Count Dracula (1970)
count dracula | remake | jesus franco | augusto finocchi | harry alan towers | christopher lee | herbert lom | klaus kinski | dracula | vampire | vampires | based on | novel | bram stoker | spain | west germany | italy | liechtenstein | united kingdom | maria rohm
Film: Count Dracula (Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht)
Director: Jesús Franco
Writer: Augusto Finocchi, Harry Alan Towers and Jesús Franco
Starring: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski
This was a film that I saw for the first time some years ago when I was seeking out as many of the stories of Dracula that I could find. It was interesting that this film is not from Hammer, but it does have the great Christopher Lee portraying the title role. It is also interesting when I saw Klaus Kinski, who would go on to portray Nosferatu in the Werner Herzog later in the decade. The synopsis of this version is Count Dracula as an old man who grows young whenever he dines on the blood of young maidens.
We begin with Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) as he traveling by train to Romania. It is on the train he meets a businessman who takes this route quite often. He is nervous when he hears where Jonathan is going and tries to dissuade him. Once they arrive, Jonathan is told he will be left at a pass and collected by a coach there to the castle where Dracula resides.
The coach driver is actually Dracula in disguise. We cannot see his face, but from the voice we can tell. Jonathan is nervous on his journey as he sees wolves that run alongside. The coach driver has to scare them off. He is then dropped off outside of the castle. It is at the door that he is finally introduced to Dracula himself.
The Count tells him his servants have all gone to bed and that he will attend to Jonathan. While Jonathan dines, he goes over all of the documents on the purchase of the house for the Dracula. The castle is somewhat in disrepair and there are spiders and webs everywhere. The two sit down by the fire where Dracula tells Jonathan the reason he had him come all this way to bring the documents. He also sees a picture of Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina (Maria Rohm), and her best friend Lucy Westenra (Soledad Miranda).
That night Jonathan hears strange noises and possible Dracula becoming a bat. He is locked in his room and he has strange dreams of three vampires. Is all of this a nightmare or really happening? He also wakes to find two wounds on his neck as well as other signs that Dracula is a vampire as well. To escape he jumps out of his window.
He awakes in the hospital outside of London. It is run by Dr. Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) and he attended to by Dr. Seward (Paul Muller). Also in hospital is Renfield (Klaus Kinski) who had a possible run in with Dracula previously. Speaking of which, he has also followed them and is feeding on the young women of London. Dr. Van Helsing is an expert on the dark arts and must find a way to stop him before it is too late.
Now I will admit this, I’ve seen a ton of adaptations of this story. I did watch a lot of them in a row so I know I got burned out a bit, because this is the same basic story. Much like most adaptations, this one does make some changes here and there. One example is that Reinfield ran into Dracula in Romania with his daughter and he ended up back in London like Jonathan. Lucy is engaged to Quincey (Jack Taylor) and Dr. Seward is not a suitor to her. Also having Dr. Van Helsing run an institute in London, as with the novel he traveled there for a medical conference.
This version is quite interesting, because it was made by Jesús Franco, who is kind of known for his grindhouse, lower budget films. I do get that vibe from this one, but it also has Brunno Mattei on the crew, who I’ve seen some of his Italian films. With my horror knowledge I’ve acquired from the first viewing of this, I was surprised to see these names together.
Some other things that struck me that I enjoyed. One was the humanizing Dracula like they do. He is done up to look like an old man. In his conversation with Jonathan he is carrying on like he is in 60’s or so, which is how he looks. Now we know that he is a vampire and he much older than that. It works for the perception of the character in the film as well as us. We also know that he has probably run out of possible victims in his village nearby and London affords him quite the buffet. To go from this though, we also have the character of Renfield. Now I know Kinski is a really good actor, but he was also quite difficult. Supposedly he was lied to as he thought he would play the title role. I also feel like that is why we don’t get a good performance, because Renfield, who is supposed to be stark raving mad, is really subdued.
The next thing to cover would be the pacing of the film. I really didn’t have any issues here. I think that we have a solid run time of just less than 100 minutes. It never really lags at any point, it just cuts out parts of the story they didn’t probably have the budget for. The only issue I really have is that we get a jump from Jonathan jumping out of the window to him waking up in hospital. He seems to completely forgotten he sold Dracula a house in London. I’m not sure why he wouldn’t think that he would not be coming there. The ending is an interesting way to take care of the vampire as well.
Acting is something else that is quite interesting about this film. Lee is great as Dracula. He played the role so many times and I think I have come around to him being my favorite portrayal of the character. He has imposing size, his ability to be suave while also looking completely insane, which in part of this is the use of color for his versions really help him embody the character, especially the blood-shot eyes. Kinski I was disappointed in for what I stated above. I can’t blame him, but I would have liked to see more from him. Lom was fine as Van Helsing. Rohm and Miranda really don’t have much in the film, but both are absolutely stunning. Williams, Muller and Taylor rounded out the film for what was needed. I do have to say, I did like the set up though with Jonathan. He did some really good acting with his looks and facial expressions so we know he is seeing the signs that Dracula is more than he seems.
Effects for this film I did have some issues with. Part of it is the time the film came out. I don’t mind when Dracula is turning into a bat to cut away and cut back with him gone. The lack of technology at the time really affects it here. Seeing his brides as they are translucent at first I thought was good. The rubber bats used weren’t great though. I did think that the blood looked solid, which tended to be a problem in the era. There were some weird zooms that the camera would do for dramatic effect. I don’t think those really worked for me, but it shot fine overall. The setting of the castle though I was a big fan of as it seems like they used a real one.
The last thing to touch on would be the soundtrack of the film. It does seem to be a lot of difficult selections that were used, but there was one in particular I really enjoyed. It has the feel of the era and it uses this really odd sound. It really made me feel anxious about was going to be happen next on the screen. I also like the sound of the wolves howling, because that does add something to the eeriness of Romania as well as the voice-over where we can hear Dracula calling to his victims.
Now with that said, this film isn’t the best adaptation of the source material, but I did enjoy it more after this second viewing. I thought the film did some good changes to things in the novel to fit the film. A solid aspect for me was the humanizing of Dracula for sure and a great performance by Lee aids in that. There was a bit of a slight pacing issue early in the second act, but it doesn’t ruin the film. The way to taking care of Dracula was fine. I thought most of the performances were solid, but I was disappointed in Kinski. The soundtrack of the film was solid for what was needed. Now I would recommend this version to everyone. If you like more grindhouse style films, I’d recommend this version or if you are a fan of Lee as the title role as well. For me, I found this to be an above average film.
My Rating: 7 out of 10