"Dracula: Dead and Loving It" lives - and Mel Brooks loves it.

Like so many Van Helsings wielding a stake to drive through a vampire's heart, numerous critics expressed the view that Brooks should have left the old bloodsucker in his coffin. The comic director-writer-actor has long thought most reviewers have bats in their belfries and he's glad of the second life that video gives to movies.(Even Eddie Murphy's last bomb, "Vampire in Brooklyn," has hit the best-renting video charts.)

"Video is heaven. Even lousy movies (get a second chance). Even dogs. All dogs go to heaven," Brooks said, unable to resist the joke playing off the animated film title. "It's a great idea, this video. Because as a filmmaker you'd pray for a re-release of your film. And very few get re-releases.

"It's wonderful that your work is preserved, not only intellectually, spiritually, but physically. A tape doesn't wear out as fast as celluloid."

In a telephone interview from his West Coast offices, Brooks - who turned 70 on June 28 - said one reason he made the movie is that as a kid he thought Tod Browning's 1931 "Dracula" was the scariest movie ever.

"I believed Bela Lugosi was Dracula. I absolutely believed it. There were close-ups of his eyes that made me believe. I was afraid to look at the screen. And I had nightmares that he would be climbing up the side of 365 S. Third St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, up my own fire escape, come into my bedroom window and sink his fangs into my neck. I knew it! I knew it!

"I'm glad now that I made him funny, so I've exorcised that demon, got him out of my system. I can laugh at him."

The movie, starring Leslie Nielsen, eschews more modern takes on the undead like "The Addiction," "Interview With the Vampire" and Francis Ford Coppola's lavish "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and adheres to the Browning version.

So the film amounts to yet another of Brooks' genre sendups such as "Young Frankenstein," "Silent Movie," "Blazing Saddles," "Spaceballs" and "High Anxiety," his genuflection to Hitchcock.

And it includes some of Brooks' trademark silliness and scatology. Harvey Korman's character, the director of the insane asylum, always suggests the same cure for anyone acting up - an enema - and he gets to utter the lines: "Yes, we have Nosferatu. We have Nosferatu today."

Among the sillier things about the vampire legend to Brooks is the premise that Dracula needs blood to live.

"I mean, if he's going to live a thousand years or 2,000 years, you're going to need more than blood. You're going to need an occasional malted, and a McDonald's Big Mac."

But to him the silliest thing about the whole thing is that Dracula can't seem to wear anything but a tuxedo.

"That's all he can ever wear. That's his sunsuit, his jumper, his tennis outfit, his evening clothes as well as his picnic outfit. I mean, it's ridiculous."

When "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" arrived in theaters around Christmas and was met with mixed reviews, Brooks said he couldn't pretend to be unfazed by them.

"They really hurt. They bother me," Brooks said, dispensing with his usual Gatling-gun, lighthearted delivery.

Brooks said he was talking to a big-name critic the other day "and he said, `I assure you, I love your work. I'm a big fan!' I said, `Well, your last review . . . was terrible.' He said, `I didn't like the picture.' I said, `Wait a minute. I'm still Mel Brooks. A modicum of deference, a salute, please!' I said, `I'm the Picasso of film. So you didn't like this particular Picasso, but it's still a Picasso. A guy makes 20 films and survives and you know he's going to outlive you, you got to tip your hat. I'm Mel Brooks . . . they're not going to remember you in a hundred years, but they are going to remember me. So please! A little deference!"'

Brooks said he's most bothered when a review has a nasty, petty tenor or tone.

"If they want to quarrel with the film, that's their job. That's fine. But they can't take a cursory, dismissive tone with me," he said. "They haven't earned it.

"I have a body of work. And some of them just have a body."


HIROSHIMA - This three-hour tale stars Wesley Addy, Jeffrey DeMunn, Richard D. Masur and Tatsuo Matsumura in a dramatization of the days leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb from the perspective of the Japanese and the Americans. Premiered on the Showtime pay cable network. Not rated.

- Joe Baltake


A BOY CALLED HATE - James Caan's son, Scott, makes an impressive acting debut in this teen variation on "Thelma & Louise." The film disturbingly realizes the hollowness of the lives of two teens - Scott Caan and Missy Crider - yet it never penetrates their icy attitudes enough to make us feel involved. Instead, "Hate" cops out with tired filmmaking conventions, i.e. a car chase or a shootout. Daddy Caan has a brief but effective appearance as Scott's drunken sod of a dad. Elliott Gould also pops up as a seedy deputy D.A. But it is Scott who makes a distinct impression. I hope next time he gets a better movie. R.

- Randy Myers (Knight-Ridder)

THE INNOCENT - Despite Anthony Hopkins' horrendous American accent, this adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel is a gripping spy thriller. It also is a satisfying love story centering on a British spy (Campbell Scott) and a German woman (stunning Isabella Ros-sel-li-ni) in post-World War II Germany. Well worth renting, but be prepared for some shocks. 1995, rated R.

- Randy Myers (Knight-Ridder)