Dracula Sucks – The Cartoon and the Court

Dracula Sucks was an ambitious 1978 adult sex comedy parody. Legend has it that the original version was edited into two shorter films, one containing explicit sex and distributed under various other titles, and the other shown at theatres. When it came to Canada, additional cuts were made for Ontario, and the cut version eventually ended up in Alberta. As in the other provinces, the Alberta censors approved it for viewers over 18 only. There were several showings in Edmonton and Calgary, to over 8,000 people, with no complaints to the censors or the theatre chain, but police in Edmonton received complaints. They viewed the film at a theatre, seized it at the end of the showing, and charged the theatre:

That The Towne Cinema Theatres Ltd., at Edmonton, in the Judicial District of Edmonton, Alberta, on or about the 27th day of January, A.D. 1980, being the person in charge of a theatre, namely, Jasper Cinema (Blue) at 10120 – 156th Street, did unlawfully present an audience an entertainment, namely a motion picture entitled ‘Dracula Sucks’ which entertainment was immoral, indecent or obscene, contrary to the Criminal Code [R.S.C. 1970, c. C-34].

As part of the hearing, the film was screened at the censors office for the court, and the judge invited members of the public to attend the screening

….several newspaper reporters, some members of the public, His Lordship, Counsel, and the Court Clerk viewed the film on the Censor Theatre screen only one time… His Lordship had only one opportunity to view the film before his judgment convicting Towne Cinemas Theatres Ltd., and fined the said company $1,500.00.

I don’t know what the ticket price was in 1981, but 555 people viewed the film at the theatre before it was seized, so unless tickets were less than $3, the theatre still came out ahead. Nevertheless, they planned to appeal the decision.

Soon after the conviction, the Edmonton Sun published an editorial cartoon, mocking the case. Several parties were charged with contempt of court, but the Crown dropped charges against everyone except the paper. In court, the judge described the cartoon as follows:

[It] depicts a person in judicial dress complete with a wig surrounded by four persons in uniform similar to that of police officers. The hat badges have the word “fuzz” on them. There is no doubt but that the cartoonist is depicting a judge and police officers. All are leaning forward with rapt attention on the screen. Three of the police officers are salivating and drooling and the fourth is saying “So we rescrutinized ‘Dracula Sucks’ to make sure you were right, your Honour — but really! 76 times.” The judge is biting his finger. The figures are drawn in such a way as to express eagerness, anticipation and erotic thrill in each of them. The portable projector is on a pedestal of some sort together with additional reels of film. The screen is also a portable one. The impression is that the film is being shown in much the same way as one shows home movies.

The court had to consider whether the cartoon would “bring the court into disrespect” or “obstruct or defeat the administration of justice.” The latter point was significant as an appeal had been launched, and the cartoon could conceivably affect the appeal.

The judge concluded that between the poor execution of the cartoon and the lack of intelligence of the average newspaper reader, there was no danger of the cartoon being in contempt of court, although he did not like it.

It is my opinion that a person looking at the cartoon would expect to see some criticism of the judgment of the court or of the system of film censorship in Alberta. If that was the intention of the artist neither appears. Upon studying the drawing more carefully one could conclude that the artist was attempting to show that the presiding justice or that members of the judiciary are lustful and lascivious people who use court exhibits and in particular films which have been found to be obscene for their own personal use and to satisfy their own prurient desires. To put it in the vernacular, that they are “dirty old men”. I suppose that is also possible to conclude from the cartoon that members of the judiciary confer with police officers as to whether they arrived at the right decision in the cases that they have heard.

To my mind neither these nor the other matters raised by the Crown in its argument would be readily apparent to the average person reading the paper. I cannot imagine anyone taking this cartoon seriously. To me a reader would accept the cartoon as one attempting to poke innocent fun at members of the judiciary whose duty it is to determine whether a film is obscene. The fact that the caption refers to “Dracula Sucks” which readers of the newspaper must have known to have been found obscene does not alter my view. Without reference to something spectacular the cartoon would make less sense than it does in its present form.

I cannot conclude that the cartoon is in contempt of court. To me it is a stupid, pointless and unintelligible drawing and having regard to the subject matter of the film even if it portrayed someone other than a member of the judiciary or the police forces it is in very bad taste.

Meanwhile, the appeal of the theatre’s obscenity conviction was upheld. The theatre appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and in 1985 that court considered the case. No one bothered  defending the film on the grounds of artistic merit.

In the present case, no argument was addressed to the “artistic merit” or “serious purpose” of Dracula Sucks‑‑nor, I should think, could such an argument plausibly be made. This Court is not, therefore, called upon to expound the relationship between Judson J.’s two tests.

Instead, the court looked to community standards, a guideline since the late 1950s.

 We need only consider the issue of obscenity from the point of view of community standards.

This was also one of the first court decisions to emphasize that pornography could be harmful, even if it was tolerated in the community. 

Nevertheless, as will presently appear, it is important to remember that from the very beginning of this Court’s consideration of s. 159(8) “community standards” have been viewed as one measure of “undueness” in the exploitation of sex. They have never been seen as the only measure of such undueness; still less has a breach of community standards been treated as in itself a criminal offence.

There are other ways in which exploitation of sex might be “undue”. Ours is not a perfect society and it is unfortunate but true that the community may tolerate publications that cause harm to members of society and therefore to society as a whole. Even if, at certain times, there is a coincidence between what is not tolerated and what is harmful to society, there is no necessary connection between these two concepts. Thus, a legal definition of “undue” must also encompass publications harmful to members of society and, therefore, to society as a whole.

However, the court determined that in this case, only community standards were at issue. What is the community? In the early 1960s the courts had ruled that the community, for the purposes of determining community standards for obscenity, is the entire country. This is different from the United States, where the community is argued on a case by case basis.

Understanding what the country as a whole will tolerate is not easy, and the court mulled that over, before ruling that in the case of Dracula Sucks, the initial trial judge had relied on his own standard of taste rather than considering community standards. The conviction was set aside.

Cases:

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