Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Bram Stoker's Count Dracula (1969)
Republic Home Video | Review by Dan Taylor

One would expect that infamous director/misogynist Jess Franco would have one hell of a time with the Dracula legend, taking full advantage of the erotic and overtly sexual content of the tale. Surprise, surprise! Franco's 1969 feature starring Christopher Lee as the Count, Herbert Lom as Van Helsing, and Klaus Kinski as Renfield is a slow, chilling and fairly faithful rendering of Stoker's novel, sans the guts and breasts that have been trademarks of his over-analyzed career.

Those viewers familiar with the original novel (itself influenced by Dr. Polidari's short story, "The Vampyre") will notice a number of familiar elements throughout the story. Those expecting a rip-off of the 1931 Universal feature with Lee and others overdoing their roles will be thoroughly surprised.

Opening in 1897 Transylvania (actually Barcelona), we meet young Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) as he travels by train to meet up with a new client...as he speaks with a fellow passenger, my body tensed, simply anticipating the inevitable. "I'm going there to visit one of our clients. Maybe you know him? Count Dracula." Aiggggghhhhhh! THE FRANCO POWER-ZOOM FROM HELL makes it's first of many appearances.

As expected, the villagers act towards Jonathan with typical Old World superstition, and he must take a carriage to Drac's castle. Once there, the Count greets him by saying, "Welcome to my home. Enter freely and of your own will." Needless to say, our intrepid hero finds neither this nor Drac's lack of reflection peculiar. (In Donald F. Glut's 1975 work entitled The Dracula Book, he devotes a few pages to EL CONDE DRACULA. On page 255 he also alludes to this scene, saying, "At the castle, the credulity of the Dracula character is tested in one scene where he stands with Harker before a full-length mirror and does not reflect. It is not explained why the Count, first, would possess such a mirror, and second, why he would so obviously stand before it." Damn good point!)

Much to my surprise, Franco succeeds in spades at creating a fair amount of atmosphere...at least for a Franco film. This shocked me because most of the director's work that I've had the privilege of viewing has fallen into the realm of woman-in-prison flicks or his borderline inhuman version of JACK THE RIPPER. Specifically, the chills hit hard when the three female vampires eye up Harker, only to have their attention diverted by the cries of an infant Dracula has acquired for them, and in the scene where the vamped-out Lucy takes a child from the park (only to end up on a milk canister I guess).

However, while Franco's direction thoroughly shocked me, it is the performance by Kinski as Renfield that is most odd. Those expecting a snivelling Renfield crawling at the Count's feet will be amazed. In a role where he could conceivably act as looned-out as he wishes (after all, he is playing a bug-eating whacko) Kinski brings an odd restraint that is missing from many of his other roles. And it works!!! Yes, we sympathize with him, especially when the origin of his insanity is revealed. An incredible and moving performance, accomplished without any dialogue at all.

Despite a weak victory over Lee's Dracula, and some jumpy scenes, Franco's EL CONDE DRACULA is a moody and successful adaptation, one that Glut refers to as being "of extreme importance in the history of the Dracula film."

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