Tuesday, February 21, 2017

FRANCO FEBRUARY! COUNT DRACULA (1970) (Blu-ray Review)

COUNT DRACULA (1970)

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS- HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full Screen (1.33:1)
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Herbert Lom, Soledad Miranda, Maria Rohm, Paul Muller, Fred Williams


The late horror legend Christopher Lee (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) had taken a years long break from portraying the bloodthirsty vampire he made famous with Hammer Films, but when he was approached by Spanish director Jess Franco to make a vampire movie that more closely followed the original Bram Stoker novel, he came back to the role. Franco, along with infamous producer Harry Alan Towers, assembled quite a cast and brought us a memorable adaptation indeed, though largely devoid of Franco's signature eroticism and surreal visuals. We find Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams, She Killed In Ecstasy) travelling to the castle of Count Dracula in Transylvania to oversee the purchase of a new property in London for the Count. Along the way he is warned by his stage coach driver of the strange goings on at the castle, but he attributes the warning to the usual local superstitions. Once he meets Count Dracula he finds his aged host to be a welcoming sort, that is until after dinner when he finds himself imprisoned within his room, soon to discover that the Count is a bloodsucking vampire with a trio of vampire brides who also want to feast on his blood.

Harker manages to escape through a window and returns to London, recovering from his ordeal at a sanitarium run by Dr. Seward (Franco regular Paul Muller, Vampyros Lesbos), where he also encounters Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Herbert Lom, Mark of the Devil). Harker's lovely fiancee Mina (Maria Rohm, 99 women) visits him at the sanitarium, along with and her sublime friend Lucy (Soledad Miranda, She Killed in Ecstasy), unfortunately both women become entranced by Count Dracula who has since moved to London and into his newly acquired property. Madman Klaus Kinski (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) appears as Renfield, a disturbed patient at the sanitarium, he plays it appropriately unhinged, eating bugs and generally being weird, giving Dwight Fry a run for his money. Kinski makes a damn fine Renfield but I feel he gets a bit short-shrifted and is not onscreen nearly enough for my own tastes, I wanted more of the Kinski!

Harker's wild stories about his trip to Transylvania go largely unheeded by Dr. Seward, a man of science who attributes the weird tales to a disturbed mind. However, his peer Van Helsing is well aware of the legend of Dracula and soon joins forces with Harker and Lucy's boyfriend Quincey (Jack Taylor, Pieces) to face-off against the threat of Dracula, the trio form a vampire hunting alliance against the centuries old bloodsucker. Lee is fantastic as the titular blood-drinker, to the surprise of no one I would expect. A moustached version of the legendary Count appropriately fanged with bloodshot eyes, the aging make-up looks great, the blood drinker becoming more vital and younger as he drains each victim of the red stuff, Lee is a class act through and through.

Herbert Lom as the legendary vampire hunter is wonderful, the man brings a certain amount of gravitas to the every role, even a few of the trashier ones. Fred Williams is quite good in the role of Harker but he does fade a bit into the background when standing in the shadow of Lee and Lom, not to mention a roomful of Franco regulars like Jack Taylor and Paul Muller. Add to that the beauty of Maria Rohm and Soledad Miranda and the poor guy was bound to get lost a bit, which he does, to no fault of his own. Kinski as the wild-eyed Renfield is wonderful as I have said, a fantastic performance from the madman as a bug-eating madman, but I wanted more of him and I found it a bit odd that his own connection to Dracula is a bit obscured in this version of the story.


Shot largely in Spain the exterior shots and scenic wooded locations looks fantastic, Franco makes great use of the Castle location. His work with producer Harry Alan Towels produced some of his best work with his biggest budgets, and this one has a great aesthetic, you can see the production value up on the screen. The story itself does tend to have a certain amount of paciness about it, dragging in certain parts, which is not unusual for a Franco movie by any means, but certainly not enough to derail the production, there's a lot to love about this movie.

As much as I enjoy it there are some things that don't quite work in it's favor, notably a trashy rubber bat on a string that lingers for far too long, it is laughable. Franco-philes who know his body of work will not be surprised by the copious amount of zoom-lensing present in the movie, a choice that doesn't work for the period piece, but the lensing for the most pasrt looks great with nicely framed composition. Perhaps the biggest cinema-beef I have with the film is that we never get any scenes of Lee with either Lom or Kinski together in one shot, their scenes were filmed separately and assembled, what a missed opportunity!


Audio/Video: Severin Films have a reverence for Franco's movies and have gone above and beyond yet again. Count Dracula arrives on Blu-ray framed at the original and correct 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. The print used for the new HD transfer would seem to be French as evidenced by the French title card. There's a modest amount of improved depth and clarity over the previous standard definition release from Dark Sky Films, but only slightly to be honest. They have restored a missing scene of a mother pleading at the castle gates for the return of her doomed baby, it's sourced from a 16mm print and the drop in quality is noticeable but it is nice to have it back in place. The English language LPCM 2.0 Mono sounds fine, the dialogue is crisp and the Bruno Nicolai (The Case of the Bloody Iris) comes through clean and strong, there are no subtitle options on this release.

Onto the extras Severin have been kind enough to carry over all of the extras from the Dark Sky Films release beginning with the twenty-six minute interview with Director Jess Franco, with a cigarette in hand discussing the film in heavily accented English. Also carried over is the eighty-four minute recording of Christopher Lee reading sections of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula over a music score, the hypnotic reading of the source material is fantastic and quite a treat for Lee and Stoker fans.


Onto the brand-new extras from Severin Films we have a commentary track featuring actress Maria Rohm and moderator David Del Valle. Rohm was married to producer Harry Alan Towers and has unique insight into the making of the movie, sharing some great stories about her experiences on set and behind the scenes making the movie. For his part film historian David Dev Valle does a great job, informative and animated, he keeps the commentary focused and insightful. I just heard his commentary from another 1970 bloodsucker film, Count Yorga, Vampire, he knows his stuff and it makes for a great commentary.

A nice added extra is the inclusion of the Pere Portabella experimental making of doc Cuadecuc, Vampir, shot in black and white and without sync sound, which makes for a somewhat arty behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie with shots of the effects being composed with many of the main cast, with the exception of Klaus Kinski.

There's also a new ten-minute interview with Eurocult legend Jack Taylor (The Ninth Gate), plus a twenty-six minute interview with actor Fred Williams, both discuss their careers with Franco, commenting on Maria Rohm, Harry Alan Towers, Soledad Miranda, and Christopher Lee. Finishing up the extras there's an eight-minute appreciation of the movie by Filmmaker Christophe Gans (The Brotherhood of the Wolf), discussing the movie and offering theories on how Franco and Towers convinced Kinski appear in the movie, there's also a German trailer for the movie plus the German, French, Italian and Spanish Alternate Title Sequences, all in all a well-fanged special edition of the movie.

Special Features:

- Uncut Feature in HD (Includes Controversial Previously Deleted Baby Scene) at Franco’s Approved Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
- Cuadecuc, Vampir (1970): Experimental ‘Making Of’ Feature By Pere Portabella (75 min)
- Audio Commentary with horror historian David Del Valle and Actress Maria Rohm
- Beloved Count Interview with Director Jess Franco (26 
min)
- An Interview With Actor Jack Taylor (10 
min)
- ‘Handsome Harker’ Interview With Actor Fred Williams (26 Mins) HD
- ’Stake Holders’ An Appreciation By Filmmaker Christophe Gans (8 
min) HD
- Christopher Lee Reads Bram Stoker's Dracula (84 
min)
- German, French, Italian and Spanish Alternate Title Sequence (8 
min)
- German Trailer (3 
min)

Jess Franco's Count Dracula (1970) is not a perfect movie, very few of his movies were to be honest, but it does have an atmospheric charm and an outstanding cast, starring none other than the legendary Christopher Lee as the titular blood-drinker, and strong supporting roles from Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski, plus the sultry curves of lovely ladies Maria Rohm and Soledad Miranda. On top of that we have Franco regulars Paul Muller and Jack Taylor, if you've seen any of Franco's movies from the 70's you will know their faces, if not their names. The movie is dripping with atmosphere, and while it's true that it does get a bit pacey at times and a few of the special effects are awful, for Franco fans and lovers of Eurocult this is a fine time all the way around. 3.5/5 

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