APRIL 7, 2009
For almost as long as I have been reading Fangoria on a regular basis (something I no longer do, due to a steep decline in quality over the past couple of years - though I still buy every issue), I have been hearing about the films of Jess Franco (aka Jesus Franco, and also - according to the IMDB - pretty much every combination of any first/last names you can think of). Most of his films sounded right up my alley: horror mixed with lesbian softcore! Can’t go wrong with that. Yet I’ve never actually seen any of his work, so I figured his take on Count Dracula (German: Nachts, Wenn Dracula Erwacht) would be a good place to start. Dracula does have those three brides after all...
Sadly, not only is there no sex of any kind in the film (even Dracula biting Lucy/Mina is fairly asexual), but it’s not even a particularly interesting adaptation of the Dracula story. See, if you are adapting Harry Potter or LOTR, you gotta get it right and stick to the source material. But with Dracula, even at the time this film was made (1970), you really should do your own thing, because there have been so many goddamn film versions of it. While they may be terrible, at this point I’d rather watch Dracula 2000 or 3000 than another straight up adaptation of the Stoker novel, which is precisely what this is.
I mean, sure, there are some slight deviations from the novel: Van Helsing is now running the asylum where Renfield (Klaus Kinski!) is committed, but that and the other minor changes seem more like cost-cutting measures than any sort of creative decision. Beyond Kinski’s traditional craziness, I failed to find a single thing in the film that felt like it was brought to the table by the talent or creativity from any of the principles. Even Christopher Lee seemed bored, though in his defense he had already played Dracula in the Hammer version (is he the first actor to portray the same role in two otherwise unrelated films?).
Also, despite Lee and Kinski having top billing, their combined screentime does not equal that of Herbert Lom (Helsing) or Fred Williams (Harker), nor do they ever really share a scene. I mean, you have these two - why even bother with anything else? The movie could simply be Kinski and Lee having dinner and a conversation and it would probably turn out more engaging.
It’s not a complete loss though. Franco occasionally stages some nice shots or the odd setpiece (loved the bit with all the stuffed/mounted animals “attacking” our heroes), and the women are beautiful to look at. Lom also makes a good Helsing, and gets to enjoy a scene in which his character supposedly suffers a stroke (to me it looked more like he was suffering heroin withdrawals). And Lee’s “crazed” makeup is pretty frightening, what with his red eyes and such. Plus, I mean, it IS still the Dracula story - had I never seen a single other version of it before, I’m sure I’d be far more entertained.
One thing struck me as odd - while all the usual conventions are followed (crosses, no reflection, etc), it seems that Dracula is able to enter Van Helsing’s home (which looks a LOT like that one hotel room in Fear and Loathing) without any problem. I somehow doubt he was invited. This may possibly just be an error however, there’s a few other goofs as well (Dracula is holding a candelabra during the ‘no reflection’ scene - but it has no reflection either).
The DVD doesn’t appear to have much, but it’s actually kind of packed, “time it takes to watch it all” wise. The interview with Jess Franco runs nearly a half hour, and he talks about all of his actors, as well as some production info (apparently, once the notoriously perfectionist Lee had finished his role, the producers pulled some of the money and did the rest of the movie half-assed). He even talks a bit about the Browning and Coppola versions. Then there’s an essay about Soledad Miranda, the actress who played Lucy and was sadly killed in a car crash a few years later, on the eve of signing a new contract that would have ensured her place as a major star. And then there’s the biggie: “Christopher Lee reads Dracula”, which is exactly that. Over a slideshow of stills and posters from this and other Dracula productions, Lee reads the entire novel. It’s about 90 minutes long, and while I hate to skip any extras when compiling my review, I simply don’t have the time to have a book read to me. It’s certainly a unique idea for an extra, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it on other classic horror adaptations (where the books tend to be shorter) to enjoy when I have time (or when I haven’t already read the book). I just hope Lee never stars in an adaptation of "War and Peace" or any “cokehead era” Stephen King novel.
What say you?