JESS FRANCO'S COUNT DRACULA
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
We all know Stoker's tale of the evil vampire Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) who comes to London and ends up being hunted by Van Helsing after doing some blood sucking on poor Lucy (Soledad Miranda) and innocent Mina. It's a classic horror story that remains frighteningly faithful to the source material for once.
Is it good movie?
Not as schlocky as the later Hammer films about Dracula, and certainly with more depth that Todd Browning's 1931 version with Bela Lugosi, Spanish director Jess Franco's take on the immortal vampire tale is atmospheric and tight, and quite possibly the best and most literal translation of Stoker's novel. Screen legend Christopher Lee plays Dracula for the first time, a role he would soon play into hammy undeath during the most prolific of the Hammer years. Here we see an intense and serious Lee, with heavy overtones of his Shakespearean influences and dramatic range. This film showcases truly one of the best of his earlier performances, even if the vampire effects do seem hokey by today's standards.
Other than Lee, two other cast members stand out. The tragic and hauntingly beautiful Soledad Miranda gives a riveting performance as Lucy, Dracula's willing 'concubine'. Miranda would go on to star in some of Franco's other productions (such as the infamous Vampyres Lesbos) before having her rising star shot down in a fatal car accident in 1970. Her beauty and talent is as integral to the chemistry displayed on screen in this film as the presence of Lee or the skill of Franco. Also, the brooding and insanely haunted performance by another legend, Klaus Kinski, as the deranged servant of Dracula, Renfield, is so intense that the dude actually caught and ate flies on camera. Now that's dedication! Kinski does more with a vacant stare than most actors can do today with 90 minutes of dialogue.
But the thing that makes this version work on almost every level is that it is practically a line for line translation from the novel, and while dated and slow in places with some inferior effects work, it is fascinating to watch and still chilling almost 40 years later. There's none of Copolla's tortured romance story here, or any of the cheesy 70's pseudo-goth vibe of the Hammer years, just a good old fashioned gothic horror movie that really benefits from the lavish environment of 1960's Barcelona. The love that everyone shows for the original material, and for the atmosphere and horror in their movie, is present in every scene. The cinematography and shot composition are killer for the period, making it a great classic cinema experience finally brought to DVD. This is one Dracula film that I highly recommend.
Video / Audio
Video: Fullscreen 1.33:1.
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono) with English subtitles.
We are treated to a 20 minute Interview with Franco, where he discusses everything from his relationship with Lee, Miranda's death and up to why his version of Dracula is by far the best. There is also a 90 minute taste of Christopher Lee Reading Stoker's Dracula that is quite entertaining simply for the man's delivery. We also get an Essay on the short life and career of Soledad Miranda and a Photo Gallery.
Dark Sky Films has served up a bloody and tasty treat here, preserving this vampire classic in brilliant DVD quality. It's great to see Lee stretch his legs in the role he would come to despise later in life, and the work of director Franco is always a joy to watch. If not for those reasons, pick this one up for the love it shows the original novel, and for Miranda's early performance in her first major film role. Nicely done disc, and a great movie for a chilly and spooky night.