version under review is the English-dubbed cut
When a coffin containing the corpse of Count Dracula is brought to Spain, the vampire is woken up by a Killer Barbys song and goes about murdering various colourful characters in a vast amusement park.
With some hilarious dialogues, energetic pacing and a healthy pisstake spirit, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula is Jess Franco’s funniest film and may actually be superior to the slightly more upmarket original Killer Barbys.
Several generations of Jess Franco actors cross paths in Killer Barbys vs. Dracula: Katja Bienert from Lilian and Diamonds of Kilimandjaro, Fata Morgana and Carmen Montes who would come to be the faces of Franco’s final ‘abstract erotic video art’ phase, with Paul Lapidus of One Shot Productions and Franco muse Lina Romay also at hand. Spanish genre cinema icon Also Sambrell and Italian cult actor Pietro Martellanza aka Peter Martell round out the busy cast. Silvia Superstar does what she does best: looking absolutely gorgeous and singing with the Killer Barbys.
Dan Van Husen (Der Todesrächer von Soho) turns in a great comic performance as Dr. Seward, a talkative blind man accompanied everywhere by his trusted assistant wielding and enormous wooden stake. He’s like a cross between Dr. Orloff from Female Vampire and blind beggar helping the police in Jack the Ripper. Lina Romay dons a Soviet-style outfit as Comrade Irina, a Romanian communist responsible for bringing Dracula to Spain. Cult italian actor Peter Martell (French Sex Murders) appears as the impostor Dracula, convinced he’s the real deal until the original count doesn’t prove the opposite. Sadly, Lina Romay is dubbed by someone else in the English language version.
Jess Franco’s direction is focused and energetic with a lot of attention to detail. Cinematography (by Emilio Schargorodsky who went on to direct the excellent Dracula 0.9) is surprisingly well-executed and is handled with more inventiveness than one might have expected.
A wonderful episode shows Dracula stalking his descendant Bela Balasz through a sun-drenched cemetery. It’s blatantly midday yet we see fog roll among the tombstones, which, coupled with Dutch angles, adds to the film’s strange ambience. Aldo Sambrell’s picturesque residence in Killer Barbys vs. Dracula was previously used by Jess Franco as one of the locations of his surreal low-key gem Mil Sexos Tiene la Noche.
The scene of Dracula seeing his old castle again while on the run from the cops – appropriately scored with the magnificent organ theme from El Sadico de Notre Dame is absolutely amazing. The legendary monster sobs at the sight of his old dwelling, and cries himself to slip in his coffin. Killer Barbys vs. Dracula peakes during this episode, and it might as well have been the final one for nothing that follows can match its combination of camp and genuine melancholy.
Possibly the last fully fledged ensemble cast film before Franco moved on to making small-scale films for Kevin Collins, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula is a lot of fun for Jess Franco and trash cinema fans. Why the Killer Barbys films weren’t received with more enthusiasm is beyond me, as Jess was giving the fans plenty of action, laughs, gorgeous scenery, in-jokes and allusions. Scored with tracks from German cult band Die Ärzte, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula is inspired cinematic hooliganism from Tio Jess, brimming with inventiveness and belying the sometimes shoddy production values.