A Movie A Day: JESS FRANCO’S COUNT DRACULA (1970) I’m visiting one of our clients. Maybe you know him? Count Dracula.
Published at: Aug. 19, 2008, 7:05 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Keeping the Christopher Lee theme alive (or at least undead) today’s movie is Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA.
I’m not a terribly big fan of Jess (or Jesus) Franco’s work. Sure, it’s hard not to like some of his exploitation work, like the infamous VAMPIROS LESBOS, but his work as a director is inconsistent and rushed. It’s no wonder, the man seemed to direct 4-6 pictures a year in his prime… I guess that makes him the Takashi Miike of his day.
So, it’s no surprise to me that I found his retelling of the original Bram Stoker story a little on the slow side, featuring a few great central performances and some horrendous directing. I mean, seriously. How hard is it to keep a continuity on what time of day it is? Every other shot seems to contradict the previous. Inside Castle Dracula it’s nighttime, cut to Fred Williams as Jonathan Harker looking outside where it’s blue skies and sunshine, cut back inside as Dracula appears to talk to Harker, back to night.
That happens throughout the whole movie.
Franco also has a bad habit of making his features look too bright. If you’re lucky, you get moments of atmosphere (you do get a few key scenes looking good in this movie), but on the whole it looks like 70s TV lighting.
I might be a little too harsh on this. Dracula was never my favorite story to begin with (I prefer Mary Shelley’s literary monster), but I love the character of the Count and the character of Van Helsing, which are two of the strongest elements of this movie.
Christopher Lee could play Dracula in his sleep and still be menacing, horrifying and strangely charming. Here Van Helsing is played by Herbert Lom, an apt opponent for the one scene that the two share together.
Also good in the flick is Klaus Kinski as Renfield, played with more humanity than I’m used to seeing. Sure, he eats bugs, but he’s played as an empty and demented good man. He never really leaves the Sanitorium, but is still used by Dracula in a few key sequences. Kinski plays him almost childlike.
The eye-candy is provided by VAMPIROS LESBOS’ Soledad Miranda as Lucy and the almond-eyed beauty Maria Rohm as Mina. Fred Williams as Jonathan Harker isn’t bad, either. The problems with the movie can’t be placed on the casting or performances, but in the execution of the story.
Although I will say there’s a batshit ridiculous insane moment when our three heroes are cornered by Dracula’s taxidermy animals being controlled with mind-strings by Dracula. I’m ashamed to say that I was pretty creeped out during this scene even though I was also laughing at how ridiculous and over the top it was. With all of Franco’s zooming motions I couldn’t shake the similarity between that and Dramatic Look Gopher. But even so, it is the only part of the movie that had me really involved, so I give it full credit.
Final Thoughts: Franco’s overuse of zooms, disinterest in keeping any sort of continuity and lack of atmosphere on top of seeing a story I’ve seen told a few dozen times made this a little bit more of a chore to sit through than I expected. Thankfully, Lee, Lom, Kinski and the rest of the cast made it less painful than it could have been. By the way, the best thing on the DVD is a special feature that is Christopher Lee reading the entire original Bram Stoker novel, which I’ve been listening to as I’ve written up this installment of AMAD.