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 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?
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!
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.