Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 17th, 2007
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1970
Approximate running time: 97 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Director: Jesus Franco
Screenplay: Peter Welbeck
Cinematography: Manuel Merino, Luciano Trasatti
Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Soledad Miranda, Maria Rohm, Fred Williams, Paul Muller, Jack Taylor
Jonathan Harker on behalf of the law firm he represents visits a client named Count Dracula in Transylvania. The Count wants to buy property located in England. Shortly after his arrival at Castle Dracula, Harker realizes that Dracula is a vampire and if he doesn’t try to escape he die at the hands of the count. Harker narrowly escapes with his life and returns to England where he tells a man named Professor Van Helsing about Count Dracula. The two men team up too put an end to Dracula’s rein of terror before he claims another victim.
From 1968 to 1970 this would mark one of Jess Franco’s most productive and fruitful eras as a filmmaker. During these years he would work with British producer Harry Alan Towers who would give Franco some of his biggest budgets of his career. The casts for most these productions would feature some of the biggest names in European cinema at the time like Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and Herbert Lom all three actors would also participate in Jess Franco’s retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Over the years Dracula has been filmed many times. Despite these countless retellings each version always had its own distinctive take on the source material and now matter what changes where made to the source the end result is always like returning to an old friend that you have seen hundreds of times.
By the time Jess Franco had approached Christopher Lee about playing Dracula his interest in playing this part which had garnered him worldwide fame had waned considerably. What changed Lee’s mind about playing Count Dracula one more time was how director Jess Franco wanted to approach the story and character the way Bram Stoker had written it.
Even though this film lacks the abstract style Franco would later overuse in his films that would come after this one. This film still features some stellar photography and compositions especially the scenes where Dracula visits Lucy and drains her of her life and blood. The moments with Klaus Kinski rely heavily on his performance and not as much on the visual look of his surroundings.
Kinski does a remarkable job Renfield that is on par with Dwight Frye’s memorable performances of the same character in Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula. This cast is really good overall with solid performances from Herbert Lom as Professor Van Helsing and Soledad Miranda in her first collaboration with Jess Franco as Lucy Westenra. Without a doubt the performance that stand outs is Christopher Lee tour de force as Count Dracula. This time Lee captures the essence of man and the end result is spellbinding.
Besides having a strong cast Franco also had at his disposal many of the sets and costumes that he had used or would use during his several collaborations with producer Harry Alan Towers. The score for this film was written by Bruno Nicolai and his haunting arrangements perfectly complement Franco’s visual styles and moods. Ultimately Jess Franco’s Count Dracula features one of Christopher Lee’s best performances of his career which helps overcome the slower moments and familiarity that most will have with Bram Stoker’s original source material.
For this review I watched Republic Home Video’s 1989 VHS release which presents the film in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. To date as of this writing this is the only current English language version of this film available until the Dark Skies region 1 DVD release which comes out on February 27th, 2007.