This is a very interesting little 70s movie for a number of reasons. First off, it has Robert Redford in it in what is probably one of his least likeable character roles. Don't get me wrong, his classic on-screen charisma is certainly there, but his portrayal of Halsy Knox - a narcissistic loser of a motorcycle racer - is quite compelling whilst still bringing to life a selfish bastard of a dude. Knox is a guy who has gotten by on his good looks and smooth talk forever, but it has ultimately netted him very little. When he comes upon Little Fauss (Michael J. Pollard) he sees an easy mark that he can use to get himself a new bike and a sidekick mechanic to work on it for him. What I like about the film is that it sets itself up to be one kind of thing (schmoe gets starry-eyed over the "cool" guy who has chosen to hang out with him and gets screwed over by the "cool" guy later) and then takes some turns I didn't expect. For one thing, Fauss isn't played for a total fool and eventually calls Halsy on his bullshit. That usually doesn't happen at all in this kind of movie and it certainly rarely happens before the end of the film. So there's that and in addition, there's this really sad undercurrent to Robert Redford's character that I've rarely seen him play before. He's played tragic gents before, but Halsy Knox is unique in his filmography as a loser who just can't seem to redeem himself. It's kind of like the anti-NATURAL or something and I very much dug that about it. Also, it has one of those ambiguous 70s endings that comes when you wouldn't expect it and leaves you thinking about it and trying to decode it for days afterward. Movies absolutely DO NOT do this kind of thing anymore and though I've seen it a lot in my time I still find myself drawn to films that choose to close out this way. More things to like about it include a small (and rather thankless) role for Lauren Hutton and a great turn from Michael J. Pollard. Pollard is one of my favorite character actors and a guy who's unusual looks could really only have seen him properly utilized in the 60s and 70s. He's just one of those actors that feels real in this very specific way that always draws me in and I cherish any opportunity to see a film with him that I've not checked out before. Also notable is that this movie was directed by Sidney J. Furie who did things like THE IPCRESS FILE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, HIT! and IRON EAGLE. He's got a certain style going here that I liked quite a bit. A very 70s aesthetic from the very opening shot of the movie. Oh and last but not least, Johnny Cash did the songs for the movie and that can and does elevate just about anything.This was a film I was only vaguely aware of until screenwriter extraordinaire Larry Karaszewski chose to spotlight it with a commentary over at Trailers From Hell. I can certainly see what he sees in the movie and I will be counting it among my favorite film discoveries of 2016. Check out what Larry has to say about it below:
Though what follows is hardly as terrifying as THE SHINING, the music that plays under this film's opening titles reminds me more than a little bit of Kubrick's masterpiece - especially the brass. Said credit sequence plays over a darkly silhouetted Dracula's face with only his eyes creepily lit. It's actually a pretty memorable beginning for an old film like this one. You'll not want to gin into this Dracula movie expecting a Bela Lugosi kind of world, because it's far from that. It certainly doesn't have the feel of continuing the Universal Horror mythology. Rather, it feels like the much cheaper and weirder knockoff that it is.
After he eludes some vampire hunters back home, Dracula flees to the states and ends up in Carleton, California. The spot is very much small town, USA - 1950s. It's a big deal in this place if the evening train shows up half and hour early - just to give you an idea of how fast life moves there. So what you basically have is Dracula moving in with a family under the guise of being "Cousin Bellac". I've heard the movie called DRACULA meets LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and I can see how folks might interpret it this way, but it also vaguely recalls Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT as well. It's funny that I didn't notice that the last time I watched it, but this go round it was much more obvious. There's a stand in for the Theresa right character and Dracula himself fills in for Joe Cotten's Uncle Charlie just fine. There's even a similar fascination with the older man on the part of the young female as with Hitchcock's film. What ends up happening (in part because of the actor who plays Dracula) is that moments that might have played for nice suspense in SHADOW now play a bit campy. This isn't a bad thing though and I personally find the film to be goofily entertaining overall.
Buy THE RETURN OF DRACULA here: