In 1970, cult director Jess Franco and screen legend Christopher Leecollaborated on what they promised would be the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel ever filmed. From its remarkable performances including Lee as the Count, Herbert Lom (MARK OF THE DEVIL) as Van Helsing, Soledad Miranda (VAMPYROS LESBOS) as Lucy, Maria Rohm (VENUS IN FURS) as Mina, and authentic madman Klaus Kinski as Renfield to its lush locations and atmosphere of sinister sensuality, it remains perhaps the most spellbinding version of Dracula in movie history. Fred Williams (SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY) and Paul Muller (NIGHTMARE CASTLE) co-star in this “thrilling” (Twins Of Evil) and “fascinating” (Arrow In The Head) horror classic, now fully restored, loaded with all-new Bonus Features, and re-mastered in high-definition for the first time ever.
"I am Dracula. Enter freely and of your own will."
Adapting a beloved book or character for the screen is never easy. This is especially true if you're taking on Bram Stoker's blood-loving Count Dracula. Since F.W. Murnau and star Max Schreck tackled the character with 'Nosferatu' in 1922, Dracula has maintained a steady screen appearance for over 90 years! From Bela Lugosi to Jack Palance to Gary Oldman, the number of actors to take on the titular fanged bloodsucker is almost uncountable. Throughout the numerous adaptations and interpretations of the character, one actor's name is synonymous with Dracula: Christopher Lee. In 1970, Christopher Lee teamed up with Italian exploitation director Jess Franco to produce the definitive adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic with 'Count Dracula.' While it may not be the definitive adaptation it set out to be, the film proves to be a faithful and creepy creation that highlights its lead actor's dominating screen presence.
Young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) is traveling the long and slow roads to Transylvania. This is a career-making opportunity for the young man and he is eager to meet with his enigmatic client and sign one of the largest property purchase contracts his firm has ever seen. As he gets closer to his destination, Harker begins to notice the queer looks everyone is giving him. Every time he mentions he's going to meet with Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), the person he is speaking with freezes up and gives him a look of both worry and pity. When Harker is finally picked up by Dracula's driver, he begins to have an understanding of the fear in those people's eyes. As wolves circle the carriage, Harker is taken on a journey through the dead of night to meet his host.
Dracula is a tall and powerful looking man, even in his advanced years. While humble and welcoming, there is an intense menace in the man's eyes that unnerves Harker. As the deal is signed and the contracts sealed, Harker learns that Count Dracula demands he stay at the castle in order to acquaint himself with English customs. Only Harker barely survives the night as he discovers the true horrors of the count and his three brides hidden deep within the bowels of the castle. Harker's only means of escape is to hurl himself out of his bedroom window into the river below. Weeks later Harker awakens in an English hospital. As he recounts his fantastic story to Dr. Seward (Paul Miller), only Dr. Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) believes the terrifying story. Fellow inmate Renfield (Klaus Kinski) has experienced similar horrors.
When the young Lucy Westenra (Soledad Miranda) dies suddenly from unexplained blood loss, Van Helsing fears that this terrible demon from the wilds of Eastern Europe has found its way to London. Now that Dracula has fed on innocent blood, he has grown younger, more powerful, and has his eyes set on the beautiful Mina Harker (Maria Rohm). With the aid of Seward, Harker, and the young Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor), Van Helsing hopes and prays that he is able to stop this ghoulish creature once and for all.
For a film that set out to be the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, 'Count Dracula' doesn't quite hit that high bar it set for itself. After all, the novel itself is incredibly dense, covers a lot of events and many characters and for a film with a runtime of only 98-minutes, 'Count Dracula' is simply unable to provide a faithful adaptation. It does a lot right, but budget constraints keep this film from being the grand production that the text so rightfully deserves.
'Count Dracula' hits most of the primary plot beats, but at times, the film is entirely too brief and struggles to build suspense at the outset; almost as if it is relying on the audience's experience with past 'Dracula' films to set up its scenes rather than create something new or original out of the material. Once the film leaves the Castle Dracula set and moves back to England where it focuses on Van Helsing and his investigations into Harker, Renfield, and some mysterious deaths does this film start to build momentum. Part of the issues facing 'Count Dracula' result from budget constraints - so some of the effects and creepy aspects of Dracula himself - turning into a bat for example - are implied rather than shown outright. This film also truncates a number of scenes and omits a couple characters altogether. As an overview adaptation, 'Count Dracula' is actually pretty good. Plus, it has Christopher Lee in the title role so this movie is worth watching on that count alone!
1970 was a busy year for Christopher Lee. That year alone he played Dracula in four different films. What is especially cool about this 'Count Dracula' and the presence of Christopher Lee is the look and feel of the film. Not outright scary, the film exudes a creepiness to it. Part of this effect comes from the eerie score by Bruno Nicolai, but so much credit must be given to Lee. His commanding voice and piercing eyes make him an intimidating presence and the numerous closeup shots where he stares out at the audience makes him extremely unsettling. I just wish there was more of him. While Fred Williams is a fine Jonathan Harker, Herbert Lom is a commanding and dedicated Van Helsing, and Maria Rohm plays a sweetly innocent Mina, we're there to see Christopher Lee in action. It's fun to get a moment or two with Klaus Kinski's virtually silent Renfield, but again, more Christopher Lee would have gone a long way towards maintaining the film's creepy momentum and scares. As a Jess Franco film, 'Count Dracula' is also remarkably subtle and subdued. When you look at that man's library of output you go into a Jess Franco film with certain expectations for salacious content. Those expecting the director's traditional bawdy output may be pleasantly surprised by this film's temperament.
Taken as a whole, 'Count Dracula' proves to be a lot of fun. While it may not be the best or the most faithful adaptation of Stoker's classic novel, or even the scariest for that matter, it has become one of my favorites. This was a movie that I'd last seen years and years ago as a kid on VHS and had long forgotten most of it. I always remembered a Dracula movie with Christopher Lee with an amazing handlebar mustache but I couldn't remember which one it was. So to that end, I'm glad I've rediscovered this one. While Christopher Lee was already tired of playing the role, I'm glad he decided to join this production. It's so different from his other Hammer Films Dracula appearances that 'Count Dracula' manages to stand out from the 9 other films Lee played the titular bloodsucker. If you've never seen this one, give it a whirl. You may find yourself entertained and nicely surprised.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Count Dracula' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Severin. Pressed on a Region Free BD50 disc, the Blu-ray comes housed in a standard Blu-ray case. The disc opens with a static main menu with traditional navigation options.
Maintaining the original 1.33:1 Academy aspect ratio of its theatrical presentation, 'Count Dracula' arrives on 1080p HD with some slightly mixed results. Those expecting the beautiful restoration results of Jess Franco's 'Eugenie' or 'Marquis de Sade's Justine' may be disappointed with the results here. However, those films had significantly larger budgets than this one. I haven't found a definitive price tag for this film but I've read as high as $2,000,000 and as low as $750,000. Considering the location shooting, the period costuming as well as actor salaries, that doesn't leave a lot for production expenses and this film show's it on screen. It is worth noting that this film looks to be an assembly print as various scenes look to have been taken from multiple sources. Also, this edition of the film features the scene of the mother pleading for her child at the walls of Castle Dracula. This scene is in pretty rough shape with skewed coloring to achieve a day-for-night look as well as some very obvious print wear and tear. The rest of the film appears undamaged making this scene stand out even more.
While fine film grain is retained throughout, there is an intermittent softness to the appearance of the film. Part of this I'm sure is intentional, but other times it's a result of camera placement and the use of zoom lenses to get closeups. When the camera is close and intimate with an actor, the film looks brilliant. Far away establishing shots suffer the most. Once the story moves away from the Transylvania set and into Dr. Van Helsing and Dr. Seward's asylum, the film takes an immediate turn for the better featuring robust detail levels, striking colors, and richly inky blacks. I imagine this is because these sets were easier to control filming conditions rather than the location shots. All in all, I came away impressed with this image, but people should keep their expectations in check for this release. It undoubtedly looks better than it has appeared in years, but the film could still use a little more TLC.
'Count Dracula' comes packed with a lush and beautiful English LPCM 2.0 audio track. Considering the Italian production process, voices, sound effects, and the film's score all maintain a canned, dubbed in quality since little if any native recorded audio made it into the film. That said, this is still a rich audio track featuring clean and clear dialogue, and Bruno Nicola's score is rich and resonant throughout the film's 98 minute run time. The track has a slight barely audible hiss to it but is free of any pops, breaks or any other type of age related anomalies. Levels are spot on here as the film rarely demands any volume shifts since it is largely conversational. Imaging isn't the greatest, again, that's partly because the sound design for this film was recorded in post-production so there's a lacking sense of space and directionality. Still, this is an impressive audio track and it serves the nature of the film wonderfully.
Audio Commentary: Horror Historian David Del Valle and Actress Maria Rohm provide a lot of insight into the production of the film, the history of the novel, how Jess Franco became interested in the project as well as casting. Rohm offers up a lot of great anecdotes about working on the film, her career working with Jess Franco as well as working with Christopher Lee.
Christopher Lee Reads Bram Stoker's 'Dracula': (SD 1:24:08) This is an awesome extra feature, almost like a Radio play production featuring background sound effects. It's just awesome hearing Christopher Lee reading the different parts in various accents. It's not quite a complete reading of the novel - that would take a lot longer than 84 minutes - but this is extremely entertaining. I wish it was available as a download or separate CD so you could add it to your MP3 player or listen to it while you're in your car.
Cuadecuc, Vampire: (HD 1:06:18) This is Pere Portabella's black and white behind the scenes film produced by Hammer Films that was made during the filming of 'Count Dracula.' This is an odd sort of extra feature because there isn't any kind of cast or crew interviews, it's more like watching a silent black and white film version of 'Count Dracula' with different angles and takes. You do see some of the crew setting up some shots, and parts look like they were taken from location scouting trips, but otherwise it's like watching the movie being made right before your eyes. It's a fascinating watch, although the lack of dialogue or sound beyond a minimalist score could prove tiresome at times.
Beloved Count: (SD 26:24) This is a fantastic interview with director Jess Franco and discusses his involvement with the project, working on the film, casting, as well as achieving certain aspects of the book - like Dracula growing younger - for the first time. It's a very good and informative interview. it's also cool to hear his thoughts on Francis Ford Coppola's take on the material.
A Conversation with Jack Taylor: (SD 10:00) Jack Taylor talks about his casting and working previously with Jess Franco and the man's sense of humor as well as working in Spain and making very subversive films for that time period.
Handsome Harker: (HD 26:14) Actor Fred Williams talks about working on the film, what it was like working with Jess Franco and Christopher lee, his casting process as well as what he feels about the movie itself. Part of it is in English but much of the time Williams speaks in his native German with English subtitles.
Stake Holders: (HD 7:32) Christophe Gans briefly talks about his love of the film. In French with English subtitles.
Alternate Opening Credits: (SD) This is a collection of different opening credits sequences with different establishing shots and music in German, French, Italian, and Spanish titles.
German Trailer: (HD 3:08)
'Count Dracula' may not be the best adaptation of Bram Stoker's great novel, but it proves to be very creepy and entertaining. Obviously, the best aspect of this film is lead Christopher Lee providing a new take on his signature character. Severin has done a pretty fantastic job assembling this Blu-ray release. The video looks better than it probably has in years and features scenes missing from previous home video releases, but is still a little rough around the edges. The audio is quite good and plays to the strengths of the film. The collection of extra features on this disc should keep you entertained for hours with an amazing commentary track and a reading of the novel by Christopher Lee himself. Recommended.