Of all the Superstars and hangers-on who were made and broken at Andy Warhol’s Factory, director of Blood For Dracula, Paul Morrissey, may be the most baffling and controversial one. Not because he has led a particularly mysterious or salacious life, but because his brand of mid-America conservatism stuck out like a sore thumb among the drag queens, it girls, and artist du jours that populated The Factory scene. A self proclaimed "right-winger" and lifelong Catholic, Paul Morrissey may seem the least likely person to have infiltrated and emerged from Warhol's infamous coterie. So how did this pop-art power (odd) couple come to create one of the most libertine takes on Dracula? And why does Morrissey seem so resentful of Warhol today?
Andy Warhol's early films were numerous but they were largely static creations. Some of his most famous films include Sleep (a stationary six hour long view of poet John Giorno sleeping), Empire (a similar eight hour long view of the Empire State Building at dusk), and Eat (you guessed it, a 45 minute long film of a man eating). His other approximately 500 film shorts were more akin to screen tests for his Superstars and other subjects. This isn't brought up to disparage Warhol's early films, they were not without merit, but to contrast it with the rich Morrissey era that was to come.
Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol were not as dissimilar as they may appear on the surface. Both are/were religious men who were of ethnic extraction. Morrissey is a lifelong practicing Irish Catholic and Warhol was also a lifelong practicing Catholic of Rusyn descent. Morrissey had also been involved in the underground film world of New York City for years before meeting Warhol. Morrissey had attended college at the religious Fordham University with famed theatre critic Donald Lyons, who was an acquaintance of Warhol's. While conflicting stories are circulating about exactly how, when, and where the pair first met, it is safe to say that Morrissey began assisting Warhol around 1965, during the time he was producing his more static films. After Warhol was shot and nearly killed in 1968 by S.C.U.M. Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas, he stepped back from the hands-on production aspects of film making and became more of a producer. He turned over the use of his name as a presenter to Morrissey, contributed early concepts for films, and largely secured financing for the pictures. By several accounts, Morrissey never received a salary from Warhol, instead he was given 50% of the films' profits. Morrissey also entered into a contract with Warhol during this time and became the operating manager over Warhol's studio, overseeing every aspect except for the sale of Andy's artwork. Morrissey's earliest work as a director for Warhol put them both on the map with infamous films like Flesh, Trash, Heat, and Chelsea Girls.
By the 1970's, Warhol's name was becoming synonymous with narrative avant garde cinema, largely thanks to Morrissey's involvement. Morrissey's name and work were consistently overshadowed by Warhol's, but arguably it was Warhol's association (minimal though it may be) that provided the resources and backing necessary to circumvent the stifling studio system, a system which never would have made a film like Blood for Dracula. While many argue that a producer's role shouldn't be diminished in conversation (after all, there is a reason that producers take home the Best Picture Oscar and not the director), even the cast of Morrissey's films agree that Warhol was a producer in name only. When Warhol expressed interest in making a Frankenstein and a Dracula film, Morrissey fleshed out the project, co-wrote the script, found the cast, selected the location, and single-handedly build the project from ground up.
To this day, one of the only fond memories Paul Morrissey seems to have of his Warhol era is of Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula star Udo Kier. Kier was, and still is, a cinematic icon. His piercing eyes, svelte physique, and natural aptitude for the craft made him an indie darling in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's New Wave German cinema movement. The same qualities were not lost on Morrissey while casting his Dracula, but he later lamented that Hollywood was blind (and perhaps willfully ignorant) of Udo Kier's potential. In an interview with Hans Morgenstern of The Miami New Times, Morrisey said, "Dracula did very well, but nobody offered Udo a big part again. And then he came to Hollywood, and he’s never stopped working for the past 30 years, but mainly in European films, and in a second, third or fourth part. Nobody would give him a first part, and he was so unusual and different. But they don’t want that. They want the acting class, phony piece of shit who looks like everyone else."
Morrissey made the most of his time with Kier by shooting both Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula at relatively the same time. Some accounts claim that Frankenstein was shot in the mornings and that Dracula was shot in the afternoons. More likely however, Dracula was shoot immediately after Frankenstein had wrapped. Morrissey once commented that Udo Kier had to immediately cut his long hair from his Dr. Frankenstein role after principle photography wrapped because Blood For Dracula was scheduled to begin shooting the next day.
Udo Kier plays a famished and meek Dracula who can only drink virgin blood for it's restorative and "pure" properties. As shown in the film, drinking "tainted" blood from non-virgins makes him violently ill. Like many aspects of the script, it has strong undertones of Morrissey's own personal beliefs of, what he viewed to be, the moral decay of America. The outspoken director has made no qualms that he considers this decay to be sexual promiscuity, drug use, alcoholism, and pro communist socialism (among other things). Finding no virgins in his native Romania, Dracula travels to Italy where his servant Anton believes the women are too pious to be promiscuous. Anton is soon proven wrong.
While Morrissey's Dracula isn't successful at finding virgins in Italy, he does successfully prey on the women of the Di Fiore household. In part this is because Morrissey took a departure from the traditional Bram Stoker telling of Dracula. While Udo Kier's character is shown to have an aversion to crosses, sunlight, and sleeping outside of his coffin, he is not completely controlled or subdued by them, only weakened. Some film critics have argued that this is Morrissey using a sense of realism as another metaphor for his frequent western democracy vs. eastern communism themes.
True to Warhol and Morrissey's earlier collaborations, many non-actors were used in Blood For Dracula such as Joe Dallesandro. Though Dallesandro did appear in some of Warhol and Morrissey's previous films, including the controversial Flesh (where movie theatres were raided by police for violating obscenity laws), he had no acting experience prior to meeting Morrissey and was more of a Morrissey star than a Warhol Superstar. Morrissey discovered Dallesandro, a New Jersey native, after he accidentally dropped in on a movie set while Morrissey was shooting. Dallesandro came to the apartment looking for the owner but instead was immediately cast by Morrissey for his current project and has been used in almost all of them since. Even seasoned Italian actor Vittorio De Sica was encouraged to ad lib much of his dialogue to give the film a sense of neo-realism.
Dallesandro plays the antihero and servant Mario, a staunchly pro-socialist and ill-spoken peasant who discovers Count Dracula's vampirism . He simultaneously abuses and protects the women of the household throughout the movie. This dichotomy comes to a climax was Mario rapes the youngest daughter of the household, who is still a child, so that Dracula could not target her for her virgin blood.
The film's release was troubled. It received mixed reviews from critics, some claiming it was a beautifully shot and choreographed film that differed greatly in tone and style from other recent Hammer Horror versions of Dracula. Others, like the L.A. Times, claimed Morrissey was wasting his talents on, "...sickening junk." and criticized the film's "Grand Guignol" scenery chewing ending. Of course, that same over the top ending is what clinched Blood For Dracula's cult classic status and even inspired later films, notably the tongue-in-cheek Shakespearean performance of Hamlet that the Addams Family children perform (complete with geysers of blood) in the 1991 film by Barry Sonnenfeld (the Coen Brothers' former cinematographer, a Morrissey and a Grand Guignol fan) .
Morrissey later stated, in the same aforementioned article with Hans Morgenstern of The Miami New Times, “ 'I was ridiculing all that stuff that was supposed to be sacred, and using it for a bigger picture.' 'My films weren’t very violent. My films were like the rest of the films. It was humorous.' "
The final blow
To add insult to injury, an assistant director on the film, Italian filmmaker Antonio Margheriti, conspired with Producer (and husband of Sophia Loren) Carlo Ponti, to add his name as Director for the Italian cut of the film. This was an attempt to defraud the Italian government of benefits designed for films that were made in Italy by Italians. Morrissey and Warhol being Americans, would not have been eligible for such benefits. The attempt was discovered and both Margheriti and Ponti were trialled in Italy and found guilty of fraud. This ultimately has led to more bitter confusion over who deserves what credit for the making of Blood For Dracula.
Morrissey has since become extremely defensive and outright hostile when Warhol is mentioned. When Interviewer Hans Morgenstern asked why Morrissey thinks there is lingering confusion over credit for the film, Morrisey said, "Because they read his name (Warhol) in the paper, like Lady Gaga. Why don't they say Lady Gaga really influenced those movies?"
"They sent him more and more of those photographs to be silkscreened because his name was famous because of my movies, OK? He didn't know good or bad. He didn't know who'd be good in front of a camera. He didn't know anything about movies at all. How would he be connected with my movies? He was incapable of connecting with anybody's anything. He was so autistic. He was so handicapped. He had Asperger's disease. He couldn't read. He couldn't write. He couldn't speak. He was, 'Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh.' "
"So I'm supposed to live with the idea that he contributed to my movies because I let him present them because I was his manager, and I had to think of things to do to get his name out there, and he couldn't do anything, so he presented my movies and what does the scum media, filth, commie, pieces of shit do? Type up this crap. I made his movies. Look, that's the kind of journalists I've been dealing with my whole life, so it's nothing I haven't noticed (Laughs)."
Paul Morrissey was a tumultuous, unique, unfiltered, truly independent, anti-Hollywood, workhorse of a director. He left the film making world in the 1980's around the same time as Andy Warhol's death. In his entire career, he never made a studio film. After the 1980's, he didn't make another film for nearly 20 years. He has said that he has retired to "watching television".