Anyone who wants to use any of these ideas has my absolute, unfettered permission to do so with no requirements whatsoever.
Blood of Dracula (1957) ended up shown on a double-bill with I Was a Teenage Werewolf. More than one person since has walked away thinking its title should have been “I Was a Teenage Vampire.” The plots of the two seem awfully similar–troubled student becomes the subject of a science teacher’s experiment, transforming into a predatory monster who kills and cannot remember. The differences make for an interesting contrast, though. For one thing, most of the major characters are now female. Science takes a back seat to magic, with the diabolical Miss Branding using an ancient amulet from Transylvania to transform young Nancy into a bloodthirsty creature of the night. At a time when vampires in film usually looked like pale aristocrats (this came out prior even to Hammer’s first Dracula feature with Christopher Lee) this undead frankly resembled a were-bat. Or a teenaged girl rendered into Graf Orlock of Nosferatu fame.
Then there’s the musical number. No, I’m not kidding. Really.
As you might have already gathered (or known) Blood of Dracula makes from far-from-top-notch cinema. It enjoys a kind of tacky charm, but honestly this is yet another vampire flick with contains the seed of a far better one. Just as the original Battlestar Galactica gave rise to one of the finest space operas yet made, so this might offer a genuinely good, even compelling motion picture!
Begin with the central idea of this troubled teenaged girl, Nancy. To keep things suitable for the Eisenhower Era films, was 18 in the film and packed off to boarding school when her father married a stereotypical bombshell six weeks after his wife’s death. Nancy feels so upset she grabs the wheel of the car en route and tries to cause a crash! Explore that a bit. What might really going on here? One obvious way to delve into Nancy might be to make her attending the local school but still living at home. Keep her family life on stage, with a strong suggestion her mother was murdered. Was she? Maybe. If so, by whom? Presumably by either her father or stepmother. Even if she only believes this–perhaps as a way to project her rage over some kind of abuse–it gives a focus to her emotional life and a possible target for the vampire she becomes.
While we’re at it, a further hint as to why the amulet works with her would be nice. Or is she our mad science teachers’ first subject? Perhaps not. There’s a hint in the film of frustration, even fear at the direction the world is taking. “This is a world run by and for men” Miss Branding says, insisting the power of machines can destroy the world, or turn everyone in it into monsters, polluted by radiation and war. She longs to find a way for individuals to wield enormous power from themselves. Now, why would she think vampirism would accomplish this needs a little explaining, at least in my opinion. Perhaps she doesn’t realize that’s what’s involved? Or does she have a very different vision in mind? Either way, what she’s trying to do and how is an area begging for some exploration!
Likewise, all the interplay of characters need fleshing out, preferably with some genuinely evocative set pieces and excellent cinematography. The original looks generic in the extreme. Kudos to the director for managing some interesting work with what looks like a tiny budget. But consider what one might do with the architecture of the town and school. The latter, for example, might come across as either a super-streamlined cage bereft of any hint of human life or maybe a castle-like vestige from a barbaric past complete with dungeons!
As poorly drawn as Nancy is in the film, she seems like Hamlet compared to her fellow students. So much potential lies in what those characters might have been. What if Nancy had an actual friend, or something like it? Someone who used to be a friend, against whom she harbored resentment? Think of the possibilities and how they might play out in a tale of a hormone-laden, genuinely troubled girl turning into a vampire. Is there someone her other self would spare? Personally, I’d see this a chance to present stereotypes then smash them. An arrogant jock who turns out to be hopelessly in love with a girl he cannot have. The strong kindly teacher who ends up acting from ambition and cowardice rather than ethics. Remember, this is a horror story so lets bring out the real horror or which vampires and other nightmares are the metaphor. What if Nancy killed her mother, but doesn’t remember it? Or the detective investigating the murders was Nancy’s mother’s lover, perhaps even Nancy’s real father? Perhaps someone survives a vampire attack and we have a hint that the trait has been passed on?
Writers such as Joss Whedon and Stephen Moffat and Matt Reeves could do much with this idea, or so it seems to me. American High School in a good filmmaker’s hands becomes a marvelous way to explore the dangerous and troublesome process by which children turn into adults. Our society lacks the formal rites of passage earlier cultures had. Others changed your name with great ceremony, with an accompanying change of dress and the rituals involved prepared and taught you were graduating into a full member of society. We on the hand give profoundly mixed messages. The teenage years, when we have the worst of both childhood and adulthood, have become revered. In fact for most they are either miserable (if you don’t fit in) or the highlight of one’s life–leaving five or six decades to look back with envy and regret. We have people instantly become fully fledged citizens with all the responsibility that entails at midnight on our 18th birthday. We are rarely even awake for the transition. The essential plot of Blood of Dracula (although a new title would probably make for a welcome change) could explore that in a way combining drama, excitement, horror and even pathos.
As long as they lose the musical number while they’re at it!