The Dracula Movies #5: ‘El Conde Dracula’ (1970)

17 Aug

Crreeeeeeaaak!Thud! Aha, there you are! As I arise once again from my coffin, let us see what cinematic delight can quench our thirst! After Hammer’s seminal take on Stoker’s book in 1958 (and the long series that followed it), there was another adaptation by the BBC in 1968 (starring Denholm Elliot). This version is especially difficult to get hold of, and therefore has not been viewed by my good self. Interestingly it was screened on television the same year Hammer released Dracula has risen from the grave. Whether it could compete with Hammer’s lurid and sexually enticing blend of horror remains to be seen.

So, onwards to 1970, and the next film adaptation of Stoker’s novel:

Count Dracula (El Conde Dracula) (Jess Franco, 1970)

A very commendable idea in theory that is just poorly realised, Jess Franco’s take on Dracula is just a tiring mess of a motion picture. The whole film drags and even the standout parts, such as Christopher Lee’s more restrained and faithful portrayal, can’t really rescue the film from anything other than an intriguing curio. At first the film stays reasonably close to Stoker’s novel before becoming a bit of a muddled narrative. Early in the film, Lee’s monologue and the castle scenes were very watchable, and the scene with the brides taking the baby promised some genuine horror to follow. But as things progressed I found myself wondering what was happening on more than one occasion and Franco’s direction didn’t help (he’s a bit too over fond of his zoom lens, I have to say).

The 'tache was fine in the novel, but I'm not too sure about it on Christopher Lee.

The film fails on most of the counts I rattle off when considering a good Dracula film. Herbert Lom (an actor I regard quite highly) is bland and unengaging as Van Helsing. He mumbles about the ‘black arts’ on more than one occasion while disbelieving what is happening to Lucy, which makes him out to be a bit of an idiot. Klaus Kinski is possibly the best cast member other than Lee, even though his role as Renfield has hardly any dialogue. He makes it work. Soledad Miranda is a beautiful girl, but I’m not sure what she adds to the film other than that. I’m also at a loss about the characters of Mina and Lucy here- wasn’t Lucy meant to be the strong willed one?

Lucy in 'not a 25 stone fat girl' shocker.

Elsewhere things take even sloppier turns, with paper mache rocks, characters returning from Europe with no luggage, alsations doubling as wolves and the most inexplicably flammable Dracula ever. All that I can turn an amused blind eye to, but when characters from the book get altered for no good reason and the whole production is so badly edited and paced that it literally annoys and bores me, I wonder about the motives of Franco and his crew. Did they start out with true intentions to film Stoker’s book faithfully, but were then somehow unable to see the idea through? The good stuff here is very good- Lee’s interrupted seduction of Mina and the Brides taking the baby, but these parts are so brief and far between and they belong to a film which otherwise fails to deliver a decent retelling of the novel.
It isn’t just that the whole film is badly paced and edited (as mentioned), and with annoying direction and awful, stilted performances that make it a below par film. The real let down comes when the film descends into surreal ludicracy, with the party of vampire hunters being terrorised by a bunch of stuffed animals. What the hell is all that about?! At least the sillier aspects of Hammer were more entertaining than this cringe worthy idiocy. Franco’s direction and the paltry effects work fail to convince us that any of the animals are coming alive, and the whole scene is just unintentionally funny. They’re being attacked by a stuffed ostrich for crying out loud!!! At this point I considered that Hanna-Barbera could have made a better Dracula film than this- at least it would have been funnier!

Captain Nemo? Yes. Chief Inspector Dreyfuss? Yes. Ven Helsing? Er...not quite.

So, a complete letdown that bored me and made me laugh at parts I shouldn’t be laughing at. Perhaps it was a wasted opportunity, but that’s presuming that Franco was capable of making a better Dracula film in the first place. On seeing the whole picture, I’m not too sure.

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2 Responses to “The Dracula Movies #5: ‘El Conde Dracula’ (1970)”

  1. dv_forever August 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    For months people have been complaining about the visual quality of this particular Blu-Ray title. I’m a Blu-Ray enthusiast and I do enjoy this film so I wanted to find out for myself if all the attacks about it’s visual quality had merit. Here are my thoughts…

    I bought the Superbit Collection standard DVD of this movie and compared it to this Blu-Ray version. For me, it’s a no-brainer, the Blu-Ray is superior. The Superbit version actually looks more garish and brighter than any version I’ve seen before, be it on TV or VHS. The overly bright colors give the movie a fantasy feel. Rarely did the night scenes in the castle look dark or disturbing. It was all very garish, color wise.

    In this Blu-Ray version, Coppola’s people, acting on his instructions, toned down the color scheme and made it darker, far more sinister and realistic. I enjoyed the look of the film very much. Those night scenes in the castle are eerie and dangerous in comparison to the overly bright Superbit version. The movie has a more horror like atmosphere to it. In a couple of short scenes, the color is drained and the picture has a nearly black and white look to it. It’s strikingly beautiful. On Blu-Ray, instead of the garish haze, the color of Dracula’s wardrobe for instance, blood red, leaps off the screen unlike the Superbit DVD.

    Although most of the scenes don’t have the sharpness or detail you’ve come to expect from Blu-Ray, I still say it’s a very good purchase. Obviously this movie is not going to look like the Blu-Rays of Pixar’s Cars or Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t expect it to. The audio quality is just fine. Top notch. Some of the most hilarious features on this Blu-Ray are the multi-language tracks. They have Russian, Romanian and several others. I speak Russian and had a blast watching Dracula in Russian! It’s goofy watching Keanu Reeves in Russian at first but soon enough you realize this is very high quality dubbing. Not done as some afterthought at all. Very nice.

    The special features have many documentaries and of course Coppola’s commentary. This Blu-Ray certainly warrants a purchase for those who like the film. If you’re unsure because of the controversy of the color scheme, I suggest buying the Superbit alongside the Blu-Ray and contrasting them for yourself. Perhaps you’ll like the Superbit DVD better. Compare them on your widescreen TV in a dark room at night and I think you’ll find the Blu-Ray is a better experience. Yes, there is grain and dirt and the picture is not perfect by any means. It’s an older catalog title. If it doesn’t get a full on restoration, it’s not going to look any better than this.

    Now, as to the movie itself. I always enjoyed this Coppola treatment of Dracula. The atmosphere and art direction, the costumes, sets, music are all first class. The script, acting and pacing can be a bit stiff. That and Keanu Reeves hamper this movie. It’s still about as good as “Interview with the Vampire” or any of the other big-budget Hollywood vampire spectacles. Don’t forget that vampire movies are typically all exploitation and titillation with nothing remotely serious about them. I can point to dozens of examples. How about “John Carpenter’s Vampires” for one? Or the abysmal “Blade” trilogy for another?

    The fact that Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview with a Vampire take things a tad more seriously than 95% percent of vampire flicks counts for something. The ultimate vampire film is yet to be made but Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula makes him one interesting bloodsucker!

  2. danny boy August 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    I never realised how wonderfully edgy and creepy Dracula was as a novel. The brilliant story-telling by Bram Stoker is beautifully retold in graphic adaptation here. Very nice atmospheric drawings combined with skillful editing by Moore and Reppion makes this an edgy read. There were some ambiguous sections on character recognition, as all the key men wore about the same clothes. But this did not detract from the overall comic.

    Easily, this is a superior adaptation of classics to any of Marvel’s (Roy Thomas) attempts.

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