Day 834: The Dark Knight Redux

originally published April 13, 2014

When Hollywood scores a hit, we all know they will run it as far into the ground as possible, often forgoing quality and integrity somewhere within the planet’s crust and plunging deep into the molten core with a hot and hungry grab for easy audience bucks. The current crop of superhero / comic book flicks have been fairly consistent, with few features splatting upon the pavement of suckiness, at least since the era of Daredevil and Spider-Man 3. But it’s probably just a matter of time.

The problem as I see it is that we have just as many superhero / comic movies in various stages of production as we have seen released in the last couple of years. Studios have plunged their hands elbow-deep into the sticky pie of superherodom, and if a run of crappy returns happens to tilt the public’s interest away from the genre, they’re going to be in trouble.

We saw five years between Tobey Maguire’s final Spider-Man film and Andrew Garfield’s reboot. Now we’ve got Ben Affleck re-introducing us to Batman (not to mention a new Smallville-like origin story TV series on the way), and the lights on the set of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are still warm. These movies are still money-printing magic and no one wants to let a valuable property sit still. But Batman movies have not always been a sure thing – and no, I’m not talking about Joel Schumacher’s unfortunate smiting of the Tim Burton reboot.

I’m talking about Batman Dracula.

In 1964, two years before Adam West donned the menacing cowl and did the Batusi on television, Andy Warhol concocted his own film about the caped crusader. Warhol’s Batman was apparently a true forerunner of the series’ campy approach. Not a lot is known about the film’s content, and it was actually considered a lost film until quite recently. Warhol didn’t have the permission of DC Comics to use the character; he was simply a fan and he thought it would make a fun film. A search online revealed only a few small clips, none of which appear to follow a linear, sensical plot. Most of what I found consists of artsy double-exposed film accompanied by some Velvet Underground music. It’s not particularly good.

The audience for this film was limited to the audience that found Warhol’s work to be worth a trip to the gallery; in fact, it was only ever publically screened at Andy’s art exhibits. Even IMDb is lacking information on the film, identifying the cast but not who played who – probably because there isn’t really a definitive logic to this thing. One source cites performance artist Jack Smith in the Batman/Dracula role, another suggests the Dark Knight was played by a guy named – and I swear, I most certainly did not make this up – Gregory Battcock.

It was the role he was born to play.

Just as the Batman TV series was beginning to take fire, filmmaker Jerry Warren (whom you probably know best as the director of such fine fare as Teenage Zombies and Face Of The Screaming Werewolf) decided to cash in. Again without any official permission, he dove into 1966’s The Wild World of Batwoman. Katherine Victor, who had worked with Jerry before, was talked into playing the lead role, with the promise of high production values, color photography and a super high-tech Bat-Boat in the movie. None of that happened. The story was notoriously bad, and the reviews were scathing.

Then there was the lawsuit. Somehow Jerry Warren got away with making this though, and he tried to cash in a second time after the Batman series had faded from TV screens, slapping the film with a new title: She Was A Hippy Vampire. The monsters in the movie were lifted straight from clips of Universal Pictures’ The Mole People, and other scenes were borrowed from other movies with no accompanying credit (apparently some of the signs in the background are clearly in Swedish). I can’t provide a link to the movie, but the entire episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that makes fun of it is right here.

I’m not entirely clear on why every knock-off Batman movie appears to involve a vampire plot. That was certainly the case in Batman Fights Dracula, one of several unsanctioned Filipino flicks featuring Bruce Wayne and company. This one was also released at the peak of the Adam West series’ popularity, which was either a hit overseas at the same time or else director Leody M. Diaz was hoping to beat the trend. He may have simply been cashing in on the success of Alyas Batman at Robin, a 1965 Filipino knock-off that was remade in 1993.

Also in the Filipino vault you’ll find James Batman, a James Bond / Batman parody from 1966 and 1973’s Fight Batman Fight! I find this all particularly strange because the only feature-length unsanctioned Batman films I could find were the two American ones I mentioned and this smattering of Filipino offerings. None from anywhere else.

Well, okay, there’s this one.

It wasn’t easy finding a photo of this movie that I could use on this family-friendly site. This is Batman XXX: A Porn Parody, the 2010 vision of award-winning Italian director Axel Braun. Axel’s dad, Lisse Braun, was a porn pioneer, part of the group who had successfully campaigned for the legalization of pornography in Europe. Alex never lost touch with his roots, in particular his love of the Adam West-era Batman campiness.

This is what you’ll get in Batman XXX. The film cost over $100,000, which is remarkable when you consider how many pornos are made for less than fifty bucks in some guy’s basement in the San Fernando Valley. Alex Braun wanted his film to be true to the source material – a genuine feast for fans and an honest re-working of beloved characters in colorful costume, with well-established and well-appreciated characterization.

But you know, with dicks.

The creepiest thing about this movie is that, with Batman and Robin in their cowl and/or mask, with Catwoman in her getup and the Joker splattered in classic Cesar Romero makeup, these people look eerily similar to the real thing. So when Catwoman starts blowing Batman… well, you’ve really got to be a fan of the old TV series to get into this, I think.

The film won seven awards at the 2011 AVN (that’s Adult Video News to you puritans out there) Awards. It’s a safe bet that Vivid Entertainment never obtained permission from DC Comics to produce this parody, however Axel Braun’s production company did try to file suit against the 7000+ people who had illegally downloaded the thing.

Gotta try to stay legit in this business, I suppose.

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