SEPTEMBER 5, 2011
While I'd very much like to catch up and see all of Paul Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky movies, I figured I'd check out something from his most prolific era (early 70s) that was unrelated to that very loose series. Also it's been weeks since I've seen a Dracula movie, so Count Dracula's Great Love (Spanish: El Gran Amor Del Conde Drácula) was as good as any place to start, though I hope it represents one of his lesser efforts and not a highlight.
To its credit, even though its a Drac movie, it's not too familiar - there's no Van Helsing, no Renfield, etc. Naschy plays the Count, but most of the time he's in his guise as Marlow, a doctor who is all too eager to let a group of women (and one dude that's basically an extra) stay in his castle when their carriage breaks down. Impressively, he manages to bang pretty much all of them over the course of the movie, and it's not even just Naschy being awesome - it's part of the plot. According to the movie's convoluted, rule-heavy backstory, Drac needs a virgin to fall in love with him and give herself willingly to him, and then he can use her blood to resurrect his dead daughter. See? Not the usual Dracula plot, and not even a particularly bad one. Any time a movie can legitimately say that the sex scenes are part of the plot, I'm impressed (well, I guess he could have just asked if any of them were virgins before finding out the more fun way, but come on).
Unfortunately they rush through everything, which results in a decent/fun first hour and a dreadfully dull final act, which is little more than a bunch of random kills, mostly committed by the non-virgin girls, who are all now typical vampire brides, albeit with some lesbianism tossed in for good measure (and by good measure I mean I think they were trying to copy Hammer). In between these scenes, the virginal girl runs around the castle, fretting, torn between her genuine love for Marlow/Dracula and the fact that he's just using her and also killed a bunch of her friends. It's not that the story doesn't work - I actually kind of liked that the romantic angle wasn't tossed out in favor of more typically horror-esque action in the climax, but it's just paced really poorly, and the random murder scenes throw it even more out of whack.
But it bummed me out that the male would-be hero was dismissed so quickly. Part of the fun of any Dracula movie is seeing him face off against a rival, so even if it's just some random guy instead of Van Helsing, it's a crucial element to include to some degree. But Dracula barely even talks to the guy; I'm pretty sure they never even shared a scene sans the ladies. Even if he ended up dying near the end, I think the movie could have benefited from giving Dracula some sort of nemesis. There's a "tramp" who pops up every now and then and pisses him off, but that's like saying that one dude who Vader choked early on in Star Wars would provide enough of a conflict if the movie didn't have Obi Wan or Luke.
I also missed the "Old Dark House" feel of the first hour, which is loaded with people walking through dark hallways with candlesticks, cobwebs, even a (pretty decent) cat scare - the only thing it's missing is a portrait with someone peeking through the eyeholes. There's even a random axe murder in the opening scene (why does Dracula have an axe at the ready?), which is so awesome that they keep looping the guy falling down the stairs over and over as the credits roll. Actually, the highlight of the final reel (other than the surprising fate for Drac, a nice touch that made up for some of the previous 20 minutes' lapses) is when Dracula is trying to save his woman from another vampire - he shouts, which causes the guy to get startled and drop his beloved down a flight of stairs. Nice save, Count. But it doubles the number of folks who fall down stairs in this movie, so there's something.
Actually there might have been more, but if so they were cropped out. For a 1.85:1 movie, it seems like there's a lot of missing information on the sides on this full-frame transfer. Even the title is mangled; we are actually watching "OUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LO", apparently. When Marlow/Dracula makes his first appearance, he's only heard but not seen, which is kind of a bummer for both the character and the actor. Later, when he begins using telepathy to communicate, I momentarily wondered if there was another character actually talking off-screen.
And this is why I wish I had done a little more research first, as the disc was released in widescreen (and with a better transfer) from BCI, along with another colorful sounding flick called Vampire Hookers. Sadly, the one I got is the Elvira version released from Shriek Show, who has released a number of her original early 80s episodes. I assume they stuck with the cropped version so it would match with her (4:3) host segments when you watch it that way (thankfully, you can watch the movie on its own without her parts - not a fan of her particular brand of humor), because they clearly weren't interested in presenting the episode as it originally aired: this version has the nudity and occasional violence that was cut when it originally aired on her show. So at least they did that much, but still, I'd rather have gotten the non-cropped version, especially since I wasn't watching her parts anyway.
In short, not a bad movie, but as I've said before, I'd rather be bored at first only to get into it for a rousing third act than the other way around. But it doesn't go completely off the rails, and there are enough tweaks to the traditional Dracula story to warrant a viewing. Let's put it this way: if it was on one of those Mill Creek budget packs it would probably be one of the best titles on there.
What say you?
Note - this is the whole movie, couldn't find a trailer. Don't watch it like this though, come on.