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Beastly Behavior, Continued...

Now, in the late '80s in Dino DeLaurentis potboiler, Dracula's Widow, you won't see any evil, ravenous critters paying that much attention to their wardrobe. Sylvia Kristel, who in her younger, thinner days had portrayed the sweetly slutty Emmanuelle, plays the chunky widow of the late Count with lusty aplomb, literally tossing herself at men to either love them to bits or rip them apart. I do have a question about the title... She calls herself Dracula's widow because Van Helsing had snuffed the hubby, but since the Count was undead to begin with, wasn't she technically a widow while they were still a couple, traipsing around in their love-nest of the living dead...?

We learn that Dracula's widow is named Vanessa, and she can easily turn into a cat-sized vampire bat... with a pretty little Mary-Tyler-Moore curl sweeping over her fuzzy forehead. Aaawww, ain't that cute? But when Vanessa gets reeeeally mad, she goes mondo-banana-apeshit and turns into a talon-flailing, gargoyle-faced demon, which also has a rather pretty hairstyle. It's refreshing to see a she-monster who's not afraid to let her femininity shine through all the hell-spawned evil. She is woman. Hear her roar.

Vanessa would be pretty pissed to discover there's also a movie out there called Countess Dracula... but not to worry, the Count was no bigamist. Countess Dracula, a 1970 Hammer costume epic, is actually based on the exploits of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who used to soak in virgin's blood instead of Oil of Olay to make her skin supple and youthful again.

Ingrid Pitt plays the title role with real zest. At first she is a mean-spirited old royal crank who gets off on giving the servants a good thwacking every now and then. But one day, when one of those thwackings draws blood and some of it splashes on her face ... the original Queen of Mean discovers something better than Palmolive for softening that time-wizened epidermis. I can just hear Madge from that old commercial saying, "Virgin's blood? You're soaking in it!"

The beast that the Countess turns into after her first full-body blood bath is no wolf or pig or bear or killer llama. It's actually a wanton, nubile, sex-starved young hotty, and it's rather amusing, watching her get it on with the gents in this film, knowing that any minute, all that young flesh might suddenly turn back into the withered chicken-skin and creaky bones of the prune-faced sourpuss we met in the beginning.

I was about to say, this might be the only film where the protagonist turns into an evil monster that's a beautiful woman, but a moment of additional pondering reminded me: there's always Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde, also from Hammer (and in later years, a similar movie, Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde was made with nutty actress Sean Young in the Hyde role). I wonder what the restless spirit of author Robert Louis Stevenson (actually, his full name was Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson ... like his name wasn't already long enough), wandering the Earth as restless spirits so often do, would think if he happened to stumble across and watch the Sister Hyde movie version of his book...? Well, history books tell us that Mrs. Stevenson threw the original draft of the book into the fireplace (talk about a harsh critic) and Robert had to rewrite the whole book all over again. Who knows, maybe the monster WAS Sister Hyde in his first version. His happy ghost might cry out: "At last! My original vision has been restored to the world! Oh, I'm sure this great movie will become a film classic, treasured for all time!"

Actually, the only folks who treasure the Sister Hyde version these days are probably Z-movie film buffs like me. But it does present an interesting notion...that perhaps Sister Hyde might represent an elusive, long-hidden side of Jekyll's sexuality. Back in Victorian times, a man of the good doctor's station probably would have suppressed any saucy desire to slip into something clingy. These days, guys who want to pop into something frilly and frivolous can always find a midnight showing of Rocky Horror and whip together a kicky Dr. Frank-N-Furter ensemble. Or if they're more serious about their yearning but want to keep it under wraps, they can always order something naughty-but-nice off the Internet (in the right size, even). Victorian guys didn't have quite so many options.

One English film studio that rivaled Hammer back in the day was Amicus, and their 1974 release Madhouse, starring Vincent Price, presented an even more unusual mental metamorphosis ... because even the protagonist isn't sure if he's the one doin' the metamorphin'. Price stars as Paul Toombs, a movie actor who plays a character called Dr. Death in a series of lurid, lavish horror flicks. Toombs goes cuckoo-sans-Cocoa-Puffs after discovering his decapitated fiancee, because he's not sure if he did the dirty deed ... or if Dr. Death did. His fiancee had enraged him with some shocking news earlier that night, and that news had also helped to unhinge him. Doubting his own sanity turns Toombs into a less-than-stable-Abel, and he has to be institutionalized.

Years later, he recovers and decides to make a showbiz comeback ... and sure enough, dead bodies start cropping up like zits on a teenager's face after an all-night chocolate binge. And all the while, Toombs wonders: is he the one doing the killing, under the subconscious, murderous guise of Dr. Death? This movie reminds me of another Vincent Price treasure called Theatre of Blood, where he plays a different actor, who takes on the persona of Shakespearean characters to kill his enemies. Putting on another face makes it so easy, even classy, for him to lash out against his foes. Some of the Shakespearean death-scenarios are pretty dandy, too... one even involves death-by-electric-curlers.

So... Do you recognize any of those beastly cinematic critters in yourself?

Do you turn into a slavering werewolf or bat when the blood gets too hot, ready to gnaw folks to bits ... or is the change more subtle? Do intense emotions bring out equally intense inner desires? You can catch that kind of action on any old Jerry Springer episode. "Jerry, when I found out he was a'cheatin' on me, I decided to sleep with his father AND his grandpaw--at the same time!"

Or, do you become a completely different person when you get mad? I've known a lot of people who are usually super-nice... but when they get mad, suddenly they turn into either Mister Freeze or the Incredible Torch. Guess I'm lucky I haven't run into Dr. Death or a killer thespian yet.

The lesson to be learned from those movies is simply this: if you must get mad--and we all do, from time to time--try to keep a handle on your own personal transformations. It's easy to say or do something perfectly awful in a moment of anger. And the worst part is, you won't get paid like all those actors and actresses above. Yeah, you won't have a Vincent Price-tag hanging from your performance. And it's a pity you won't pull down an Ingrid Pitt paycheck.

Of course, movies in general don't give us too many positive role-models when it comes to anger. Romantic comedy couples usually slam doors and break up (though they do get back together and have sex later), action heroes blow up their enemies, and science-fiction characters...? What with laser beams, light sabers and rampaging terminators, the future isn't exactly Anger Management Central.

So, watch your temper! And keep watching those horror movies, too. With all the stirring, informative life lessons they offer, they're a lot cheaper than a visit to a psychiatrist!