Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

  OLD DRACULA. American International Pictures, US, 1975. Originally released in the UK by Columbia-Warner Distributors, 1975, as Vampira. David Niven (Count Dracula), Teresa Graves (Countess Vampira), Peter Bayliss, Jennie Linden, Nicky Henson, Linda Hayden. Director: Clive Donner.

   The esteemed English actor David Niven, whose film career spanned over four decades, starred in many notable films including The Moon is Blue (1953), Carrington V.C. (1955), My Man Godfrey (1957), and Separate Tables (1958), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. In the latter stage of his career, Niven was perhaps best known for his appearance in two of the Pink Panther films.

   Then there’s Clive Donner’s oddball horror-comedy Vampira, aka Old Dracula, a spoof of vampire films mixed with a swinging sixties sensibility and a hint of Blaxploitation.

   While it’s not an overly memorable production, the movie benefits greatly from Niven’s fang-in-cheek portrayal of an aging Count Dracula. Ensconced in his Transylvanian castle, Dracula (Niven) is relegated to having his dimwitted assistant (Peter Bayliss) operate his home as a campy tourist attraction.

   When a bevvy of Playboy Playmates show up for a night at Dracula’s castle, Dracula sees it an opportunity to steal some blood from the young girls. Not that he wants to drink it. No. He wants some youthful blood that he can transfer into the body of his beloved dead wife, Vampira so that he can bring her back to undead life.

   Problem is, he mixes the blood of the different bunnies and well … one of them is Black. Lo and behold, he is able to resurrect Vampira. But she comes back as a Black woman (Teresa Graves). There’s some truly funny racial humor here, such as when Vampira ends up going to see a screening of a Jim Brown movie in London, or when Dracula says he’s afraid to go out at night with her (what would society think). What doesn’t work is a scene in which Niven appears in blackface.

   Movie fans might appreciate two other aspects to the film. Titled as Vampira in the United Kingdom, it was released by American International in the United States as Old Dracula to capitalize on the success of Mel Brooks’ much better film, Young Frankenstein (1974). That it didn’t have nearly the same cultural impact tells you that a title can only do so much.

   Also of note, some viewers will undoubtedly love the fact that Nicky Henson, whose starring role in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973), a exploitation movie about a gang of Satanic bikers made him an icon of cult horror film fans everywhere, has a pivotal role in Old Dracula. Which leads me to my final thought. Which is that in many ways, the actors in this production are much better than the script.