Horror, Vampire

Count Dracula (1970)

Comments Off on Count Dracula (1970) 17 October 2016

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Studio: Severin

Theatrical Release: April 3, 1970 (Germany) 

Blu Ray Release: December 15, 2015

Director: Jess Franco

Review by James Klein

Jess Franco’s rather faithful adaption of Dracula is both a failed attempt but yet an entertaining version of the Bram Stoker novel. With Christopher Lee once again playing the Count, his role as Dracula is unlike the Hammer films where he had gotten his big break into the horror genre. This Dracula is a bit more talkative, a bit more romantic, much closer to the source material than the previous British Hammer films.

If you have never seen 1931’s Dracula or Horror of Dracula or 1979’s Dracula or Bram Stoker’s Dracula…then you need to get out and see these films. For those of you who have, the plot is very much the same: Young solicitor Johnathan Harker (Fred Williams from She Killed in Ecstasy) travels to meet the Count (Lee, whose Dracula is an older, mustached vampire) who wants to sell his home in Transylvania and  move to jolly ol England. As predicted, the Count isn’t who he seems to be as he does not cast a reflection in Harker’s bedroom mirror and lashes out at his three vampire brides when they try to seduce Harker. Fleeing out the window and into the river, Harker escapes Dracula and barely survives only to wake up in an English hospital run by Dr. Seward (Paul Muller from Vampyros Lesbos) who listens to Harker’s tale with much amusement. Seward has a patient named Renfield (the always strange Klaus Kinski) who has a similar story. Could the two be talking about the same man?

The film then introduces us to Dracula’s nemesis Dr. Van Helsing (Herbert Lom from The Dead Zone) who has been pursuing the Prince of Darkness his whole life. When family friend Lucy (Soledad Miranda, also from Vampyros Lesbos) dies from a blood loss, Van Helsing teams up with Seward, Harker, and Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor from Pieces) to stop the Count from taking more victims. Each time he drinks the blood of his prey, he grows stronger and younger, providing it much more difficult for him to be stopped.

There are genuine moments of fright in Franco’s Count Dracula which really work. Seeing the vampire Lucy smile and seduce a young child by taking her into the woods was particularly creepy. The film builds on the scares and tries it’s best to stay true to the original novel. However, with a short running time, it still doesn’t quite stay truthful to the novel. It’s climatic battle with the Count also provides a WTF moment and is an unsatisfying conclusion. It doesn’t help that Franco didn’t have the budget of say Justine or Eugenie and because of that, Count Dracula suffers. It’s rubber bats, cheap smoke effects, dull photography (Franco goes apeshit with the zooms this time around) and lack of violence all add to the cheapness of this production. For a Franco film, this is rather subdued and I was waiting for some full frontal nudity to be thrown out of nowhere and yet it never happened. Thankfully, the performances are great with the highlight actually being Lom as the tortured and determined Van Helsing. Lom may be one of my favorite Van Helsing’s in any film adaption. Throw in Lee, Kinski, and Taylor…it’s hard not to recommend this due to the amazing cast. But with all this talent and only providing a mediocre film with only a few memorable moments, this is a rather disappointing adaptation of Dracula.

The blu ray transfer is decent despite some noticeable film debris. This being a composite cut, there are moments during the film where the picture looks worse during certain sequences (the brief moment of the gypsy mother looking for her baby outside Dracula’s castle may be the most distracting in terms of picture quality). Maintaining the original 1:33:1 picture aspect ratio, Count Dracula looks the best it has ever looked. I have seen past VHS and DVD transfers and this is by far the best it has or will probably ever look. The English LPCM 2.0 audio track sounds good with very little audio hiss.

Despite being somewhat lackluster, Severin goes out of their way in providing a blu ray that is truly magnificent in regards to the special features. There is the feature length behind the scenes look of the film called Cudecur, Vampir which is a black & white, silent documentary of various alternate takes with different sound effects and music. This is a rather odd special feature but also a strange curiosity as there are moments where crew members walk into shots and actors breaking character. There is also an audio commentary track with actress Maria Rohm, an interview with Franco (this interview is in English where Franco’s broken dialect may provide a challenge for some in understanding him), an interview with Jack Taylor, an interview with Fred Williams, film maker Christophe Gans brief take on his appreciation of the film, trailers, and finally, a real treat…Christopher Lee reading excerpts from the novel.

While it should have been much better, Severin’s release of the 1970 Jess Franco Dracula adaption is a blu ray that should be owned by Franco fans and Dracula enthusiasts. While not the best or most faithful take on the novel, the movie offers some decent moments along with a blu ray that is packed with special features.

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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