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Friday, December 18, 2015

COUNT DRACULA -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle



For prolific Spanish cult director Jesus "Jess" Franco, COUNT DRACULA (1970) was a welcome venture into classier territory than that found in his more exploitative efforts such as BLOODY MOON and THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA

Not only that, but it served as a vehicle for Christopher Lee to finally get to play the character of Dracula closer to the original Bram Stoker version, with more of the novel's dialogue (at least in the early scenes in Dracula's castle during which he tells Jonathan Harker of his family history) and a Dracula who more closely resembles the one described by Stoker. 

Shot in Spain, the film (now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Severin Films) benefits not only from some terrific found locations that add immeasurably to to its production values, but also from a top-notch cast headed by Lee and the equally venerable Herbert Lom as Professor Van Helsing, who now runs the clinic at which Dr. Seward (Paul Muller) works and where a grievously distraught Harker (Fred Williams) ends up after his ordeal at Castle Dracula.


How Dracula happens to move into the very estate that borders the clinic where Harker ends up after his escape is best left unpondered while we enjoy this dry and slow-moving, yet somehow involving retelling of the famous tale through Franco's restless lens.  As usual, his camerawork is largely fluid and informal, and rife with crude zooms that keep us up close and personal with the characters. 

In addition to American good guy Quincey Morris (Jack Taylor), we also meet his bride-to-be Lucy (exotic Soledad Miranda, later to star in Franco's VAMPIROS LESBOS and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY) and her friend Mina (the beautiful Maria Rohm), who will both be targets for Dracula's nocturnal bloodlust while they stay at the clinic looking after Mina's ailing fiance' Jonathan.  (Franco himself plays a weaselly orderly). 

Of great interest to fans of eccentric actor Klaus Kinski, who would later sprout fangs himself as NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979), is his presence here as Renfield, the celebrated "fly eater" played in the 1931 version by Dwight Frye.  Kinski is allowed to indulge himself in the role, resulting in a lot of "Look at me, I'm acting!" moments in which he improvs aimlessly and fiddles with his hair a lot. 


The two leading ladies acquit themselves well, especially Soledad Miranda whose Lucy is Dracula's main interest early on and is the victim of several nighttime attacks.  Lom is his usual solid, dependable presence as our main representative of good and resident vampire expert. 

As for Lee, it's of great interest to see the differences between this and his earlier star-making turn in Hammer's 1958 DRACULA (known in the USA as HORROR OF DRACULA).  He's less imposing here than the frightening, feral Count of twelve years before, and looks a bit awkward without the flowing cape, yet there's a greater depth to the character which makes him interesting. 

Franco's staging of several scenes (edited by fellow cult director Bruno Mattei of such films as ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE JAIL: THE WOMEN'S HELL, ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING, IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS, and MONDO CANNIBAL) is visceral and grotesque, especially the staking and beheading of the undead (including the Count's trio of not-so-bashful brides).  The ending is less frenetic than the confrontation between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing's Van Helsing in the Hammer version, but is satisfying nonetheless and closer to that described by Stoker.


The Blu-ray from Severin Films is full screen HD with Dolby 2.0 English soundtrack.  No subtitles.  A commentary track featuring actress Maria Rohm and film historian David Del Valle is both informative and at times rather charming.  Extras also include an avant-garde behind-the-scenes documentary entitled "Cuadecuc, Vampir" (75 min.), directed by Pere Portabella, which reinterprets Franco's film in grainy black-and-white images that are often more eerie and atmospheric than the original.

In addition to this are interviews with castmembers Fred Williams and Jack Taylor, and director Jess Franco himself.  French filmmaker Christophe Gans gives an appreciative assessment of the film and its director in the featurette "Stake Handlers", while Christopher Lee himself offers an emotional reading of the actual Bram Stoker novel.  Rounding out the bonus menu are alternate versions of the film's opening titles in various languages and a German trailer.

Somewhat staid and even a bit dull at times, COUNT DRACULA remains one of Jess Franco's most involving and visually compelling films (of the ones I've seen, anyway) and will definitely prove fascinating to his many ardent fans.  For anyone who appreciates the classic tale of Dracula in whatever form, this is an intriguing, invaluable interpretation which should be seen. 

Buy it at Amazon.com:
Blu-ray
DVD

Stills used are not taken from the Blu-ray


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