon people dancing.
Especially if they throw in a wicked multicolor strobe light.
1:35: You might think this guy is a total creep (brother, the only guys who can pull off that moustache are Tony Stark and Count Dracula), but Fun Fact: In 1980, it was considered proper courting to just straight body-check a girl on the dance floor.
1:40: It should also be noted that at this point, we have entered an entirely different movie than the one we started with. Seriously, the biggest flaw in this thing (aside from the fact that it's not all wheelchair swordfights, club dances and karate moves) is that in attempting to replicate the comic for the screen, they just went ahead and mashed up three or four story arcs with only the barest attempt to connect them. It may have worked better if it was released as episodes or as an OVA, but all together, the whole thing's a mess. I mean, you'd think "Dracula vs. Satan" would provide you with two hours of entertainment without throwing Dracula's Jesus Baby in there too.
3:44: Quincy Harker has only ever heard of punctuation, but hasn't gotten the chance to try it out for himself. Every time that dude opens his mouth, it's like getting an infodump from a spooky episode of "Speed Racer." "Secretly unknown to Speed Racer X is in reality Dracula the Lord of All Vampires who could be right here in Boston under our noses and must be defeated during the face through Casa Cristo's ice caves or else!"
3:55: Seriously, dude. Even the dog is bored.
4:14: Holy crap, Quincy Harker just told someone not to feel sympathy for a woman whose baby got shot. That is ice cold.
6:57: It occurs to me that some of you may be wondering about my use of the phrase "Dracula's Jesus Baby" up there a minute ago. I assure you, that was not an exaggeration. That is what this movie is now about.
7:31: I like that Dracula can identify "the Heavenly light of revival" by sight. Dude has been around.
9:42: Janus's resurrection as a full-grown man with Heavenly powers is, like his completely ridiculous outfit, adapted from something that happens in the comics. Except there, when he first shows up, he fights Dracula on a roller coaster.
I am so amazingly disappointed that this isn't the part being adapted in this movie that I honestly don't know if I can keep watching it. Vampires on roller coasters, guys. That's what we could be watching right now.
13:39: And suddenly, this movie has become a Jack Chick tract about how motorcycles lead to alcohol, which leads to drugs, which leads to worshipping Satan, which leads to having a Dracula baby that gets turned into Space Jesus.
It's something today's kids need to know about.
0:36: Not to be overly critical on Toei's animation here, but this look's less like someone blasting the pure light of Heaven out of his eyes, and more like a guy trying to fight Dracula by straight up puking at him.
I mean, I have no personal experience with the light of Heaven, but I don't think light of any kind splashes when it hits a curb, nor do I really get why it's mucous yellow rather than, say, any other color at all.
4:45: I like that the Devil keeps being referred to as "Satan Lucifer," as though those are his first and last names. This is fantastic, as it gives me the idea that the Devil's mom is yelling at him from just off-screen. "Satan Timothy Lucifer get up here and clean this room! Ooh you just wait 'til your father gets home, young author-of-all-lies!"
4:47: Just in case you forgot this is from Toei, the same studio that made "Sailor Moon," here's the bad guy giving a speech where he says the word "love" five times in eight seconds.
5:50: Apparently Satan is also the Author of All Exposition. Yeesh.
7:33: It is at this point, thanks to some redirected Satan Lightning (the name of my new Slayer cover band) that the movie kicks off its third plot, in which Dracula has been de-vampirized.
I honesty don't know if this was meant to be released episodically or not, but the whole thing strikes me as being completely motivated by having to fill time.
"Well, Dracula just had a climactic battle with the Devil himself on the Astral Plane over the love of his human bride. That's a pretty good place to end it."
"We need twenty more minutes."
"Oh crap. Make him... uh... human?"
9:54: Okay, I'll give 'Sovereign of the Damned" this:
Extended scenes of Dracula choking dudes out and taking their wallets almost -- almost -- makes up for the lack of roller coaster combat.
10:27: I wish I'd seen this movie before my recent trip to New York, because I totally would have made time to eat at Restaurant King:
Much like how Burger King is a restaurant that serves burgers, Restaurant King is an establishment that serves smaller restaurants.
11:03: And now... Dracula Eating a Hamburger... FOREVER!!
11:54: Oh snap, did this thing just get sexy on us?
Actually, it's important to note that this is probably another reason why "Sovereign of the Damned" never got wide American distribution. While the magazine-sized black-and-white "Tomb of Dracula" stories had, like "Savage Sword of Conan," featured occasional nudity, American animation was still solidly considered Kid Stuff. This was, after all, a year before the "Heavy Metal" movie, and nipple-free vampire sideboob could've sent concerned parents into an outright frenzy.
12:03: Dracula explaining things by saying "Yeah, I had a run-in with Satan." Pretty great.
12:05: Also, I like that Layla puts on an entire outfit, including cape, crown, and (apparently) a wig before getting down to Vampire Business. You just don't see that much dedication among the Creatures of the Night these days.
0:15: We're in the home stretch, and at this point, "Sovereign of the Damned' has gone completely off the rails. Dracula is wandering around Transylvania and... how did he get there? Did he just choke out enough dudes to get airfare? And did they let him wear that high-collar cape on the plane? 1980 was a different time, you guys.
1:33: Is she seriously recapping the plot of the last half hour of the movie? Yes. Yes she is.
3:29: And now, the final indignity:
Dracula has been taken in by a trio of precocious youngsters, one of whom appears to be a Ralph Bakshi hobbit.
5:03: Okay, okay, Dracula being transplanted into the plot of "Night of the Living Dead" is pretty awesome, but it's too little, too late, Toei. Even if Dracula is totally giving the army of zombies a look that is less fear and more supreme annoyance.
"Oh, this again."
6:04: Okay, okay, I admit it. This is pretty awesome.
7:57: And just in time for the end, things turn awesome again with a scene where Dracula regains his rightful position by basically slapping a slightly more evil vampire in the face so hard that he dies.
And that's about it for "Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned." Was it great? No. No it was not. I mean, it's not even the best motion picture adaptation of "Tomb of Dracula" -- that honor goes to "Blade," if only because it includes the line "some motherf***er's always trying to ice skate uphill" -- but it's... it's...
It's certainly about an hour and a half, isn't it?
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