Many people have trashed disco over the years (quite literally in the case of the Disco Demolition) as a fad best left forgotten, but the fact is, there are tons of folks out there who like to have something to mindlessly dance to. They grab on to a beat for a few years, throw it away, and then grab another, mocking the previous beat as ridiculous. Personally, I don’t make much of a distinction between mindless disco dancing or mindless techno dancing or people mindlessly banging their heads to Nickleback or whatever.
Like a lot of fads, disco was so popular in the late 70’s that you ended up with disco variants on pretty much everything. There were disco clubs, disco shirts, disco drugs (cocaine), and even disco Kiss songs. So, it only seems natural to me that there would be a disco horror vampire movie. A lot of pop culture seems bizarre when distanced by time and divorced from drug use, but this kinda thing would have made perfect sense at the time I’m sure.
The Gloria Gaynor theme song aside, our disco vampire star (Nai Bonet) appears at first glance to be a rather typical female vampire, gliding through a dark castle wearing a flowing nightgown, the supple fog caressing her undead skin. Accomplished cinematographer Mac Ahlberg provides these atmospherics, making the movie initially look like a 70’s vampire movie that’s all euro-gothed out to the gills. However, things quickly shift when the house servant Theodore (played by Brother Theodore, so I guess he’s playing himself) begins spouting dialogue. If you don’t know Brother Theodore, he’s a spoken word maniac that excels in what he terms “stand-up tragedy”. Boy, I wish I had come up with that term. Fucking beautiful, yet so simple.
Brother Ted hams it up in his own bizarre, performance art fashion; wonderful in it’s own way but totally incongruous when contrasted with the willowy horror atmospherics on display in the beginning of the film. It’s like a British horror villain played by Patrick Magee, but amped up ten times and ran through a diseased mind riddled with tragic mania. My favorite line of his in the movie is “as long as there is death…there is hope”. I don’t know what that means but it sounds pretty metal.
This performance contrasts greatly with our lead vampiress, who not only acts like she has never acted before, but speaks like she has never spoken before. It’s like she memorized the lines phonetically and slowly unfurls them in comatose fashion, but her accent isn’t heavy enough for one to think she doesn’t have a decent grasp of English. She also does a lot of dancing in the movie, but that consists of her spinning around basically. If you’re wondering how she got the role despite an apparent lack of talent, she actually produced and financed the movie. I will give her this though; unlike other inexplicable movie stars like Paris Hilton, Nai does smile a lot. So her talent is smiling I guess.
If you’re wondering how Brother Theodore was cast in a fluffy disco vampire movie, I have absolutely no answer for you. However, there is no question how they got John Carradine to play Count Dracula, grandfather of Nocturna; they paid him money. Give John a paycheck, and god knows he’ll throw on the ‘ole cape and fangs and strut his stuff one more time, whether the terrible comedy Vampire Hookers or the silly no-budget Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Anyway, listening to the Count’s dialogue, another angle to the movie becomes apparent; it’s a comedy! He throws out some one-liners and even has denture fangs! The humor is passable as a series of sub-Munsters groaners, maybe the best line being the one during the “Bloodsuckers of America” meeting where a vampire lady complains about fat kids eating a lot of sweets because they’re a problem for diabetic vampires. Humor and stuff!
Well, the plot finally kicks in when a disco group auditions for Nocturna’s castle disco, singing a song with a decent beat but a tunefully troubled chorus. Yes, her castle has it’s own disco, and I imagine it’s pretty popular considering there wasn’t much to do in late 70’s Transylvania except run away from vampires. Anyway, the guitar player is a blonde studmuffin named Jimmy who catches Nocturna’s eye. We figure this out because the camera zooms in on her smiling face like three times as she stares into his eyes. He reciprocates with puppy dog glances, and even starts dancing with her in the middle of the song he’s supposed to be performing. I guess the electric guitar is at the bottom of the disco rhythm section totem pole and is therefore easily expendable. Afterwards, Nocturna introduces herself and reveals that her name is a Transylvanian word that means “of the night”. I think that’s supposed to be a joke, but it might actually be true. Whatever.
Anyway, these two fall in love and disco dance, and Nocturna wants to run off with Jimmy to New York to disco dance some more and then do some disco dancing after that. However, vampires are not supposed to cavort with humans, so this angers granddaddy Dracula, who forbids her to have anything to do with him. She ignores his wishes and joins him on a horse carriage trip to New York City…from Transylvania. Why not.
Meanwhile, Theodore lusts after Nocturna and her “90 lbs of quivering flesh” (I think he’s underselling her a bit in the weight department). This is clearly conveyed with lines like “if only I could get into her coffin”, “I’ve always been interested in loose women, there is so much you can do with them”, and “I’ll keep her pregnant and barefoot and let her eat under the table”. However, Nocturna is in love and certainly doesn't have an interest in being an at-home slut for a raving lunatic, so something’s gotta give. That is what is known as a “dramatic setup”.
Much to Jimmy’s libidinous chagrin, Nocturna stays with a fellow vampire (of course played by Yvonne DeCarlo), who lives in a vault under the Brooklyn Bridge. She quickly becomes bored listening to Yvonne’s one liners so she…heads to 42nd Street to dance! When in Rome, as they say.
This provides a rad look at late 70’s 42nd street and, even radder, Nocturna bumps into vampire pimp Sy Richardson, who is basically just regular Sy Richardson but with plastic fangs hanging from a gold chain and collars for miles and a fancy hat. I mean that as a compliment; if you hire Sy Richardson to be in your movie, you want him to bring as much Sy Richardson-ness to the role as possible. You don’t want to lose any potential Sy Richardson-ness at the expense of the creation of a character or some bullshit like that.
Anyway, you can figure out the rest. Dracula and Theo travel to New York to break up this emerging disco power couple, but their plan won’t succeed because love conquers all and disco ain’t nothin’ to fuck with. This escalates in a pretty awesome Saturday Night Fever finale, complete with authentically coketastic gyrations from the locals, which ultimately ends in Jimmy taking care of the Count in fucking ingenious and brilliantly appropriate fashion.
Oh yeah, the movie also has some fancy special effects.
If you can't tell by now, this movie is a pretty awesome but incongruous collection of elements that were never seen before and will never be seen again. In other words, it's original folks. The biggest problem with Nocturna is Bonet herself, both in her line readings and the fact that a good chunk of the movie is her spinning around on the dance floor. Jimmy is captivated by her at every turn, which is not very believable considering I don’t think she used her laser sparkle power to hypnotize him (that’s where there’s a sparkle of light in her eye accompanied by laser sounds). I guess that’s the main component of a vanity project; to make the star seem like the most talented person in the world even if the only thing they can do is smile while spinning in a circle.
Either way, the important “arc” is that Nocturna wants to become human so she can be with her one true hot dude, and in order to become human she has to DISCO DANCE! Yes, normally her reflection can't be seen in a mirror, but it DOES appear while she’s dancing. So, it’s basically a story that says “the pinnacle of humanity is to disco dance as much as possible with a hot person and then have sex with them afterwards and repeat ad nauseum”. Anything else is dehumanizing and monstrous; jobs, rock and roll, family tradition, etc. In 1979, this was a perfectly legitimate outlook on life.