Count Duckula: The Complete First Series Review
Vampires, eh? Romanian villages in the dark ages may have been suitably terrified of them but in more recent years, they've been reduced to little more than figures of fun, merely joining the rest of the undead. The Munsters did for Frankenstein's monster, Shaun Of The Dead was the death knell for zombies, whilst mummies were rarely treated with any seriousness, deserved or not. George Hamilton slid around Manhattan on a slick formed from hair gel in Love At First Bite whilst Roman Polanski spoofed the bloodsuckers in The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are In My Neck, where a Jewish vampire (Alfie Bass) wags his finger at a crucifix-wielding Polanski.
Of course, Abbott and Costello saw off most of the undead with their various onscreen adventures as did Scooby Doo and Mystery Inc. and it was their cartoon counterparts, Danger Mouse and Penfold, who first faced Count Duckula. Back then, though, Duckula was an honest-to-goodness bloodsucking vampire, more fond of Rhesus-Positive than tomato juice but as the pre-title sequence of this series revealed, something went terribly wrong during the latest attempt to revive the long line of bloodthirsty Duckulas. With previous incarnations being the traditional vampire type, even down to the fatal reaction to sunlight and stakes through the heart, menservants Nanny and Igor attempt to raise Duckula from the dead through a mystical ritual that can only be performed once a century, when the moon is in the eighth house of Aquarius. But, just as Nanny was reaching for the blood that was the final ingredient in the ritual, her hand landed upon a bottle of tomato ketchup, which left the returning vampiric spirit a vegetarian!
Finding the taste of blood as offensive as Igor finds a vegetarian vampire, Count Duckula is actually rather a nice character, worrying about the fate of the villagers as they cower in their homes far below the mountain on which Castle Duckula has been built. Nanny, though, finds the latest Count Duckula rather sweet, calling him Ducky-poo as she assists him with his interior decoration (Restoration Comedy), planning a holiday to Spain (Vampire Vacation) or opening his castle to the public (Castle Duckula: Open to the Public). Of course, not everyone understands that Count Duckula has not acquired a taste for blood - that Count Duckula is a vegetarian may not be common knowledge given Igor's distaste for the idea - and so he's pursued through space and time by vampire slayer Dr Von Goosewing. Similarly, the lack of a reflection, the inability to venture outside during daylight or to tolerate the eating of garlic are suggestive, to an unwitting audience, that Count Duckula is quite dangerous when, in fact, he's often at pains to point out that he is anything but.
Yet as a cartoon or, more specifically, entertainment for children, Count Duckula hasn't aged particularly well. Whilst it's nice to hear David Jason from the years in which he could still be funny, that is before the forced humour of The Darling Buds of May or the later Christmas specials of Only Fools And Horses or the dreary reach for seriousness that came with Inspector Frost, his reading of the script is rushed with any suggestion of timing going the way of any horror, being, to all intents and purposes, non-existent. Instead of being a gothic-tinged cartoon set in the spooky halls of a castle or in the Carpathian villages below, Cosgrove Hall gave Castle Duckula the ability to travel through space and time, which leads them on adventures across the globe and through history. Hence, Nanny, Igor and Duckula's travelling to Australia, to ancient Egypt (with a gang of burglars in tow), to Scotland (The Ghost of McCastle McDuckula) or to outer space (The Vampire Strikes Back). There are good episodes, though, such as Mutinous Penguins, which mixes pirates, defrosted Vikings and the search for Castle Duckula, or All in a Fog, in which Count Duckula travels to London to pursue his dream of being a famous detective but they're the exception rather than the norm. Even obvious gags are rushed through too quickly whilst, watched end-to-end, Count Duckula does tend to become quite tiresome, not to mention frustrating as it's possible to not only see the potential but also how it was squandered.
Some of the predictability does become quite endearing, such as the awful jokes told to one another by Dmitri and Sviatoslav, the two mechanical bats who live within the castle's cuckoo clock, or Igor's memories of the terrible deeds performed by previous Count Duckulas but there isn't enough of either to make this a great show.
Complete with the Thames Television logo and despite looking to have been made on film, this appears to have come straight from a videotape without so much as a glance from anyone to supervise the transfer. Looking scratchy, dirty and, for an animated show, soft and with a huge amount of grain, this is a very unimpressive release, which though maybe be no better than Fremantle's Danger Mouse releases, ought to have been a good deal better than this. Unfortunately, it isn't even good enough to be described as functional with the faults being apparent when seen even on a small laptop monitor never mind a large plasma or LCD screen. Similarly, the DD2.0, which sounds like it's in Mono, isn't terribly good, being quite awful to listen to over an extended period, sounding harsh and much too trebly over that time.
Such is the nature of these review copies that we didn't get all three discs, only the first two in the set, neither of which had the special features on them. However, according to the press release, the third disc contains interviews with Brian Cosgrove and John Doyle as well as a guide to drawing Duckula and a photo gallery.
I don't doubt, however, that regardless of what I think or have written here that this will prove to be a popular release. Even at school, I always thought Danger Mouse was an awful show despite what others thought of it and I can see the same faults with this, being rushed, badly acted and distinctly charmless. However, no doubt there will be many who'll look back on Count Duckula as being part of their childhood, perhaps even an important part, and who'll have fond memories of it. It's a shame that Fremantle couldn't have produced a better quality DVD for them but this may do. Whether or not they'll listen will be apparent when further seasons of Count Duckula are eventually released.
Last updated: 06/06/2018 23:03:53