Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Doom, Gloom & Zoom

Jess Franco’s Count Dracula is nothing of not strikingly faithful to Bram Stoker’s original material. Is it a good movie? Well, it lingers somewhere between great and okay, but good…? There are certainly good points. Point number one: Incredible casting. The classic Christopher Lee as the titular baddie, Herbert Lom as Van Helsing, Franco femme fatale Maria Rohm as Mina, Klaus freakin’ Kinski as the whacked-out Renfield, and the seminal role for cult icon Soledad Miranda as Miss Lucy Westenra.

As outlined in the DVD essay on Dark Sky Film’s new reissue of this Franco twist, Count Dracula was an extremely important film for Soledad Miranda’s performing career, having launched her into a brightening spotlight. And if sordid auteur Franco knows anything, he knows how to shoot this woman. She’s stunning, and Franco’s loving close-ups (mostly while she’s being bitten in the neck by Lee) exude a quiet and hypnotic ecstasy that is unlike anything else I’ve seen. What’s slightly peculiar is that the casting really works having Maria Rohm playing the heroine as opposed to the more captivating Miranda. (Maria Rohm is good, no doubt, though her role may serve musings of her other, better leading roles – like in Venus in Furs). Meanwhile, Kinski is the real scene-stealer in this outing, playing up the soul & mind-tortured Renfield, locking in his padded cell and eating flies while going madder with homicidal cerebral intrusions by the Count.
Adapting Bram Stoker’s sexually-charged piece of horror fiction would at first glance appear to be right up Jess Franco’s alley. Strange, then, that he would shoot the story as a mostly conversationally-motivated motion picture (a tad tedious in the first half hour as this takes place inside a drab castle decked with bricks and empty walls), and aside from the amorous close-ups of Miranda’s eyes and lips, there is no flesh or fetish on display at all in this Euro presentation. This being said, it is still of much higher quality and far, far more attractive than Franco’s luridly-titled “Killer Barbys meet Dracula”. (And not to worry too much, it does pick up after the initial half hour).
I remember years ago finding a clam-shelled VHS copy of Count Dracula in a ma-&-pa video store that was closing out. I purchased the tape with another Franco-on-VHS titled “Against All Odds” – which was actually a black-and-white version of The Blood of Fu Manchu – and how weird is that, to actually desaturate the color from a movie for the North American release? Anyway, I got these movies home, and wile I watched Count Dracula right away, I actually never watched the desaturated Franco movie, ever, finally watching Blood of Fu Manchu when it was properly released (in full color) on DVD. But those years back, the Dracula film had left me somewhat unimpressed. I actually didn’t really expect to like Dark Sky’s fancy new DVD a whole lot either, but after it was all said and done, I have to say that the fantastic film and audio transfer made a world of difference. I still can’t say the film is great while retaining a clear conscience, but I will say that the new DVD is indeed a great package from Franco collectors.
Check it out!