Franco’s Count Dracula is the one to see they said, it’s a more faithful version of the original story they said. Okay maybe I’m being harsh, but just maybe. While it’s true that Christopher Lee actually gets to speak some of the dialogue that Bram Stoker wrote on the page, there’s more to whether this works or not than just counting how many of the scenes are lifted from the book. It’s probably a little better than Lee’s other vampire movie from the same year at least; the title of Hammer’s Taste the Blood of Dracula is definitely the best part. But the film in question here is kind of a mess with parts that work, parts that are just bizarre, and all kinds of head scratching technical choices and mistakes involved. After hearing Lee’s complaints about the sort of lines he got working with the likes of Terence Fisher, I have to wonder if he was happy with the results here.
Well let’s take a look at the parts that work. Dracula gets to sport a moustache, sort of like the one described in the novel. He also slowly gets younger as the story progresses after he’s been feeding. It’s a neat touch which provides a visual clue to his motivations, leaving a dead country for a new live one. Unfortunately most of the parts about the blood in his native home drying up have been dropped along with the London invasion plot. He does get to do a classic speech when Jonathan Harker arrives … before sort of vanishing for most of the story. It’s true that later in the original text his activities were reported second hand with diaries and newspapers, but there isn’t much of that here. They don’t use the star power assembled very well at all. The castle scenes all work for the most part, and the woman in white plot is still here, but after the first 25 minutes things start to come undone. Renfield, Van Helsing and Lucy are all present and correct, sure. But in general things either get truncated or cut out in ways that make it less far satisfying than it should be.
Like a lot of these adaptations many events are merged to form a briefer narrative. So Mina and Lucy are already visiting Dr. Seward and he’s already working for Van Helsing. Lucy’s other suitors are reduced to just Quincy Morris, there are many touches like this which is nothing new. Dracula’s castle which is supposed to be stripped of mirrors already has one placed in full view, just so they can get the old reflection scene over with quickly. Jonathan’s stay itself is greatly reduced so he can arrive back in London sooner, in the sanatorium where everyone else has conveniently assembled. It’s definitely London, not Spain, pay no attention to the local architecture. It’s nice to see Herbert Lom cast as Van Helsing, and I was looking forward to his performance. What a great choice. However his ramblings about the ‘black arts’ are pretty strange and feel out of character. In a scene where he has what is supposed to be a stroke (for some reason) he just kind of begins staring right into the camera without any warning. It’s almost laughable because there’s no set up for his illness and the explanation doesn’t come until after when he’s back to normal.
But I have to talk about these weird parts, the things that are I’m afraid are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Once the vampire hunters have figured out what is going on, they of course venture into into Dracula’s newly acquired home… where they are assaulted by a bunch of taxidermy animals. Seriously, instead of confronting them the Count stays somewhere else and uses his… magic powers? Which means he makes a bunch of stuffed creatures make amusing wacky sounds while they twitch and dance around on their mounts. Your guess is as good as mine at this stage, and the reactions of Harker and friends probably the same as your face reading this.
The technical aspects are also pretty peculiar. The director has an apparent obsession with dramatic zooms which are used many times throughout the movie, often during pretty unexciting conversations where no such drama has occurred. Just throw them in, why not. He also has a total lack of care for continuity. Is it night or day? Wasn’t it dark just a few seconds before? Is the sun coming in from outside or has more time passed than it appears? Often this happens within shots of the same scene when the cameras change perspective. Day for night is bad enough, but this is something else – a baffling new world.
Lee is decent enough for what they have him doing, but like Lom it feels like a waste. To have these great adversaries played by such fine actors and not use them is a crime. Interestingly Klaus Kinski plays Renfield in this adaptation, and his mute madman act is passable. Of course he would later portray Dracula himself in the classic Nosferatu remake, now there’s a vampire movie. In the end this has some mildly interesting parts and it is sort of entertaining, though often for reasons other than quality. It looks pretty cheap, and feels rushed for most of the story which drains any real sense of atmosphere and suspense. But perhaps for the curious it’s worth seeing just for some of this madness, and for those who want to see how a Dracula movie outside the Hammer archives came about. For other bloodsucker fans you’re better off seeing this cast elsewhere.