CFF 2024: DRACULA: SOVEREIGN OF THE DAMNED is an Unhinged Shot of Animated Marvel Madness 

In their latest Red Eye slot, which is a virtual anything goes mystery selection from the Chattanooga Film Festival programmers, I witnessed the insanity that was Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned. With a nostalgic pedigree that would whet the appetite of any hardcore Marvel fan, this was a 1980 animated feature length (loose) adaptation of the Tomb of Dracula Marvel Comic by Toei animation (One Piece, Dragonball, Sailor Moon). If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen this on Disney+ and probably won’t, I’ll get into that in a minute. But what I will say is this is something those who are burned out on the current MCU offerings could use as a hard reset and a breath of fresh air of just how weird and wonderful comics used to be. 

Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned feels like a grab bag of about 7 or 8 different comic arcs. The film opens as Dracula steals an intended bride for Lucifer from a Satanic cult. He oddly is unable to kill or feed on her, so he goes on the prowl and kills a few other women which lands on the news. In this iteration, not only do his teeth glow before he attacks someone, but afterwards their lifeless body turns Smurf blue. Well these random attacks happen to unite a group of rather ineffectual vampire hunters with a descendant of Dracula, who is also a Tai Chi master (!?), a descendant of Van Helsing (of course) and another descendant of someone else who’s not that important. With one of the team being a direct descendant of Dracula, it’s safe to say, in this version Dracula most definitely fucks, which leads us to the primary conflict at the heart of the film. 

When the Satanic cult checks in with the Devil to see when they can expect to have their request fulfilled for their bride sacrifice, Satan is like, what bride? Dracula took her and you’re going to have to get revenge for me, but first wait a year. 

In this year, Dracula has a kid with the sacrificial bride, marries her and on the child’s one year birthday confesses to his wife – that he is in fact not Satan, but Dracula, King of the Vampires, to which she says, Duh, I have media literacy. Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned is the deliciously deranged kind of weird, that has Dracula at one point stripped of his powers and forced to begrudgingly eat a hamburger. It’s the kind of weird that not only does this film feature the Mavel’s iteration of Satan, but God as well, who also gets into the battle, along with my favorite and probably weirdest of them all, a character called “White God”. This is a massive black dog that wears a giant gold cross and can smell evil. This is because he was raised in a church and was fed only Holy Water from a pup. Seriously, I am really confused why I am just hearing about this animated Marvel masterwork. 

The film itself is also gorgeously animated in this amazing anime inspired take on 80s comics. It’s not super detailed like some anime from that period, but it’s stylized in a rather charming imperfect hand drawn way. This flawlessly captures that old school comic feel, but with all nudity and violence you probably didn’t expect. The version screened was from a rather battered 16mm print and that only solidified the experience for me, that gives this every visually nostalgic commodity coveted today. That being said this narrative adaptation feels like the stream of consciousness from an unhinged 10 year-old all hopped up on Pixie Sticks and I was there for it. That and the fact that this film’s use of Christian iconography and customs, without the reverence you might expect in the West gives it a rather anti-establishment vibe and further highlights its foreign otherness.

As a once ride or die for the MCU, it’s great to see this time capsule from a much different time, when this media wasn’t such a big part of the culture and it could be weird, entertaining and sometimes dumb. As a monster kid this also hits differently given it sort of encapsulates all these things I love into one very weird piece of forgotten media that I can’t wait to share with others. Don’t get me started there was a sequel that featured Frankenstein! The Chattanooga Film Fest once again comes through with another hidden gem that is everything I want when it comes to junk food cinema, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. 

Previous post CFF 2024: CANVAS is a Sordidly Sweet Slice of Psychological Melodrama
Next post Emmy-nominated Editor by Day, Indie Filmmaker by Night – an Interview with EONBLADE’s John Soares