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 years ago when I was seeking out the different variations of the stories based on the novel 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. I’ve now given it a rewatch as part of my Journey through the Aughts and doubling it for Italian horror month.
Synopsis: Count Dracula (Lee) as an old man who grows young whenever he dines on the blood of young maidens.
We begin with Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) 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 lives. The townspeople keep giving him looks and the businessman once again tries to change his mind.
The coach driver is 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 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 due to the time of his arrival. He attends to Jonathan himself. While Jonathan dines, he goes over all the documents on the purchase of the house for his host. The castle is in disrepair and there are spiders along with their webs everywhere. The two sit down by the fire where Dracula tells Jonathan the reason, he had him come all this way to get 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 female vampires. He wasn’t sure if it was a dream though. He finds 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 Dr. Seward (Paul Muller) works here. Also in hospital is Renfield (Kinski) who had a possible run in with Dracula previously. Speaking of which, the count has 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.
That should be enough of a recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I’ve seen a ton of adaptations of this story. I did watch different versions in a row so I know I got burned out a bit, because this is the same basic story. Like most adaptations, this one does make 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 work. With my horror knowledge I’ve acquired from the first viewing of this, I was surprised to see these names together. Let me say, with Mattei as cinematographer, this looks great. We get different things with zooms and the framing was on point here so credit to that.
I will also say that this does other things I enjoy. 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 one, which is how he looks. Now we know that he is a vampire and has lived much longer than a normal lifespan. It works for the feeling of the character. 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 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 subdued. That’s not to say we don’t see him losing his mind at times in this version.
The next thing to cover would be the pacing of the film. I didn’t have issues here. I think that we have a solid run time of just less than 100 minutes. It never lags at any point; it just cuts out parts of the story they probably didn’t have the budget for. The only issue I have is that we get a jump from Jonathan leaping out of the window to him waking up in hospital in London. He seems to have completely forgotten he sold Dracula a house here in town. 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. It also felt rushed to me.
Let’s then go over to the acting. I thought it was good across the board. 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. His eyes work well here. This might also be his best version of the character since his heart seems to be in it. Kinski was a bit disappointing. I only think that he could have ramped up the madness. I’ve come around with this watch. Lom was fine as Van Helsing. He’s not in the movie as much as I would expect though. Rohm and Miranda don’t have much in the way of character development, but both are stunning. Williams, Muller and Taylor rounded out the film for what was needed. I do have to say, I did like the set up with Jonathan. He was good with his looks and facial expressions so we know he is seeing the signs that Dracula is more than he seems. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Next, I’ll tackle the effects. I did have minor issues with these. 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 then back with him gone. The lack of technology and budget affects it here. Seeing his brides as they are translucent at first, I thought was good. The rubber bats used weren’t great. I’ve softened here as movies I hold in higher regard struggled with bringing this animal to life. I did think that the blood looked solid. It isn’t as bright as counterparts of the era. There were weird zooms that the camera would do for dramatic effect. I don’t think those necessarily worked for me, but there is charm there too. 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 doesn’t to have different selections used, but there was one I enjoyed. It has the feel of the era and it uses this odd sound. This might even be considered as the theme. It made me feel anxious about what was going to happen next. 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. Overall, I’m positive here.
In conclusion, this is one of the better adaptations of the source material. This is one I enjoy even more after another watch. I thought the film made good changes to flow better. A solid aspect for me was the humanization of Dracula and a great performance by Lee aids in that. The rest of the cast was solid overall. This was well-made with the cinematography, soundtrack and a majority of the effects leading the way. I’d recommend this one to fans of Franco, as this could be his best made film. It is also one of the better portrayals of Lee as this villain as well. I’d say this is a solid adaptation for sure and say give it a watch.
My Rating: 7 out of 10