Dark Sky Films presents
Jess Franco's Count Dracula (Les Nuits de Dracula) (1970)
"I am Dracula. Enter freely and of your own will."- Count Dracula (Christopher Lee)
Stars: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski
Other Stars: Soledad Miranda, Maria Rohm, Fred Williams, Paul Muller, Jack Taylor
Director: Jess Franco
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild horror violence, some gore)
Run Time: 01h:36m:50s
Release Date: 2007-02-27
DVD ReviewAlthough director Jess Franco is most well-known for his delirious fever visions of sex, violence and weirdness, he could, when he chose, also produce fairly straightforward product. But there may be something of a tradeoff in creativity when sublimating the weirdness factor. This quite faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula is a case in point: much maligned for a variety of reasons, it's quite an atypical entry in the Franco canon. But it does have a number of merits, not least of which is an excellent cast, headed by Christopher Lee in the title role.
The story is a familiar one, told with devotion to Stoker's original. Young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) journeys to Transylvania to deliver a deed to an English abbey to Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). But before long he begins to suspect that the count may be something more than human, and he works with Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Herbert Lom), Dr. John Seward (Paul Muller) and Quincy Morris (Jack Taylor) to rescue his fiancee Mina Murray (Maria Rohm) after her friend Lucy Westenra (Soledad Miranda) falls victim to the vampire's bite.
Christopher Lee had by 1970 quite had it with the Hammer presentation of the vampiriced count, though he continued to appear in several more of their Dracula films. Increasingly given less to do and what little there was being inane, Lee longed to do a proper version of Stoker's book, with Dracula starting old and growing younger as he feeds on the blood of the living. He found what he wanted with Franco's Spanish-Italian-German production, since it overall holds quite close to the original in story (far more so than the Coppola version) and in detail, while large chunks of dialogue are lifted straight from the text. Other than the necessary compaction of story to fit a movie, and the elimination of one of Lucy's extraneous beaux, Arthur Holmwood, it does Stoker reasonably good justice.
On the other hand, it's also somewhat limp and unsatisfying. Perhaps Franco was being so careful to stick to the text and not give in to his creative impulses that he ended up making a rather dry picture without a lot of narrative momentum or drama. The exception, tellingly, is a bizarre sequence that is Franco's own, involving a lot of threatening closeups of stuffed animals that appear to be moving to attack the heroes. It's often regarded as a ridiculous sequence (and it seems as such in the light of day and placed into words), but it's also true that alone among the scenes in the movie this one generates genuine suspense and a feeling of veritable creepiness. The low budget unfortunately allows a lot of the seams to show through, such as the phony jungle calls in the woods of Transylvania and a Universal-style rubber bat, but Franco does manage to get some excellent location work in that suggests medieval Central Europe without being specific.
These issues notwithstanding, Franco has a marvelous cast to work with. Lee is, for a change, interested in playing Dracula, and the difference shows. His moment masquerading as the count's coachman works quite well, especially as he confronts the wolf pack (but alas, the budget only allowed for a pack of German shepherd dogs). As he delivers the famous "children of the night" line, Franco zooms in to his mouth, allowing just the glimpse of the tips of Lee's fangs. Even though we know what Harker doesn't, this moment gives an ominous nastiness to the proceings. Lom is a veteran scenery-chewer, and he makes the most of his Van Helsing, taking him nearly over the top, though not going into the loopy territory that Anthony Hopkins did in his rather broad turn. Klaus Kinski, always half insane in both films and real life, brings madman Renfield into vicious life (in the extras, Franco asserts Kinski was actually eating the flies, though it's less than clear onscreen). Soledad Miranda, in her first picture of a legendary association with Franco, give Lucy a sense of haunted innocence, a far cry from the knowing seductress of Vampyros Lesbos. But when she is bitten by Dracula, she gives herself over to utter ecstasy, making for a moment of high eroticism. Rohm is quite stunning and also a suitable target for the count's amours.
There are a number of shortcomings, but this faithful adaptation nevertheless has much to recommend it. Even those who don't like the Franco brand of weirdness will find it to be a good deal more accessible than most of his work. Although this is an English-language presentation, the source print is Italian (albeit with a French title). Gore is quite restrained, with stakings generally occurring discreetly off camera (making one gout of blood look particularly striking).
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The feature is presented in full-frame format. It's not entirely clear whether this is correct, but there have been reports that Franco prefers this version. The framing is quite tight at the sides at times, but it's not obviously cropped off. The source print is in reasonably good shape, other than a couple marked scratches. Color is bright and vivid during the London scenes, though somewhat washed out during the Transylvania sections. Black levels are seriously lacking throughout, seldom reaching much more than a medium grey. The fog is exceedingly problematic during the Borgos Pass sequence, with sparkly grain and a fair amount of digital noise. Even though the photography is rather soft throughout, this would make an excellent candidate for a HD transfer, which would help make the most of the frequently difficult source materials.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Although virtually impossible to obtain in English language format previously, except in the form of unwatchable bootlegs, a 1.0 English track makes an appearance here, complete with Lee and Lom's incomparable voices. For whatever reason, the soundtrack is presented here at painfully loud levels. The audio is nearly excruciating even well below reference. It doesn't help matters that it's quite shrill throughout, with Bruno Nicolai's score having a screechy character to it. The sound quality is quite uneven, with electronic buzzing, hiss and rumble audible at various points. On the whole, however, I'd prefer a dodgy audio track featuring Lee and Lom's own voices than a clean foreign language dub without them.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:18m:02s
- Christopher Lee reads Dracula
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsChristopher Lee tries to do a faithful version of Stoker's novel, but the results aren't always the happiest. The transfer is decent, but not stellar.
Mark Zimmer 2007-02-27