Count Dracula


1h 40m 1970

Brief Synopsis

Jess Franco's version of the Bram Stoker classic has Count Dracula as an old man who grows younger whenever he dines on the blood of young maidens.

Film Details

Also Known As
Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, Conde Dracula, El, Conte Dracula, El Conde Dracula, Il Conte Dracula, Nachts wenn Dracula erwacht, Vampir
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Horror
Release Date
1970

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Jess Franco's version of the Bram Stoker classic has Count Dracula as an old man who grows younger whenever he dines on the blood of young maidens.

Film Details

Also Known As
Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, Conde Dracula, El, Conte Dracula, El Conde Dracula, Il Conte Dracula, Nachts wenn Dracula erwacht, Vampir
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Horror
Release Date
1970

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

Count Dracula - Christopher Lee stars in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA on DVD


In the late 1960's, a reluctant Christopher Lee was persuaded to appear in a pair of Dracula sequels for Hammer Films, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), reprising the role of the vampire king he had first essayed for the studio in 1957's Dracula (a.k.a. Horror of Dracula). Lee was unhappy with the scripts, feeling they were straying far from Bram Stoker's novel and the original conception of the character. Worse still, he believed that portraying Dracula had seriously damaged his career, typecasting him in the minds of the public and film producers. When Lee was offered a chance to star in a new Dracula film that, he was promised, would be studiously faithful to the book, he saw an opportunity to deliver his definitive interpretation of the part, after which he would be able to put the character behind him and focus on moving his career in a fresh direction. Unfortunately, the film, released in 1970 as Count Dracula (El Conde Dracula), failed to live up to Lee's high hopes and the actor soon found himself donning the cape again for Hammer. In spite of its many artistic shortcomings, the film has ranked high on the DVD wish list of many a horror fan due to its unique status as Lee's only non-Hammer Dracula movie, the interesting supporting cast and the participation of legendary cult director Jesus Franco. Dark Sky Films has now made that wish come true with the first Region 1 DVD release of Count Dracula.

The film follows the familiar basic outline of Stoker's novel, with changes made to condense the story and accommodate the low budget: Young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) travels to Transylvania to finalize the sale of a British estate to the reclusive and mysterious Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). In Dracula's castle, Harker is horrified to discover that the Count is in fact a vampire who feasts on the blood of the living. Seriously injured during a desperate escape, Harker regains consciousness some time later back in England at an asylum run by Professor Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) and Dr. Seward (Paul Muller). Harker's concerned fiancée Mina Murray (Maria Rohm) and her friend Lucy Westenra (Soledad Miranda) travel to the asylum to look after him. After Lucy succumbs to a strange illness marked by a progressive loss of blood, Van Helsing starts to suspect that there may be some truth to Harker's strange tale of a vampire Count, and that the plague of the undead is now spreading in London...

Count Dracula was initiated by producer Harry Alan Towers, a former radio writer who turned to film in the early 1960's and found success with a series of low-budget Fu Manchu thrillers starring Christopher Lee. To direct and co-write the script, Towers turned to Spanish horror specialist Jesus Franco, with whom he had partnered on several earlier projects, including the last two Fu Manchu efforts. The prolific Franco - he is credited with directing almost 200 features - is a controversial figure in horror fandom. For years dismissed as, at best, an efficient journeyman, his work was reappraised in the 1980's by writers who sought to better appreciate his contributions to European exploitation movies, and who detected personal touches running through his films. A passionate Franco fandom emerged, with devotees seeking out hard-to-find videos of his more obscure movies and comparing the often baffling number of variant versions that existed for many of them. This led to a divide between horror fans who regard Franco as little more than a hack with a penchant for sleazy content, and those who view him as a misunderstood, idiosyncratic filmmaker fighting against small budgets while investing his movies with boldly transgressive elements and a love of cinema.

Even Franco's defenders tend to consider Count Dracula a major disappointment, and it's not hard to see why. Franco's direction is poor, with unimaginative blocking and a headache-inducing overuse of the zoom lens in every scene. (Franco sometimes zooms both in and out during the same shot in an unsuccessful attempt to inject some visual energy; there's little actual camera movement beyond some simple pans.) The pacing is sluggish, draining the material of any suspense or sense of urgency. The film is totally lacking in atmosphere; traditional horror movie trappings like gothic castles, cobwebs and shadows are present, but under Franco's uninspired direction they generate less mood than a neighborhood Halloween display.

The film's low budget is often cited as a cause of its artistic shortcomings, and it is accurate to say that it is a contributing factor. Scenes set in Transylvania and London were both filmed in Spain, and the settings never feel remotely Romanian or English; the whole film appears to be set in "generic Europe." Since everything looks the same, the film loses one of the elements of the novel, the feeling that the old world (represented by Dracula) is invading the modern world. The low budget also means little money for period costumes and thus few extras, so London comes across as drastically underpopulated. Even Van Helsing's asylum seems to consist of just two doctors, one patient, an orderly and Van Helsing's servant-played by Franco himself in another money-saving move. "Wolves" that chase after Dracula's coach are clearly played by German Shepherds, making it look as if the mighty vampire has taken a job as the local dog catcher. Even less convincing are the plastic spiders and the shadow of a toy bat bouncing on a string. Set dressings consist simply of whatever period furnishings could be found, so the sets lack character; instead of reflecting an individual's personality, they reflect the contents of the prop rental houses. While all of these are valid criticisms, the film's budget cannot excuse Franco's failings as a director. Directors from Edgar G. Ulmer to Mario Bava to Sam Raimi have managed to craft imaginative and effective genre movie on meager budgets; Count Dracula could have been a better film if Franco had used his limited resources with more skill.

The film's script, credited to Franco, Harry Alan Towers (using his "Peter Wellbeck" pseudonym) and Augusto Finocchi, tries to stay true to the novel. Although an admirable intention, being faithful has some drawbacks, primarily the fact that in the book Dracula is kept mostly "off stage" after the opening chapters in Transylvania. This technique works well in the novel but becomes frustrating in a dramatization, where the audience is introduced to a compelling antagonist in the opening act only to have him reduced to a bit player for the bulk of the film. Worse still, whenever the screenwriters stray from the book, they stumble badly. A new backstory is introduced for Renfield (Klaus Kinski), but then the writers have no idea what to do with the character, and end up doing nothing with him. In the book, Van Helsing is brought in about halfway through to reveal the meaning behind the mysterious events and chart a course of action for the heroes. In the film, Van Helsing is present from the start of Dracula's attacks in England but does nothing with his knowledge of the occult until after Lucy has died, making him appear foolish and irresponsible. Later Van Helsing suffers a stroke (induced by Dracula?), but is rapidly recovering the next time we see him. What was the point? Franco added the film's silliest scene, in which the heroes are attacked by a bunch of stuffed animals (animated through sound effects, editing and, of course, the zoom lens) while searching for Dracula's hiding place. (It's hard to take your heroes seriously when they cringe from a stuffed ostrich!) The dialogue is mostly either bland or unintentionally funny. After being told that Dracula is a supernatural being who can transform into a bat and a wolf, Harker exclaims "Why can't this man be arrested?" Van Helsing is given many portentious-sounding lines that sometimes barely make any sense. Referring to Dracula he authoritatively proclaims "Some of us are completely within his power" - although this isn't true at all. Later, asked by Mina why Harker and Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor) must pursue Dracula after he has left England, Van Helsing replies "Whilst the Count lives, time and space have little meaning. We can only pray."

Faced with such a dreadful script, the cast may have done a little praying of their own, but if so, their prayers went unanswered. Franco's dull blocking, the small, restrictive sets and the necessity to post-dub all the dialogue hamstrings the actors, most of whom come across as stiff. Herbert Lom fares the best. He manages to get through the film with dignity intact, delivering his many expository speeches with the proper conviction and authority. Given the opportunity to play Dracula as Stoker wrote him, Christopher Lee is curiously colorless as the Count. His performance lacks the seductive power he gave the part in his first two Hammer outings. Cult favorite Klaus Kinski has nothing to do as Renfield except stare out the window, eat a few bugs and briefly attack Mina. Fred Williams and Jack Taylor make zero impression as the young heroes, and female leads Soledad Miranda and Maria Rohm (the wife of Harry Alan Towers) mostly just sit around and look pretty.

Dark Sky's DVD of Count Dracula presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which was reportedly endorsed by Franco as the correct format. The film does look too tightly framed on the top to be designed for matted widescreen, but characters are often awkwardly cropped at the sides of the image, making one wonder if the film was shot hard matte and then cropped for the DVD. Otherwise the transfer is very good, with fine color and detail. The on-screen title is in French (Les Nuits de Dracula), but the remainder of the credits are in Italian, suggesting the transfer was cobbled together from multiple sources. The sound is clear-perhaps too clear, as deficiencies in the original track are evident. All the voices are obviously dubbed, and the soundtrack has only the minimal sound effects needed for each scene, making the dull film seem even more lifeless. Bruno Nicolai's moody but somewhat overwrought score is quite prominent in the mix. Some Franco fans have noted that Dark Sky's transfer is missing a short scene from early in the film in which a woman pounds on the doors of castle Dracula, begging to have her stolen baby returned.

For bonus material, Dark Sky has included a lengthy video interview with Franco conducted in English in which he discusses the history of the project. Although he admits the low budget weakened the film, he comes across as generally satisfied with the end result. (As Franco speaks with a heavy accent, optional subtitles are available.) The other major extra is a recording of Christopher Lee reading an adaptation of the novel, taken from an LP released in the 1970's. Also included is an essay on Soledad Miranda and a stills gallery that focuses chiefly on posters, lobby cards and pressbooks. Dark Sky's cover art features an arresting close-up of Christopher Lee - which is ruined by the addition of a pair of cartoonish fangs.

For more information about Count Dracula, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Count Dracula, go to TCM Shopping.

by Gary Teetzel
Count Dracula - Christopher Lee Stars In Jess Franco's Count Dracula  On Dvd

Count Dracula - Christopher Lee stars in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA on DVD

In the late 1960's, a reluctant Christopher Lee was persuaded to appear in a pair of Dracula sequels for Hammer Films, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), reprising the role of the vampire king he had first essayed for the studio in 1957's Dracula (a.k.a. Horror of Dracula). Lee was unhappy with the scripts, feeling they were straying far from Bram Stoker's novel and the original conception of the character. Worse still, he believed that portraying Dracula had seriously damaged his career, typecasting him in the minds of the public and film producers. When Lee was offered a chance to star in a new Dracula film that, he was promised, would be studiously faithful to the book, he saw an opportunity to deliver his definitive interpretation of the part, after which he would be able to put the character behind him and focus on moving his career in a fresh direction. Unfortunately, the film, released in 1970 as Count Dracula (El Conde Dracula), failed to live up to Lee's high hopes and the actor soon found himself donning the cape again for Hammer. In spite of its many artistic shortcomings, the film has ranked high on the DVD wish list of many a horror fan due to its unique status as Lee's only non-Hammer Dracula movie, the interesting supporting cast and the participation of legendary cult director Jesus Franco. Dark Sky Films has now made that wish come true with the first Region 1 DVD release of Count Dracula. The film follows the familiar basic outline of Stoker's novel, with changes made to condense the story and accommodate the low budget: Young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) travels to Transylvania to finalize the sale of a British estate to the reclusive and mysterious Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). In Dracula's castle, Harker is horrified to discover that the Count is in fact a vampire who feasts on the blood of the living. Seriously injured during a desperate escape, Harker regains consciousness some time later back in England at an asylum run by Professor Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) and Dr. Seward (Paul Muller). Harker's concerned fiancée Mina Murray (Maria Rohm) and her friend Lucy Westenra (Soledad Miranda) travel to the asylum to look after him. After Lucy succumbs to a strange illness marked by a progressive loss of blood, Van Helsing starts to suspect that there may be some truth to Harker's strange tale of a vampire Count, and that the plague of the undead is now spreading in London... Count Dracula was initiated by producer Harry Alan Towers, a former radio writer who turned to film in the early 1960's and found success with a series of low-budget Fu Manchu thrillers starring Christopher Lee. To direct and co-write the script, Towers turned to Spanish horror specialist Jesus Franco, with whom he had partnered on several earlier projects, including the last two Fu Manchu efforts. The prolific Franco - he is credited with directing almost 200 features - is a controversial figure in horror fandom. For years dismissed as, at best, an efficient journeyman, his work was reappraised in the 1980's by writers who sought to better appreciate his contributions to European exploitation movies, and who detected personal touches running through his films. A passionate Franco fandom emerged, with devotees seeking out hard-to-find videos of his more obscure movies and comparing the often baffling number of variant versions that existed for many of them. This led to a divide between horror fans who regard Franco as little more than a hack with a penchant for sleazy content, and those who view him as a misunderstood, idiosyncratic filmmaker fighting against small budgets while investing his movies with boldly transgressive elements and a love of cinema. Even Franco's defenders tend to consider Count Dracula a major disappointment, and it's not hard to see why. Franco's direction is poor, with unimaginative blocking and a headache-inducing overuse of the zoom lens in every scene. (Franco sometimes zooms both in and out during the same shot in an unsuccessful attempt to inject some visual energy; there's little actual camera movement beyond some simple pans.) The pacing is sluggish, draining the material of any suspense or sense of urgency. The film is totally lacking in atmosphere; traditional horror movie trappings like gothic castles, cobwebs and shadows are present, but under Franco's uninspired direction they generate less mood than a neighborhood Halloween display. The film's low budget is often cited as a cause of its artistic shortcomings, and it is accurate to say that it is a contributing factor. Scenes set in Transylvania and London were both filmed in Spain, and the settings never feel remotely Romanian or English; the whole film appears to be set in "generic Europe." Since everything looks the same, the film loses one of the elements of the novel, the feeling that the old world (represented by Dracula) is invading the modern world. The low budget also means little money for period costumes and thus few extras, so London comes across as drastically underpopulated. Even Van Helsing's asylum seems to consist of just two doctors, one patient, an orderly and Van Helsing's servant-played by Franco himself in another money-saving move. "Wolves" that chase after Dracula's coach are clearly played by German Shepherds, making it look as if the mighty vampire has taken a job as the local dog catcher. Even less convincing are the plastic spiders and the shadow of a toy bat bouncing on a string. Set dressings consist simply of whatever period furnishings could be found, so the sets lack character; instead of reflecting an individual's personality, they reflect the contents of the prop rental houses. While all of these are valid criticisms, the film's budget cannot excuse Franco's failings as a director. Directors from Edgar G. Ulmer to Mario Bava to Sam Raimi have managed to craft imaginative and effective genre movie on meager budgets; Count Dracula could have been a better film if Franco had used his limited resources with more skill. The film's script, credited to Franco, Harry Alan Towers (using his "Peter Wellbeck" pseudonym) and Augusto Finocchi, tries to stay true to the novel. Although an admirable intention, being faithful has some drawbacks, primarily the fact that in the book Dracula is kept mostly "off stage" after the opening chapters in Transylvania. This technique works well in the novel but becomes frustrating in a dramatization, where the audience is introduced to a compelling antagonist in the opening act only to have him reduced to a bit player for the bulk of the film. Worse still, whenever the screenwriters stray from the book, they stumble badly. A new backstory is introduced for Renfield (Klaus Kinski), but then the writers have no idea what to do with the character, and end up doing nothing with him. In the book, Van Helsing is brought in about halfway through to reveal the meaning behind the mysterious events and chart a course of action for the heroes. In the film, Van Helsing is present from the start of Dracula's attacks in England but does nothing with his knowledge of the occult until after Lucy has died, making him appear foolish and irresponsible. Later Van Helsing suffers a stroke (induced by Dracula?), but is rapidly recovering the next time we see him. What was the point? Franco added the film's silliest scene, in which the heroes are attacked by a bunch of stuffed animals (animated through sound effects, editing and, of course, the zoom lens) while searching for Dracula's hiding place. (It's hard to take your heroes seriously when they cringe from a stuffed ostrich!) The dialogue is mostly either bland or unintentionally funny. After being told that Dracula is a supernatural being who can transform into a bat and a wolf, Harker exclaims "Why can't this man be arrested?" Van Helsing is given many portentious-sounding lines that sometimes barely make any sense. Referring to Dracula he authoritatively proclaims "Some of us are completely within his power" - although this isn't true at all. Later, asked by Mina why Harker and Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor) must pursue Dracula after he has left England, Van Helsing replies "Whilst the Count lives, time and space have little meaning. We can only pray." Faced with such a dreadful script, the cast may have done a little praying of their own, but if so, their prayers went unanswered. Franco's dull blocking, the small, restrictive sets and the necessity to post-dub all the dialogue hamstrings the actors, most of whom come across as stiff. Herbert Lom fares the best. He manages to get through the film with dignity intact, delivering his many expository speeches with the proper conviction and authority. Given the opportunity to play Dracula as Stoker wrote him, Christopher Lee is curiously colorless as the Count. His performance lacks the seductive power he gave the part in his first two Hammer outings. Cult favorite Klaus Kinski has nothing to do as Renfield except stare out the window, eat a few bugs and briefly attack Mina. Fred Williams and Jack Taylor make zero impression as the young heroes, and female leads Soledad Miranda and Maria Rohm (the wife of Harry Alan Towers) mostly just sit around and look pretty. Dark Sky's DVD of Count Dracula presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which was reportedly endorsed by Franco as the correct format. The film does look too tightly framed on the top to be designed for matted widescreen, but characters are often awkwardly cropped at the sides of the image, making one wonder if the film was shot hard matte and then cropped for the DVD. Otherwise the transfer is very good, with fine color and detail. The on-screen title is in French (Les Nuits de Dracula), but the remainder of the credits are in Italian, suggesting the transfer was cobbled together from multiple sources. The sound is clear-perhaps too clear, as deficiencies in the original track are evident. All the voices are obviously dubbed, and the soundtrack has only the minimal sound effects needed for each scene, making the dull film seem even more lifeless. Bruno Nicolai's moody but somewhat overwrought score is quite prominent in the mix. Some Franco fans have noted that Dark Sky's transfer is missing a short scene from early in the film in which a woman pounds on the doors of castle Dracula, begging to have her stolen baby returned. For bonus material, Dark Sky has included a lengthy video interview with Franco conducted in English in which he discusses the history of the project. Although he admits the low budget weakened the film, he comes across as generally satisfied with the end result. (As Franco speaks with a heavy accent, optional subtitles are available.) The other major extra is a recording of Christopher Lee reading an adaptation of the novel, taken from an LP released in the 1970's. Also included is an essay on Soledad Miranda and a stills gallery that focuses chiefly on posters, lobby cards and pressbooks. Dark Sky's cover art features an arresting close-up of Christopher Lee - which is ruined by the addition of a pair of cartoonish fangs. For more information about Count Dracula, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Count Dracula, go to TCM Shopping. by Gary Teetzel

Quotes

Trivia

Christopher Lee, who plays Dracula, and Herbert Lom, who plays Dr. Van Helsing, never saw each other during the filming. They shot all their joint scenes separately.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1970

Released in United States 1970