DraculaFest: Franco’s Count Dracula

This is the way DraculaFest ends. Not with a whimper or a bang, but with a middling, faithful rendition of Stoker’s book. Worse endings exist.

Saruman gets a haircut.

Saruman gets a haircut.

Count Dracula (1970) is Spanish director Jesús Franco‘s entry in the vampire sweepstakes. Given Franco’s predilection for more titillating fare like Vampyros Lesbos, the straightforward nature of this literary adaptation is a bit surprising. The film contains pretty much every classic beat from the familiar story: Jonathan Harker’s (Fred Williams) journey to Transylvania, the Count’s journey to England, his pursuit of first Lucy (Soledad Miranda) and then Mina (Maria Rohm), a final race against the rising sun. After three dozen Dracula films, the story contains few surprises.

The main attraction, and most interesting aspect, is the return of Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. After the stripped-down gore of the Hammer films, it’s strange to see Lee issue an alternate take on his most famous role. He speaks more dialogue in this film than in all the Hammer films combined; this Count is aged and deliberate, a foil of sorts for the snarling assassin of those movies. I’m glad to have the opportunity to see Lee do more with the role than inexplicably show up, kill a bunch of people, and inexplicably die. Also memorable–and similarly déjà vu-inducing–is Klaus Kinski as Renfield. Nine years later, Kinski would become the vampire himself in Nosferatu, the Vampyre; he’s well-suited to both roles. His Renfield throws food at the wall and smears it into abstract designs, keeps flies in a jewelry box lowered into the sewage system. Too bad Lee and Kinski don’t share the screen. The others fail to make an impression, including Herbert Lom as an indecipherable Van Helsing. Despite several creepy and effective scenes, a grab bag of silly touches–like an overblown soundtrack and laugh-inducing eye-zoom reaction shots–mar the atmosphere. It’s a serviceable outing, but slavish devotion to the story drains any suspense. We know where this is going, and it doesn’t prove us wrong.

Might want to get that looked at.

Might want to get that looked at.

Actually, a few low-budget quirks provide some amusement. Dracula’s collection of bad taxidermy growls at intruders. The count’s bat form only appears in shadow and resembles a Halloween decoration traveling on a clothesline. After chasing Dracula back to his lair, Harker and Quincey (Jack Taylor) forego the hammer-and-stake routine and simply set Dracula on fire inside his coffin, then dump said coffin over a castle wall like so much garbage. The End. What is it with Dracula movies and abrupt endings? It’s almost like these films are afraid they’ll fry at sunrise along with the Count himself. Despite the silliness, Count Dracula serves as a perfectly decent adaptation made worthwhile by the performances of Lee and Kinski. Of the Hammer catalog, perhaps only Horror of Dracula outshines this one due to an emphasis on story, however familiar. If you see only one Dracula film… let it not be this one. But it’s worthwhile if you have room for another. Count Dracula earns 1.25 out of two fangs out.

And with that, I’m hanging up my cape and plastic teeth. It’s been an interesting ride, but I’m good on Dracula for several oceans of time.

Next: The final verdict!

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