Monday, November 18, 2013

Jess Franco's Count Dracula (1970)

As a kid, my earliest understanding of Count Dracula came from The Monster Squad (1987), Count Chocula, Sesame Street, and a mythical final boss I could never get to in the Nintendo game Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. None of which was the proper way to get to know The Count, of course. And so, I remained ignorant of the real legend of Count Dracula until fairly recently when I was instilled with a desire to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), following a pleasurably short read from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872). Thanks to Stoker’s novel, I’ve been on quite the Dracula kick lately, watching a lot of films based on the novel, such as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922), Dracula (1931), Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula (1970), Nosferatu: The Vampyre (1979), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and Dracula 3D (2012).

I really think we would’ve had a near-perfect adaptation with Francis Ford Coppola’s version from 1992, if it weren’t for the love story between Dracula and Mina thrown in, and I don’t think Lucy was supposed to seem so promiscuous, either. I’m actually not offended by a soft Dracula that could genuinely fall in love with a living woman without wishing her any harm; just don’t shoehorn it into an adaptation of Stoker’s novel. A lot of people who haven’t read the book will probably think it was a romance novel. I actually thought it was an interesting idea in Count Dracula’s Great Love (1974), where Paul Naschy created and portrayed, for the first time, Count Dracula as a romantic softie.




It might be a little hard to recommend to Dracula fans in general, since it is a slow, cheap, low-key Jess Franco film, even lacking the ultra-surreal, kinky, supernatural sexiness seen in movies like Vampyros Lesbos, which Franco fans might long for here, but I really came to appreciate Jess Franco’s Count Dracula. It’s not perfect and has its flaws, primarily on account of budgetary restraints and being a rushed product, but I really think they did everything right with regards to creating the Count from Stoker’s novel.
 
Independent film producer Harry Allan Towers, who frequently worked with Jess Franco around this time, had a lot of interest in creating a Dracula movie that was faithful to Stoker’s novel. He repeatedly asked Jess to direct the film, and, being an admirer of the novel, Jess ultimately agreed. By this time, Sir Christopher Lee had grown weary of his Dracula roles, but when he was offered the chance to play The Count in a faithful adaptation to Stoker’s novel, Lee once again reprised the role. For the first time on film, Dracula appears as an older looking man with grey hair who appears younger as he feeds on blood, like in the book. 




Jess Franco’s Count Dracula does come off as extremely faithful, at the beginning, during the episode with Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) and Dracula at his castle in Transylvania, but following the shift to London, things get turned around in certain ways, as the film takes liberties with the plot, that sort of undermines its commitment as a vehicle for a true film version of Stoker's Dracula. I was a little disappointed that the segment involving the doomed crew of the ship that transports Dracula to London and its stormy arrival to the port was completely omitted. Some of the fishy changes that I can’t help griping about a little were how the mental clinic was run by Professor Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) instead of Dr. Seward (Paul Muller), and when Lucy’s (Soledad Miranda) fiancée shows up, he introduces himself as Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor)… (Arrgghh! We all know that she chose Arthur Holmwood, who’s not even in this movie, and turned down Dr. Seward and Morris’s proposals). There’s also a bit that takes place at an opera house, where Dracula attacks Mina (Maria Rohm), which I like to think was supposed to be an homage to a brief segment in the 1931 Dracula. Also, that whole bit with Van Helsing having a stroke and ending up in a wheelchair seemed a bit puzzling.




Of course, I’d be contradicting myself, in a way, if I was to let these inconsistencies between the book and the movie ruin it for me, as I have praised a few Lovecraft film adaptations for not merely copying the book. I do like this movie, and as a Jess Franco fan, it’s a treat to see a lot of beloved Franco regulars acting in a formidable version of Dracula. The style and look of the movie can stand its own alongside any of the Hammer horror Draculas. Franco can sometimes handle era creations quite sublimely, and the look and feel of Count Dracula (although filmed in Barcelona) really touches the Victorian sentiments in me.




Fans of Soledad Miranda (She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos) will no doubt make the trek here for her dark, enchanting beauty and doughy eyed pleasures. Her scenes with Lee, involving Lucy’s encounters with Dracula, have become the primary icon for this film’s memory. We don’t see a whole lot of her as the undead Lucy, “The Bloofer Lady” as it was coined in Stoker’s novel, but the shot of her as a vampire, standing in the shadows, luring a stray child her way is a powerful one indeed.




He only utters one word, “Varna,” in the movie before dying,  as a hint to where Dracula is traveling, but Klaus Kinski creates an interesting new take on Renfield, the institutionalized lunatic under a profound influence from Dracula, with some of the more attention grabbing scenes in the movie. Bypassing spoken words, Kinski uses blank stares and erratic outbursts to convey a madman that’s also a victimized soul. Kinski supposedly ate real flies, too. His screams are sometimes heard throughout the asylum, giving it that familiar lunatic asylum motif. Interestingly enough, Kinski would go on to play the pestilence ridden Count Dracula in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979).



  
Franco first wanted Vincent Price, but Herbert Lom was still a good choice for Van Helsing, though I don’t think he was quite eccentric enough. The Van Helsing in the book had a way with words that seemed enlightening in a head spinning sort of way, something I think only works in long winded text.

I’m glad that Sir Christopher Lee had a chance to portray Dracula exactly as he was meant to be, and he is arguably the only one who has done so, which, considering how many times he’s played Dracula, should further serve as a testament to his being a very true embodiment of Dracula. In the book, Count Dracula makes quite a speech about his family name, but I assumed he was talking about himself and his own triumphs throughout the ages. This part was brought to life in the movie with Lee giving a mesmerizing and bone chilling speech: "This was a Dracula indeed".




As I said before, certain liberties are taken with certain details and facts in the plot, but the overall story still ends up being the same as the one from the novel it is based on. Being a low budget picture, it’s obvious why certain things were omitted, and, as the film is modifying a 300 plus page book into a standard runtime, things were probably changed around to condense what is a very epic story. I think it still captures the heart of Stoker’s novel, and I think it should receive at least a passing grade as a faithful adaptation. As a standalone movie it isn’t bad either and should appeal to fans of Lee’s Hammer horror Dracula films. I do think that it’s one of the more widely known Franco films outside of the diehard fan base, which should be saying something about its accessibility. In any case, if an atmospheric, era horror movie with a classic monster played by one of the greatest actors of our time is what you are in the mood for, than you can’t go wrong with Count Dracula.




11 comments:

  1. It's not one of Franco's better efforts, but Lee's speech about his "family" history is worth the price of admission alone. That monologue is one of the high points of the book, but as far as I can remember, this was the first and only film version to use any part of it.

    Towers was always good at selling everyone a ripping bill of goods then taking a powder when it came time to pay up, and that's what happened here. As you watch it, you can see a relatively well-financed effort wherein the money progressively dries up, resulting in one cut corner after another.

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    1. That would probably explain why Jess had to pay money from his own pocket to finish making the film. You can tell that after they finished the shots with Lee, everything else was rushed along, finding real easy ways to complete certain crucial segments, like the staking of Lucy and the demise of the Count himself, which should’ve had more to them. Not counting the splatter of blood over Jack Taylor, I really think there should’ve been more from the staked vampires, since, if I recall, there should’ve been more screaming, blood, and squirming.

      I do think you’re right about this being the only time that fabulous monologue from the book was committed to film. I think there was a lot of worry that distributors would cut that part out.

      Someone told me about a film project Cuadacuc, Vampir, which was filmed behind the scenes in black and white on the set of Franco’s Count Dracula. It has the appearance of a degraded print and offers a little insight to the filming conditions and tomfoolery between takes. I’m pretty curious about it. It appears to be on YouTube in its entirety.

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    2. Cuadecuc-Vampir (1970) can be watched here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3RJgWvS9eM

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  2. Hi Giovanni!
    I love Count Chocula! Seriously only by crap cereal once a year in October, and then I get a box of all three: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and BooBerry! My son and his wife life in Santa Fe. Heard there was quite a storm rolling in today. Cool! No, Frigid! Dig on your post on Dracula. You have a great blog. You've been doing it far longer than I, so I'm glad I found you, you've got some great stuff. Your labels make it really easy. I've got to turn in tonight, but will be visiting tomorrow to click on Dario. Don't ya love Dario? I want to redo my little apt. in blue and red. Or at least throw everything out that isn't either black and white or blue and red. haha I don't know what I was thinking when I moved in. Until next time...Keep those fires stoked. My last post was on Nosferatu. It's needlessly lengthy, but hell, it Nosferatu, for goodness sakes. I don't usually plug my own stuff, but I figured you went to all the trouble to write such a nice post on Dracula, and even mention Nosferatu, I figured it was alright. Until next time...Keep those fires stoked.
    Eternally Yours

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    1. Dang it! I hate it when I don't hit that notify me button. Sorry for the reply to my own comment. I just don't want to miss anything! Lame!

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    2. Welcome. Thanks for your thoughtful comment; I appreciate it. I usually feel like my write ups are needlessly long, but they do get read, and I usually feel like I’m doing the movie an injustice if I don’t analyze them enough.

      Yes the weather’s been pretty dismal the past couple of days here in Albuquerque, and it just started snowing tonight. Not that I don’t mind snow, I just wish it would happen more around Christmas, when I don’t have to drive through it to work.

      Yes, I do love Dario :D. He was the first to show me what it’s like to be obsessed with a filmmaker, and I don’t think I’ve been as obsessed with another filmmaker since. I do dig the idea of making your apartment look like something out of Suspiria – don’t forget the greenish-yellow from Inferno.

      I only by sugary monster cereals in October, too; this year they brought back Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy, which had an odd but still tasty cherry and orange cream flavor, respectively.

      Thanks for all your compliments. Your blog looks cool too. I have to sign off as well, but I want to get around to reading your review of Nosferatu.

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    3. Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy?! What the heck? Those two have definitely not made it this far west. And yes, my posts, I find, are often needlessy lengthy as well, but I can always count on at least one reader, Brandon over at Movies at Dog Farm. Evidently he's a glutton for punishment, and just an all around good guy with a great comprehensive site. And if you're a Dario fan, you simply must read, after Nosferatu of course, this post Lurking in Shadows of Suspiria, by James Gracey over at Behind the Couch. It'll blow your mind. He wrote a book on Dario. I have it. It's excellent. You can get it on his site or mine or Amazon. And no, I'm not his sister, just a fan. Dang, Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy, gonna have to have my son buy it next year and send them to me, if they should make another comeback. Anyway, like I always say, Giovanni, Keep those fires stoked! And thanks for the nice reply.
      Eternally Yours

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  3. I see the Argento name dropped in earlier comments - will you be pitching in on the upcoming Argento coverage on Blood Sucking Geek?

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    1. WHAT?! "Upcoming Argento coverage of Blood Sucking Geek?" When? Where? Whilst thou elaborate? Pray tell!

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    2. Heh heh! Thanks for the comments. I'd like to pitch in, but I'm not too sure what the future holds for my blogging schedule since I am starting dissertation writing with school, and with my own personal deadlines for each chapter, I might not be able to commit to anything time-sensitive for awhile when it comes to blogging.

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    3. @Warden Stokely: I'm happy to see you're enthusiastic, but I'm actually not too sure myself; I would contact JD about that, or stay tuned to BSG for further info.

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