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  Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned
 
1983 | Harmony Gold Ltd.
battle for moon station Dallos celebrity just for kids

The companion piece to Frankenstein Toei's infamous Dracula Sovereign of the Damned. Will it suck (terrible pun) or not? I'm betting you probably already know the answer.

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Inspired by the characters of Bram Stokers 1897 novel; The Tomb of Dracula, published by Marvel Comics, debuted in April 1972. Previously the Comics Code, which governed the content of all Comic Books, had banned the use of Vampires but this, slightly bizarre, ruling had recently been relaxed. The basic storyline followed the constant attempts of a group of determined Vampire Hunters to put an end to the recently re-awakened Lord of the Undead. This gang was assembled by the aging Dr Quincy Harker, the descendant of Dracula's old nemesis Jonathan Harker, now confined to a wheelchair. Harker is ably assisted by the young Rachel Van Helsing, granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, her bodyguard- a giant, mute Indian man named Taj Nital and the scientifically and mechanically skilled Frank Drake. Their battle against Dracula is complimented by the vampire's son Janus, resurrected from death as a child by an angel. Together this band of good battle the forces of darkness numbering not only Dracula himself but also a female vampire Layla and a whole satanic cult lead by the unbalanced Anton Lupeski. The Tomb of Dracula series proved to be very popular and lasted 70 issues running until August 1979 and numerous re-prints since.

In the late 70's Japanese animation giant Toei signed a deal with Marvel Comics to produce animated versions of their comic characters. Though this deal was successful the only Marvel property that made it to animation was Tomb of Dracula under the new title Yami no Teio Kyuketsuki Dracula (Dracula: Vampire Emperor of Darkness). Appearing as a TV Special on the TV Asahi network in 1980 it is unclear as to why this was the only product of the deal especially since the comics that form its basis were never available in Japan.

The anime version's plot condenses the overall story arc from issues #7-50 into a 94 minute movie. Dracula is pursued across Boston, New York and eventually Transylvania by the Vampire Hunting team and a Satanic Cult from whom he stole their bridal offering a young girl named Dolores with whom the Vampire has fallen in love.

The direction of Dracula was handled by two regular Toei staffers; Akinori Nagaoka & Minoru Okazaki whose credits included numerous episodes of popular shows such as Dr Slump, Anpanman, Lupin III and Gegege no Kitaro. The story was penned by Tadaaki Yamazaki with token credit given to the original comic's staff Gene Colan, Marv Wolfman and Tom Palmer. Seiji Yokoyama, whose notable credits include Captain Harlock and Saint Seiya, provided the haunting score.

The TV Special was popular enough to introduce a brief resurgence in popularity of with the Horror genre continuing with Toei's Kyofu Densetsu Kaibutsu: Frankenstein a year later.

In the experienced hands of Harmony Gold Yami no Teio Kyuketsuki Dracula appeared in west in 1983 under the new title of Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned. Directed by Robert Barron and with many of the regular cast who would later go on to success in Robotech, Dracula played on cable channels in the USA with a running time four minutes shorter than in Japan.

Despite the adult themes the animated feature was released as a children's video by Vestron in America and Mountain Video in the UK.

Interestingly the British release was only available before the regulation of the video market and disappeared without re-release when the laws were changed.

As ever, Dracula found a home in Europe including France and anime loving Spain where it was released by Mondo Home Entertainment with a dub by Oceania Film.

 
Blue Noa LP
The Japanese soundtrack LP
 
Tomb of Dracula Comic
 
A publicity still from the Japanese release
 

Narration lecturing us on the constant struggles of good and bad open the show over images of space which look distinctly Robotech. Following this we are treated to the opening credits minus the actual credits. Just harpsichord music and hand painted gargoyles.

The story opens on the trademark foggy, gothic cobbled streets of modern day Boston, Massachusetts. A group of suspicious looking men drive to a secluded church where, inside, a satanic cult is awaiting their arrival. Upon entering one of the men apologises to the Demon-masked leader of the cult for there tardiness blaming a traffic jam! There's something reassuringly mundane about an occult ritual being delayed due to shear weight of traffic. The leader isn't pleased and demands fast work from the handymen who are there to carve the alter. Honestly, Satan has been waiting ages for his new bride and the poor time keeping of these cowboys is just making it take longer. After fascinatingly drawn out scenes of the men carving away using the contents of their tool boxes it is down to business.

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The ritual begins with a good old fashioned bit of chanting, around the newly created pentagram. Remember this was supposed to be a kids film. Imagine little Timmy's mum walking in at this point. "What's this cartoon you're watching Timmy?" "It's a satanic cult calling to the devil so that they can offer him a bride mummy. What's a pentagram?"

All this chanting seems to be doing the trick as the wind outside begins to pick up and before long lightning is sporadically bathing the congregation in blinding flashes. Suddenly a stained glass window shatters and a giant bat swoops in taking on a human form as it lands. This is clearly, to anyone, Dracula and not the Dark Lord but the Cultists go along with it anyway. A young woman named Dolores is called forth to be 'Lucifer's' new bride. With a sweep of his cape Dracula lifts the woman off her feet and flies away in giant bat mode.

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Taking her back to his bachelor pad Dracula drops the unconscious Dolores onto his bed. As he leers at her suddenly barely clothed body the narrator informs us "The beautiful Dolores had aroused the unholy desires of Dracula and he intended to claim her for himself!". "Mummy, mummy; what are unholy desires"?

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Despite her impressive 'build' old Drac can't bring himself to saddle her with the unending burden of immortality. It seems that somehow Dolores has made Dracula feel 'love'! He flies off into the night frustrated and thirsty for blood. It doesn't taking him long to find it though. Some poor sap is waving away her beloved Harold with a handkerchief (has anyone ever actually done that) on the roof of Boston Airport. As his 'Yatsirt Airways' flight leaves, the evil vampire swoops down out of the skies and lets her have it, draining her of blood until she is blue all over. But one is never enough and soon another young woman, walking home alone on one of Boston's lamp lit cobbled streets, is his next victim. And in front of a tramp too!

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On a TV in a dingy bar the tramp is interviewed live from the scene but his eyewitness reports, in between gulps of green liquid from a wine bottle, of a giant bat drinking her blood are understandably disregarded as the ramblings of an insane wino. Even in this modern age of media hysteria I've never seen a bum, openly swigging on his hip-flask, be interviewed on TV. I don't understand what they hoped to get out of him!

This report gets the bar flies talking. "Don't laugh! That guy could be telling the truth" states a Harold Ramis look-a-like, "You should pay my alimonies! That old bat I was married to is a real blood sucker!" But a young man propping up the bar doesn't think it's all a big joke. Al the bartender hands this man the phone. A woman's voice is on the line and asks the man, Frank Drake, to meet her at "The flower bed at the entrance to the park?" Frank is reluctant to meet with the strange woman until she reveals that she knows his true last name... Dracula!

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The next morning Frank waits by 'the flower bed at the entrance to the park'. There he meets a wheelchair bound old man and a young woman in a lemon-yellow sweater. The old bearded man recounts Frank's shameful heritage, that of being the son of Dracula, (from before he was a vampire). He wants Frank to join him in tracking down the hideous vampire and 'liquidating' him. Frank laughs in their face and turns to leave which angers the old man. What follows next is the most ridiculous sword fight I have ever seen. The old man frenziedly waves his sword around while the woman pushes him along as fast as she can. Frank leaps 30 feet in the air, flipping around, dodging the crazed attacks. All this in broad daylight in the middle of a public park and to the hectic pace of a bongo solo! Finally Frank, an ordinary man remember, soars into the air and, as he plummets to the ground, kicks the sword cane out of the old psycho's grip. Getting him into a headlock Drake demands answers. The geriatric loon goes with the old "just testing your martial arts skills" excuse and it seems to work as Frank agrees to accompany the duo back to their gothic mansion.

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Within the atmospheric drawing room the old timer, revealed to be Professor Hans Harker, tells Frank a tale. The tale of how his father Jonathan Harker and the young woman's great grandfather Abraham Van Helsing were killed attempting to put an end to Dracula. He believes it will convince him to join his band of merry nutballs and it does... well that and a cheque for $100,000... after Rachel attacks him with a crossbow. Some dames just don't appreciate a little sexual harassment! Finally Frank is introduced to the last member of their weirdo brigade... a dog. "Elijah was raised in a church until they caught him drinking the holy water" states Hans with a straight face. The hilarious dialog goes on "Elijah's nose is an unerring radar- incredibly sensitive to the scent of EVIL!!" It seems that this blinged up Doberman is what the team are relying on to track down Dracula!

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Meanwhile at the Satanic church the leader kneels alone at the alter, confused as to why his lord is ignoring him after receiving his gift. Like many goth teenagers around the world the cult leader urges the Devil to come forth and answer him and to his horror he does! Suddenly it's not a fun game anymore when the Devil really does turn up! The Lord of Darkness is none too happy about being disturbed and is even less pleased about Dracula stealing his woman! But he has a plan to get his revenge on the Prince of Vampires. But he's gonna leave it a year first.

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The Vampire Hunters spend most of the next day wandering randomly around town in search of Dracula. If you saw this happy band of misfits walking towards you, you would definitely look the other way! Led by a dog they believe can "smell evil" they merrily wander the streets, though the park and around the dock in the bright light of day. The gang, led by Elijah a crucifix wearing dog followed closely by Frank brandishing a rifle with a heavily armed Rachel pushing an old man around in a wheelchair as he scouts for vampire activity whilst wielding a shotgun, look truly ridiculous, like a worrying yet harmless bunch of escaped, deluded mental patients who have convinced themselves they are saving the world from the undead. That is until their nurse catches up with them and takes them home for some much needed Electro-shock therapy.

In-spite of Elijah's best efforts the barmy troupe have no luck in finding the elusive vampire. He wasn't even hiding in that old boat or the grave yard. Back at HQ Frank is starting to question the whole operation and is losing faith in their cut price Scooby Doo . Rachel berates him: "You're not making matters any better by complaining all the time and blaming poor Elijah because Dracula has somehow managed to escape being detected by disappearing!" she jibbers. Old Hans joins in with the deluded defence of their deranged activities fearing he might lose Frank to rationality. At first he reveals a map on which he has plotted Dracula's recent murder sites (and guess what - it forms the shape of a bat!) and secondly by praising their canine companion claiming "Elijah has proved his worth by telling us where Dracula wasn't. Now he can finish his job by showing us where he is!" Or he could have done the last part first. Honestly, I think they are reading too much into the activities of a dog. Even one that was "raised in a church".

Time leaps forward now to Christmas Eve. Dolores has recently given birth to the son of Dracula, named Janus. Dracula decides it is time to come clean with his wife... he is not actually her beloved Lucifer but a Vampire. Didn't they used to do this stuff on Jerry Springer? Things go better than expected as Dolores isn't that foolish, she knew all along that he wasn't really the devil! Spurred on by her positive reaction Drac reveals his pre-vampiric past. He used to be the compassionate ruler of a bountiful land but constant attacks from invading hordes drove him to more and more depraved deterrents culminating in his lining the route to his kingdom with the skewered corpses of his enemies. Finally, after bloody scenes of battle and grisly shots of crow pecked corpses on pikes Dracula's enemies band together and give him a real good stabbing. (Keep in mind that this was sold as a children's "Cartoon Fantasy"), Dracula is impaled by numerous spears and arrows and he dies, as the man himself puts it "... in an ocean of my own blood!" A short while later Satan digs up the corpse of Dracula and revives him as his own undead slave, giving him his own black and red uniform and the title "Prince of Vampires: Lord Sovereign of the Damned".

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This story doesn't faze Dolores at all. In fact it prompts her to recount her own remembrances of their time together. As she speaks we get to gaze in wonder as she and Dracula take a romantic evening stroll through the park or a spot of moonlight window shopping while both dressed in their Satanic Robes and not a single passer by notices or even bats an eyelid. Can this movie get any sillier? Just you wait!

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Back at the Black Mass the Devil alerts the nameless Leader that it is time to put their revenge plan in motion. Outside in the woods the Krazy Kommandos are prowling around on the hunt for vampires- little do they realise they are about to get lucky. A messenger pigeon arrives at Chez Dracula from the Disciples of Satan inviting Dolores to bring her son, which they somehow know is named Janus, to be baptised in the sight of their dark lord. "I'm frightened darling, that priest is a vengeful person who can't be trusted!" warns Dolores but her undead husband just laughs "... I can handle that old phony!" he claims.

Leaving their home in a horse drawn carriage they pass by Frank and his loopy team. Hans decides to follow them rather than just kill him quickly. They all arrive at the Satanist Church but it seems that the Cult's kind offer was a trap after all! Solid steel shutters fall, trapping the vampire and his wife inside and inadvertently keeping the vampire hunters out. Glowing crucifixes weaken the Count and Mr Leader leaps out of the shadows with a silver bullet firing gun! I thought those were only for werewolves but it seems I was wrong. Mr Leader shoots at Dracula but he leaps aside leaving his wife and child in harm's way. Blood soaks though baby Janus' blanket and Dolores bursts into tears as she realises their son is dead. Mr Leader panics (it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt!) and turns to run but the enraged Count Dracula leaps on him and strangles him to death before flinging his body to the ground.

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Having murdered the man who shot dead his baby Dracula takes out his rage on the church itself - bringing it down with his bare hands. The opportunistic Vampire Hunters rush in to strike while the iron is in a confused rage. Over excited at finally getting the chance to use their months of training they rush around like disorganised idiots and mess up, repeatedly hitting eachother and bumping into the scenary. Mrs Dracula begs her husband not to kill them- she is tired of all this death! Confused even more, Dracula flees. The skies themselves weep for the death of his son.

Satanists. Blood letting. Dead babies and Cult Leader homicide. All good clean family fun!

The scene now moves to the trademark foggy, gothic cobbled streets of modern day New York. Within the bright flashing lights of a thriving discotheque a sleazy lothario makes his move. Using some breathtakingly slick moves he bags a sexy babe and takes her for a spin in his convertible. They park up next to the Hudson for a little quiet time. "What's your sign?" the girl asks. Brace yourselves... "Caution: Man at work!" comes his reply. In the background the radio plays a news bulletin announcing another victim of the "Vampire Killer". If this wasn't gonna kill the mood stone dead on its own Mr Smooth confesses to being the Vampire Killer. This predictably spooks his passenger and she asks him to stop but he persists with his ill-advised jape. Eventually the girl cowers in fright so the Charles Bronson voiced Ladies man turns on the charm again. Then, suddenly the girl turns on him - with fangs drawn! His blood runs down the screen.

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News of the murders reaches Boston and the Vampire Hunters decide to investigate after they've tailed Dracula's distraught and bereaved wife. Following her around whole feet away in their car they trail Dolores to the grave yard. It seems she's had her baby buried since his death yesterday. Although it looks like she should have waited a while and got a more reputable company to make the headstone which reads "Janus. Rest In Peaee"! That's right; spend eternity in peaee! The stress of this glaring typo and no doubt her dead baby and missing husband drives Dolores to unsheathe a dagger and prepare to take her own life (by throat stabbing no less). Suddenly, without warning God himself intervenes! Taking pity on her, the man upstairs does a spot of grave robbing, exhuming the dead infant in front of its mother's eyes. Sight of this apparent miracle causes the watching Vampire Hunters to break out in spontaneous prayer! The bright light can be seen from miles around and it draws Dracula's attention. As perceptive as ever the Prince of Vampires instantly recognises the golden glow as "the heavenly light of revival". If that didn't impress you then this feat of deductive reasoning definitely will: "Now I understand it! The enemy is going to bring him back to life in an attempt to bring about my downfall by making me confront my own son in a test of his heavenly powers against the black powers given to me by Satan! I must stop it!"

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The Count is correct; God does bring Janus back to life in an adult form wearing a special, deity designed super hero costume. The Vampire Hunters prey even harder. After some over wrought angsty dialog Super Janus leaves his mother to search for his evil father, transforming into a golden bird. Seeing his chance Hans rolls over to Dolores' side and begins to lecture her on the evil of her husband. He'll wish he hadn't when the emotional woman turns his tirade against him with her own woeful tales of a hard life. It's the usual stuff about her mother dying young and her father being uncaring, living a wild life (with bikers) and searching for love in the wrong places. If she knew this all along why didn't she stop, get a nice desk job and go speed dating? She joined the satanic cult for the "feeling of kinship" and became the bride of Satan "as a lark" but it was there she found true love (with Dracula). Having guilt tripped them long enough she wanders off into the darkness.

Elsewhere a weakened Dracula endures a brief battle with his all grown up son but flees in order to survive. Sheltering in a cave he witnesses his wife being whisked away by a satanic cloud. It's all just a ploy to lure the Count into the hands of the Devil and of course it works. As punishment for his wrongs the Lord of Darkness turns the Prince of Vampires into a mere mortal. Confused by his new, human, feelings Dracula goes for a walk leaving his wife behind. While strolling the streets he passes Frank, Rachel and Elijah on one of their regular night time vampire hunts and the Vampire detecting hound doesn't even notice. They rush home to tell Hans the news and that they saw him board a train to New York. Janus too saw this and tells his mother that Dracula is no doubt searching for a female vampire called Layla who he believes can restore his undead status.

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In the Big Apple Dracula is suffering "the hunger of 500 years" and mugs a young couple so that he can buy a burger at "Restaurant King; Discobar". Once again no one on the unusually empty and quiet streets takes a second look at the cape wearing weirdo or the heavily armed oddballs following him. "Now's our chance to kill him if he has lost his powers" Rachel exclaims. "We have no justification to kill him if he is not a vampire." lectures Hans, "We could all be arrested and convicted of murder!" Riiight, but if he's a vampire that's ok. The police can't touch you.

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After dinner the count goes back to searching for Layla and finds her leading an unsuspecting man into her apartment. Inside she takes a shower while her visitor pours himself a drink. Dracula bursts in on them and knocks the man unconscious. At the sound of his voice Layla steps out of the shower fully dressed in her ridiculous vampire/super villain costume (complete with crown and cape). The count explains his predicament and asks for her help but she instead attacks him in revenge for having turned her into a vampire in the first place. Having had her fun Layla transforms into a bat and flies away. Out on the street Dracula decides to return home to Transylvania in hope of finding a different vampire to restore his powers. By luck the Vampire Hunters are on hand to overhear him and choose to travel there too, y'know just in case...

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Moments later Count Dracula is in his home town. Drained of energy he stumbles to the grave of his dead wife Melissa (or Mallisa as the gravestone states- must have used the same cut price gravestone service) and digs her up. Enjoying this kiddies? The wizened, blue corpse of his ancient beloved comes back to life but she too is not happy to see him. Refusing to bite him she lectures him on selling out to a human and reports that Satan has given the Vampires a new lord and master, Sir Tomo. Before you can say "Thriller" all the dead rise from their graves around Dracula and close in on him refusing to heed to his commands to "Disperse!" Fleeing from the zombies Count Dracula stumbles into the home of three blinged up peasant children. At first the kids are reluctant to help him but at the mention of Vampires they can't move fast enough to provide shelter. Together they use the freakishly huge crucifixes that the children are wearing to disintegrate the walking corpses. But the danger hasn't passed yet as Sir Tomo arrives on the scene. Dracula and the new Lord of the Vampires battle it out while his zombie hordes cheer him on but they are soon disappointed as the Count kills him using the cross burnt into his palm during his zombie skirmish.

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Realising that their previous strategies have failed completely Hans elects to use his secret plan to vanquish Dracula once and for all. He follows the newly restored Prince of Vampires into his castle and the two prepare for the final battle. Defying logic and medical understanding, Hans stands up and gets out of his wheelchair brandishing a sword. Dracula leaps at him and the pair struggle. Losing the battle the mortal reaches for his secret weapon: a blade disguised as one of the spokes of his wheelchair. He drives the steel blade into the vampire's heart causing him to spit blood. The Count is understandably annoyed to have been beaten so easily and with the remainder of his strength leaps once more on the ex-cripple. But Hans has one final trick. Hitting a hidden switch on his mobility aid the wheelchair detonates killing both of them and destroying the castle. Ironside never had those toys or if he did he never got to use them.

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The nightmare is nearing its end for both the characters and the audience. Janus returns to his mother to tell her the terrible news. Now that his father is dead god rescinds his offer of adult life but returns him to the form of a living baby begging the question "When he grows to be an adult will he remember doing all this?"

The narrator leaves us with the reassurance that life and love are ever lasting. Sleep well.

 

Wheelchair Sword Fight
Possibly the weirdest sword fight you will ever see!

Disco Stud
Another hilariously inept scene. A serial ladies-man gets more than he wants!

 
Loads of unintentional laughs
 
A good horror soundtrack
 
Dodgy dialog
 
Uninspired character designs
  Dull, dull, dull

It's tough to decide which is less of a children's film: Dracula or Frankenstein. I think Frankenstein wins it by a nose thanks to the bleak, murder-suicide/ruined childhood ending; but it's still close. Unlike its successor I can't think of a single scene in Dracula that would be of interest to a child under eight as it's all far too involved, wordy and overwrought.

The crapness of this film is nearing internet legend. Some of the scenes have to be seen to be believed and it's almost impossible to take it seriously especially with all that terrible dialog. To me Sovereign of the Damned is a good example of when one culture adapts something from another without a true understanding of the what it is they are translating. There are times when it almost feels like one of those awful Korean rip-off animations particularly with the nonsensical paragraphs the characters constantly spout and the ludicrous costumes.

There is no doubting Dracula's value for guilty laughs but around those scenes of Wheelchair sword fights and Disco Lotharios are long breaks of plodding, dull talking and little action. The only real serious high point is the fitting and atmospheric score, if you ignore the shonky, wakka wakka disco tunes. Fans of the Comic Book series would almost certainly be outraged and for everyone else it's just a long drag to the closing credits.

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