Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 15th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: Spain / West Germany / Italy / Liechtenstein, 1970
Director: Jess Franco
Writers: Erich Kröhnke, Augusto Finocchi
Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Soledad Miranda, Maria Rohm, Fred Williams, Paul Muller, Jack Taylor
BluRay released: December 15th, 2015
Approximate running time: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English
BluRay Release: Severin Films
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $34.95
Synopsis: 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.
Count Dracula comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Having now owned this film in three formats, VHS, DVD and now this Blu-Ray release. This is by far and away the best that I have ever seen this film look. Colors have the right amount of vibrancy to them, flesh tones look accurate, contrast and black levels look strong throughout and the image looks sharp. Also there are no issues with DNR or compression. It should be noted that the Gypsy woman scene which was missing from Dark Skies DVD has been reinstated for this release.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in English. There are issues with background noise or distortion and dialog comes through clearly, Range wise things sound very good and everything sounds balanced. Also when it comes to the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack things are well represented throughout and the film’s score always sounds robust.
Extras for this release include, a German language trailer for the film (3 minutes 8 seconds, in German with English subtitles), German (1 minute 36 seconds) French (1 minute 25 seconds) Italian (1 minute 35 seconds) and Spanish (1 minute 35 seconds) opening title sequences, ‘Christopher Lee reads Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (84 minutes 5 seconds) this is an audio extra where Lee reads Stoker’s Novel, a feature film titled ‘Cuadecuc, vampir’ (66 minutes 18 seconds), four interviews – the first interview titled ‘Stake Holders: An Appreciation for Jess Franco’s Count Dracula’ with French filmmaker Christophe Gans (7 minutes 32 seconds, in French with English subtitles), the second interview titled ‘Handsome Harker’ with actor Fred Williams (26 minutes 14 seconds, in English and German with English subtitles), the third interview titled ‘A Conversation With Jack Taylor’ (10 minutes, in English) and the fourth interview is titled ‘Beloved Count’ (26 minutes 24 seconds, in English) and an audio commentary with actress Maria Rohm and moderator Horror Historian David Del Valle.
The bonus feature film titled ‘Cuadecuc, vampir’ is an experiment films that features footage from Jess Franco’s Count Dracula. This film was shot is black and white and the unconventional soundtrack is predominant made up of abrasive sounds.
Topics discussed in the interview titled ‘Stake Holders: An Appreciation for Jess Franco’s Count Dracula’ include, Franco’s film and how it remains faithful to the source, Christopher Lee’s performance, how Klaus Kinski’s acting style that perfectly complements Franco’s own creative process, Vampyros Lesbos and themes it shares with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and he offers up his thoughts on the best way to appreciate the cinema of Jess Franco.
Topics discussed in the interview titled ‘Handsome Harker’ include, how his first encounter with Franco lead to him being cast in several Franco films, collaborating with Franco and how they always got along due to common interests, producer Harry Allen Towers, on set memories, the cast, locations featured in the film and other Franco films that he also appeared in are discussed.
Topics discussed in the interview with actor Jack Taylor include, the first time he encounter Franco and their first film together Succubus, that he worked with Franco on ten films, how Franco was a risk taker as a filmmaker, how he disliked their later collaborations due to them becoming more pornographic, The Ninth Gate and working with Roman Polanski and Johnny Depp.
Topics discussed in the interview tilted ‘Beloved Count’ include, how it was producer Harry Allan Tower’s idea to make Bram Stoker’s Dracula, his thoughts other film versions of Dracula including Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation, working with Christopher Lee and making a faithful adaption, his dislike of Hammer’s Dracula films, the film was shot in Barcelona, working with Klaus Kinski, casting choices and how he wanted Vincent Price for the role of Van Helsing, he reminisces about Soledad Miranda and her tragic death, financial issues the film faced throughout its production and Franco reveals that Christopher Lee once told him that Count Dracula was his favorite Dracula film that he worked on.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Maria Rohm and David Del Valle include, how Harry Allan Tower got his love of literature from his father, how the first thirty five minutes of the film remain faithful to the source, Maria Rohm reveals that she began acting when she was a child, how this is one of Franco’s most sexually restrained films and how Vampyros Lesbos can be viewed as Franco’s version of Dracula, the film’s score and Bruno Nicolai, working with Klaus Kinski and Harry Allan Towers creative process as a producer. Other topics they discuss include various other films that she appeared in.
Overall Jess Franco’s Count Dracula gets a definitive release from Severin Films, highly recommended.
Note: This film is also being released by Severin Films on DVD.