The Quest for “Batman Fights Dracula”

This retro-post was originally written September 10, 2005!

“Batman Fights Dracula” is a 1967 color Philippines film directed by Leody M. Diaz and written by Bert R. Mendoza. The cast includes Jing Abalos in the duel roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne, Ramon D’Salva as Dr. Zerba, Vivian Lorrain as Marita Banzon, Nort Nepomuceno as Turko, Rolan Robles as Ruben, and Dante Rivero as the Dark Prince himself, Dracula. It also features the uncredited Johannes Christof von Heinsburg as Mevik.

There, in the first scant paragraph of this article I’ve said it all. That’s it – all the information imdb and anyone else has on this damnable film. Don’t bother looking, I’ve already checked everywhere. Quite frankly, I’m getting desperate.

My obsession with this film, and the lame aborted quest in finding it, started sometime in… wait, let me check the file stamp… July 24, 2005. I was doing some research for radio serials and came up with some early short films for the Shadow, then to links of the serial shorts for Batman that aired in front of films throughout the 40s. Some real interesting things there and I’ll write an article about them one day. But for now, we focus on “Batman Fights Dracula”.

One of the links on the list of Batman films, when I eventually did do a search on that name, was this… inexplicable piece of lost cinema. How could Batman have fought Dracula and I not know of it? Impossible! I knew they did occasional battle in some of the lamer comics, but on film? Really? Wow.

Let’s start with some background material on our two stars. Batman is a comic character created by artist Bob Kane (he is uncredited in this film) and writer Bill Finger (who goes uncredited in almost everything). The character is a world famous superhero sans the super; he is most well known for being a vigilante without any powers. Batman is almost as well known for dressing up in black or blue spandex and bouncing around Gotham City fighting villains such as the Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman. Batman has been around since 1939, when Depression-Era comics were a great release, and reading about a guy that could go around decking criminal punks kept many people sane and happy. Dracula is a character based on the novel by Bram Stoker (also uncredited in this movie). Written in 1897, the novel has arguably become the most important work of gothic literature of its time, interesting considering that it actually was written after the gothic period. In any medium, Dracula has become the most famous vampire in the world, and this book and its namesakes have reconstructed the very nature of the mythological beast.

Well, it seems that none of these guys got a single mention in “Batman Fights Dracula”. Do you think the ghosts of dead writers sigh in relief whenever they aren’t mentioned in the credits of cheap knock-offs?

A search for this film on Google produced 943 results, the vast majority of which were to sites that only recounted the brief information listed in the first paragraph of this novel article. The very fact that almost all these various movie sites list Johannes Christof von Heinsburg despite the actor being uncredited in the movie tells me that most of these sites have merely reproduced their facts from the same source. Cannibalistic source material; I admit to resorting to it myself. It’s the bane of the internet generation, the rare-film antiquarian, and web researchers the world over.

Even Amazon has nothing to show me. I searched for “Batman Versus Dracula”, and that led me to an episode of the new animated Batman show. The more correct “Batman Fights Dracula” produced this:

What’s this? Jihad vs. McWorld? And what are … films like Dances with 1lblres, Batman Returns, and furavsic Park“?!

Clearly, this is not the film you are looking for – and despite no doubt unintentionally creating a large spike in sales for the new Batman cartoon show, Amazon has done nothing to clear anything up. [Side note: I don’t want to be responsible for the spread of even more confusion, so allow me to explain the “Jihad vs. McWorld” excerpt above. Apparently the book uses an unusual font type, and Amazon’s scanning software misread the titles of “Dances with Wolves” and “Jurassic Park”. That being said, I still don’t quite understand the book.]

My girlfriend, if she existed, would no doubt say that my most endearing trait is my refusal to give up, even when sanity dictates that I should. Unsatisfied with failure, I continued to dig into the mystery of “Batman Fights Dracula”. I decided to research the filmmakers, and I hoped that by proxy, I would find out more about the film. I would be happy with anything; screenshots on an actor’s fan-page, film student analysis of Diaz’s cinematography, the Filipino equivalent of Roger Ebert’s personal blog stating that, “I poot, poot, poot this movie!” – Anything would suffice.

Leody M. Diaz is the Filipino filmmaker that brought us such classics as “The Bionic Boy”, a tale of the butchered son of Interpol agent that uses his new found bionic powers to kick ass and take revenge. “The Bionic Boy” started the film career of Johnson Yap, a nine year old martial artists and sometimes actor. Despite the intense desire to review this film, I’ll rein it in and try to retain some level of focus.

The guy directed more then eight films, over half of which were made in 1968. He choreographed some of the fight sequences in the “Darna” series of action-fantasy films. Based on the amazing Filipino comic characters, these “Pinoy” films were centered on super-powered heroines and villains doing battle, usually geared towards child audiences. In the 1973’s “Lipad, Darna, Lipad”, where Diaz worked planning fight scenes, the main lead does battle with a she-vampire, and the two women clash in an aerial battle. Was Diaz revisiting his earlier work with another superhero and another blood sucking villain? Just picturing this scene with Batman and Dracula makes me fume with anticipation!

“Batman Fights Dracula” was Leody M. Diaz first listed film as a director. I have to be impressed. Can you imagine if you were a rookie filmmaker and you were given the opportunity to realize two of the most influential characters of all time? Now imagine you had to do it in the Philippines and you had laser vision and the ability to break glass with your mind. That would be freaking sweet.

We have to assume that this film turned out to be Bert R. Mendoza’s opus, since there are no other records (that I care to ferret out) to indicated having written any earlier or later work. Kudos to you Mr. Mendoza, not only for having the same last name as the infamous McBain villain, but also for putting your entire reputation as a Filipino filmmaker on the line with one film. Now that’s commitment to your work.

Having said that, the Filipino Film Board returned by confused and angry phone calls and I now have reason to believe Mendoza also directed and was the screenwriter on a comedy entitled “Ambrocio Defontorum” released in 1981. I also found a New York based Filipino-Cultural Organization leader by the name of Bert R. Mendoza, but common sense stepped in and I didn’t make the call to his offices at 4 a.m. And my doctor says that the drugs aren’t working!

As for the cast of this fine… well, I guess we can still call it a film… we have considerably less information. Apparently, the Filipinos are not as interested as we Americans in the fate of their campy Batman actors, for while I found numerous biographies of Adam West, my local library came up with jack for Jing Abalos. If anything I think they added me to some list they send periodically to the FBI.

I really thought this would produce more results. I mean, we all love our B-list actors, how can Filipino fanboys not fill up their message boards with arguments over which Batman was better, Jing Abalos or Val Kilmer? (My bet is on Jing) It was really shocking, and I searched in Spanish and English and even tried to find a Tagalog Search Engine. I do have to commend Jing Abalos for the film roles he chose to grace us with. With dazzling titles such as “Killer Jacks” and “Deadly Patrol”, you know they kicked major ass. His last film was the dubiously titled “I Shall Return”, so I assume that he is just waiting for a triumphant comeback, just like Tupac.

Ramon D’Salva was an experienced actor by the time the role of Dr. Zerba came along. He had already starred in several films and would continue to act well into the 90s. He had parts in several English-language films, usually of the scifi/action genre, like “Raiders of the Sun” a Mad Max rip-off. He generally concentrated on martial arts films, so this got me thinking about what a possible scene of “Batman Fights Dracula” may have been like:

 

Finally the two legends are together in the ring, facing each other with the cold detached stares of men that have long ago lost all that they once held dear. The final battle is about to begin, and the heavens themselves begin to quake at the presence of the Dark Knight and the Prince of Darkness.

BATMAN

I’ve tracked you down blood-sucker, there is no escape!

DRACULA

Very well detective, we shall end this here. My kung-fu is superior to your kung-fu!

BATMAN

I am the night!

Shang Tsung calls FIGHT and the battle begins. After a furious series of blows DRACULA finds himself backed into the ropes after receiving a bat-a-rang to the face. He speaks with his corner-man.

DRACULA

I underestimated him.

(beat)

BLAH!

RENFIELD

Sweep the leg.

DRACULA stares back at him in shock.

RENFIELD

Do you have a problem with that?

DRACULA

No Sensei!

RENFIELD

No mercy.

 

I’m not sure where Shang Tsung came from, and I’m pretty damn sure that was Kreese and Johnny from “The Karate Kid” towards the end, but I like it.

Another interesting note is that you can play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with “Batman Fights Dracula”. No, it’s true:

We start with “Batman Fights Dracula”’s very own Ramon D’Salva.

Ramon D’Salva was in “Death Force” with Leon Isaac Kennedy,

who was in “Lone Wolf McQuade” with David Carradine,

who was in “Kill Bill” with Uma Thurman,

who was in “Beautiful Girls” with Matt Dillon,

who was in “Wild Things” with Kevin Bacon.

I think I need a break.

Vivian Lorrain suffered no better then many of the female leads in more mainstream Batman movies. She is largely forgotten, and may have actually changed her name if she did indeed star in any films after this one. Perhaps that was a good idea.

I have some theories on what to think of the mysterious case of Nort Nepomuceno. “Batman Fights Dracula” may have been his first film, but he was featured in thirteen other movies the very next year in 1968. He is also somewhat well known as an early contra-vida, or film villain, in early cinema of the region. I have no idea what the character of Turko was like, but he evidently made an impression.

Google really thinks I meant Roland Robles and not Rolan Robles.

Proving that Dracula just won’t die, Dante Rivero has constantly found work since his role as the infamous vampire in “Batman Fights Dracula”. He often stars as the villain or the angry father, depending on whether the film is a suspense feature or a drama. He’s been in such important Filipino films as the coming to age tale “Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay”, the risqué “Red Diaries”, and “Esperanza: The Movie”. He was in films as late as last year with a comedy that was in the Oscar running entitled “La Visa Loca” (yes, named after the Ricky Martin song).

We have photos of the man that would be Dracula that would fight Batman. In “Carne de Perro”, Dante Rivero plays a dog butcher that forms an unlikely friendship with a teenaged animal lover (Alessandra de Rossi).

In the movie version of “Esperanza”, Rivero reprises his role in the story of a woman searching for her real mother. He is pictured below with costars Rosa Rosal and Charo Santos. Notice the blood-thirsty look in Rivero’s eyes, and his palpable aversion to sunlight and the bat-signal.

And for a period shot of the actor that played the Dark Prince in 1967, here is Dante Rivero and Hilda Koronel with filmmaker Vitt Romero (center) on the set of what I believe is Bulaklak Man Ay Lupa Rin” 1975.

How much does it suck to be the sole uncredited bastard on a film that no one has really seen and that practically no one else involved in its production had another credit to their name? Johannes Christof von Heinsburg played Mevik, didn’t get a single nod for it, and then fell off the face of the Earth.

That’s not entirely true. He also went uncredited in his role of Medic #1 in the 1994 Pol Cruchten film “Sniper”. No, that’s not the 1987 “Sniper” film that also only has one listed credit, and it’s not that 1993 “Sniper” film that Billy Zane wishes he would have remained uncredited for – those are other movies.

I’d like to believe that Johannes was this amazing European film star that agreed to do the cameo as Mevik because of his deep respect for the vision of the filmmakers. Also, that candy is good for me.

Marvelous Martial Arts, Superimposed Superheroes, Undead Dramatic Actors – Is it bad that I am judging the entire motion picture industry of a nation based solely on these handfuls of interlinked films? Wouldn’t that be like trying to analyze the American film industry just by watching “Police Academy”, “Death Wish IV”, and “Varsity Blues”? Those films only show 99.3% of what American films are actually like.

So, let’s look at the Filipino film industry itself. It began on January 1, 1897 with the long-delayed premiere of four films in the first cinema named the Salon de Pertierra (named for its founder). In the 1930s Filipino movies were just at the early stages of exploration, where filmmakers and actors were just learning their craft and most stories came from the stage or literature. By the 50s, the industry matured significantly and some real artistic strides were taken. The 70s and 80s, like in American cinema, saw some of the most commercial success for the industry, but also marked a loss of artistic integrity and meaning in a lot of work. Years later, those Filipino kids that sat around and watched the mass-produced filler churned out for them are probably sitting back and reminiscing about their favorite heroes and heroines as they took off in these crowd pleasing and critic enraging flicks – just like the rest of us do with the films we grew up on.

“Batman Fights Dracula” is likely to be a product of that strange mix of decades and influences. America was ever dominant on the cultural horizon, and characters like Batman and Dracula would have been ripe for adaptation, not only because of the strong Filipino theater-to-film concern, but because of the populace’s love for hero movies.

By the way, did you notice that the film industry in the Philippines began in the same year that “Dracula” was first published by Bram Stoker? It all fits together.

So, this concludes my article reviewing a movie that I’ve never seen – and that you haven’t either. It was a long and winding road, full of madness and despair, but all that’s behind me now, I promise. I swear that I will not spend any more time trying to dig up this film, nor will I dedicate my life to any sort of solemn oath regarding it. Really. Cross my heart.

F.G. Hablawi

September 10, 2005

P.S. This article wins for having the highest amount of words that trigger my word processor’s spellchecker. Seriously, combined with the grammar-check, it’s a red and green underlined Christmas tree around here.

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Final Grade:

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SPECIAL BONUS!

The following is a real conversation I had early in my quest to find “Batman Fights Dracula” and should be taken with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that I was fighting back mental illness while this was going on.

Frank:

Tell your girlfriend to get me a copy of “Batman Fights Dracula” and I’ll not go ape-shit all over the place.

Frank:

I’M FUCKING SERIOUS!

Frank:

or Benny, get Benny to do it

John:

Wait, what?

John:

I have an episode of batman that only appeared on the Sega CD Batman game

Frank:

No, I need Batman Fights Dracula.

Frank:

It’s a Philippine-movie.

Frank:

And I need it

Frank:

need.

John:

Dude you can get it on Amazon

Frank:

No I can’t

Frank:

that’s Batman versus Dracula

John:

ok…

John:

oh, I see

Frank:

YEAH

Frank:

I need this film.

John:

read the user comment on imdb

John:

its hilarious

Frank:

I know that comment, and that guy didn’t see it.

Frank:

he lies

Frank:

I need it.

Frank:

Ask your girlfriend. She has to know where they keep it.

Frank:

Offer her a yoyo.

John:

SHE DOES NOT LIKE YOYOS!

John:

I just asked her

Frank:

Ok.

John:

Filipino bruce wayna

Frank:

I’m writing a review for it right now.

Frank:

But all I have is rumor and nonsense.

About Frank Hablawi 151 Articles
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