Buried Garbage - Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned

by Justin Sevakis, Jun 4th 2009

I'll admit, I've strayed from my original purpose in writing the occasional Buried Garbage articles. My original purpose was not to point out the pieces of utter crap that had once been foisted upon the American market, but to point out the interesting pieces. Ones that were undeniably terrible, but were still fun to watch, if only for their sheer insanity.

Somewhere along the way I got it in my head that I must turn in one of these train wrecks a month. While that sounds easy, it's actually quite a bit harder to write a Buried Garbage than it is a treasure. The truly hilarious disasters are quite rare, and within a few months I had exhausted most of them. Most bad anime is so painfully mediocre and hideously boring that trying to crap out 1,500 or so words on it is like trying to wax poetic about a bowl of Spaghetti-O's: a rote, dull experience that's forgotten as soon as it happens, the only lingering memories being the time spent on the toilet afterwards. It's the spectacularly bad meals, the ones where you find a severed mouse body part in your soup, that are worth writing (and reading) about.

So now that Buried Treasure is back on a biweekly schedule, I'm abandoning my sense of obligation towards bad anime. With only two of these columns running every month, there's no sense in wasting one on the forgettable or the banal. This column is for extreme experiences and vivid memories. If there's something bad to be described, it needs to be shockingly, entertainingly, unforgettably bad. You know, like this...

BURIED GARBAGE: DRACULA, SOVEREIGN OF THE DAMNED

The early days of the home video market were a bizarre time, indeed. The sudden explosion in need for tapes to line the shelves of countless mom and pop video rental stores across the country was such that nearly anything could get released. Such was the case with Dracula: Sovereign Of The Damned, a Harmony Gold dub job of a 1980 Toei Animation made-for-TV movie, itself based on a Marvel comic book. The project was the result of a bizarre deal between Marvel and Toei that didn't seem to result in any other projects (or involve Marvel in an American release in any way), but it was a big enough hit in Japan that it inspired a Frankenstein telemovie not long after.

I've never read the comic version, known as Tomb of Dracula, but apparently the film tries to cram in years of comics into a feature, and succeeds only in revealing how dumb the entire story line really is. It lurches along with little regard for continuity, logic or anything resembling portraying how real people act. And like all good kids videos, it opens with a group of hooded individuals worshiping Satan. Luckily they're quite poorly dubbed, so they sound bored, as if they're chanting for the dark lord to change the channel on the TV. They're sacrificing a virgin to him, and are surprised enough when she actually is spirited away to think that their ceremony actually worked. Trouble is, it wasn't Satan. It was Dracula, and he wasn't after blood. He was after the boo-tay.

Poor Dracula can't catch a break. After stealing the girl (her name is Dolores), he finds herself falling deeply in love with the woman. Unable to feed on her, he somehow succeeds in making her believe that a vampire that kidnapped her is the best thing in her life, and they join in holy matrimony and have a kid. The trouble is, he's being pursued by Satan, Satan's minions, God, his super-powered son (more on that below), as well as a rag-tag trio out to avenge people he's killed.

Said rag-tag group is comprised of Van Helsing's daughter, an old crippled man who wants revenge for his slain family, and a guy named Frank that they decided they wanted on board because he's a good martial artist, and apparently a quick jab in the face is more effective against vampires than garlic or a cross. Frank doesn't really have a good reason for joining up, but he does anyway, and together they plot to take down the evil vampire. Their planning consists of following him around and gos sipping about him.

The show can't decide whether or not Dracula himself is supposed to be a sympathetic character. On one hand he murders with impunity, but on the other, he just wishes the world would leave him and his lovely wife alone. For that matter, the film can't figure out exactly what vampires are, either. (Dracula and his immediate friends are pretty traditional vampires, but the secondary vampires act and walk just like zombies.) The show can't even keep its own internal logic straight. For a time Dracula is no longer a vampire, but reduced to being a simple mortal human being (hence, the hamburger eating). And yet, he still can't touch a crucifix without getting burned. One can't help feeling a bit sorry for him when the head of the satanist cult shoots him, misses, and hits his baby.

The show is so over-the-top that it almost seems par for the course when God himself decides to resurrect Dracula's baby. He doesn't wait the requisite three days to do so, but rather waits till weeks later when Dolores is at his grave, an utterly broken woman. She pretty much takes it in stride that he's resurrected not as the toddler she knew, but as a large blonde man in a Star Blazers uniform. Janus, as he is known (though I mentally refer to him as Vampire Jesus), sports a full 70s sci-fi uniform, complete with unitard and blue boots. He also can shoot lasers from his eyes. Dracula, sensing political shenanigans by God, flees. For he has seen Vampire Hunter D and knows that a fully grown half-vampire in silly clothes must hunt vampires. Much like I, as a half Asian, must hunt white people.

What everyone seems to have forgotten at this point is that Dracula is supposedly a minion of Satan, and Satan's still pissed off about losing his fresh virgin. So he strips Dracula of his Vampire powers, and Dracula is reduced to being the weirdo in a cape sitting in the corner at a New York City diner eating a burger. The film makes a halfhearted effort to wrap up the story in a climactic way, but I would have been much more satisfied if it ended here.

Ultimately the main three characters do pretty much nothing. They spend the entire film chasing Dracula around the East Coast (presumably for years, considering how quickly his son grows up and starts sporting a pageboy haircut), throw a punch or two, but had they not existed the story would be pretty much no different. They're surprisingly unflappable in light of the film's events; appearances by Satan himself, an old testament-level act of God and witnessing a baby getting shot are all things that would make most people quit their jobs and re-evaluate their lives (or, in the case of the baby, at least laugh really hard). These guys don't really seem to notice, and rather keep after their single-minded pursuit of the vampire, caring neither for work nor school.

The animation in this show is just ass. Drawn in a more Western style, characters' eyes are often looking off in different directions, and entire scenes seem to be drawn without regard for perspective or lighting. It could easily be mistaken for one of Hanna-Barbera's less ambitious endeavors from the 70s. I've never seen the original Japanese, but the Harmony Gold dub is the sort of phoned-in bored-sounding dubs that were so common in the 80s, featuring an overly ambitious narrator that seems to cram in mindless exposition every time the characters so much as take a breath.

Watching Dracula: Sovereign Of The Damned isn't just like watching a car wreck, it's like watching a slow motion oil-tanker-and-helicopter collision set to Rammstein music. It's a lot of fun, simply because every time you think it can't possibly get any dumber, it somehow manages to top itself. I can't imagine what it must have been like to rent this tape as a kid, but I'm pretty sure at least one older brother must have used it to make a sibling cry.

Inasmuch as anything featuring a Satan with horns that could be mistaken for bunny ears can make anyone cry.

Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
I'm unaware of a DVD release of Dracula in any country, or even an LD release. The vintage Vestron Video VHS release can be found used online fairly easily (in the usual places like Amazon Marketplace and half.com), but they're so old they're all looking quite ratty at this point. There was also a brief UK release (which was never reissued after the BBFA started having to slap ratings on everything). I've never seen a Japanese home video release at all, though I wouldn't be surprised if one did, in fact, happen at one point. Since it shares essentially the same title as a classic live action Dracula film, details are not exactly easy to find online.

I'm sure, given the kitsch value of this thing, that it's turned up on Bittorrent somewhere.


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