A Movie A Day: JESS FRANCO’S COUNT DRACULA (1970)
I’m visiting one of our clients. Maybe you know him? Count Dracula.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Keeping the Christopher Lee theme alive (or at least undead) today’s movie is Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA.
I’m not a terribly big fan of Jess (or Jesus) Franco’s work. Sure, it’s hard not to like some of his exploitation work, like the infamous VAMPIROS LESBOS, but his work as a director is inconsistent and rushed. It’s no wonder, the man seemed to direct 4-6 pictures a year in his prime… I guess that makes him the Takashi Miike of his day.
So, it’s no surprise to me that I found his retelling of the original Bram Stoker story a little on the slow side, featuring a few great central performances and some horrendous directing. I mean, seriously. How hard is it to keep a continuity on what time of day it is? Every other shot seems to contradict the previous. Inside Castle Dracula it’s nighttime, cut to Fred Williams as Jonathan Harker looking outside where it’s blue skies and sunshine, cut back inside as Dracula appears to talk to Harker, back to night.
That happens throughout the whole movie.
Franco also has a bad habit of making his features look too bright. If you’re lucky, you get moments of atmosphere (you do get a few key scenes looking good in this movie), but on the whole it looks like 70s TV lighting.
I might be a little too harsh on this. Dracula was never my favorite story to begin with (I prefer Mary Shelley’s literary monster), but I love the character of the Count and the character of Van Helsing, which are two of the strongest elements of this movie.
Christopher Lee could play Dracula in his sleep and still be menacing, horrifying and strangely charming. Here Van Helsing is played by Herbert Lom, an apt opponent for the one scene that the two share together.
Also good in the flick is Klaus Kinski as Renfield, played with more humanity than I’m used to seeing. Sure, he eats bugs, but he’s played as an empty and demented good man. He never really leaves the Sanitorium, but is still used by Dracula in a few key sequences. Kinski plays him almost childlike.
The eye-candy is provided by VAMPIROS LESBOS’ Soledad Miranda as Lucy and the almond-eyed beauty Maria Rohm as Mina. Fred Williams as Jonathan Harker isn’t bad, either. The problems with the movie can’t be placed on the casting or performances, but in the execution of the story.
Although I will say there’s a batshit ridiculous insane moment when our three heroes are cornered by Dracula’s taxidermy animals being controlled with mind-strings by Dracula. I’m ashamed to say that I was pretty creeped out during this scene even though I was also laughing at how ridiculous and over the top it was. With all of Franco’s zooming motions I couldn’t shake the similarity between that and Dramatic Look Gopher. But even so, it is the only part of the movie that had me really involved, so I give it full credit.
Final Thoughts: Franco’s overuse of zooms, disinterest in keeping any sort of continuity and lack of atmosphere on top of seeing a story I’ve seen told a few dozen times made this a little bit more of a chore to sit through than I expected. Thankfully, Lee, Lom, Kinski and the rest of the cast made it less painful than it could have been. By the way, the best thing on the DVD is a special feature that is Christopher Lee reading the entire original Bram Stoker novel, which I’ve been listening to as I’ve written up this installment of AMAD.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Tuesday, August 19th: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)
Wednesday, August 20th: THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960)
Thursday, August 21st: MAN, WOMAN & CHILD (1983)
Friday, August 22nd: THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976)
Saturday, August 23rd: THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS (1959)
Sunday, August 24th: THE RACK (1956)
Monday, August 25th: UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957)
Okay, double cheat… but since the Commissioner of the A Movie A Day column (a Mr. Ain't_it_cruel?) says I’m allowed to cover some my AMADS recorded off of TCM, I have another one. This one called UNTIL THEY SAIL, a WW2 love story starring young Paul Newman and Jean Simmons, directed by Robert Wise.
Tomorrow we hit a Hammer Dracula tale also starring Christopher Lee, pairing him once again with Peter Cushing: DRACULA A.D. 1972. See you folks then.
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Aug. 18, 2008, 11:53 p.m. CST
No wonder you missed so many of these first time round. Still hoping for Amarcord or how's about Roman Holiday?
Aug. 18, 2008, 11:55 p.m. CST
I havent seen this one, but man, your in for a treat tomorrow. From the opening flashback, to "Stonehedge" ( think thats the name) to the flash Johhny, and the smoking hot like fire Caroline Munro. Woof.
Aug. 19, 2008, 12:01 a.m. CST
Anyone ever see this minor masterpiece with the headfuck ending and killer theme song?
Aug. 19, 2008, 12:02 a.m. CST
Got this book this weekend as a present from my GF, so Im getting immersed in Lee lore this week with all the double-plus-good coverage here. Too much Christopher Lee is never a bad thing.
Aug. 19, 2008, 12:45 a.m. CST
Oh yeah. Classic. As for Franco's Dracula, it really is for completests. The significance of the film lies in its attempt to depict the Dracula from the novel. In that respect, it does a pretty good job, and there really are a few scenes that aren't painful. Overall I agree with Quint. If you're not a Dracula history buff or whatever, it's a totally forgivable skip. However, I might have to track it down just to see Kinski. Some how it didn't register for me that Orlok The 2nd was in this, very cool.
Aug. 19, 2008, 12:50 a.m. CST
Yeah. Bed time. Oh and 1972 AD really is quite fun. Like a color episode of Dragnet with vampires and no Joe Friday. Holy shit! It really would be fucking cool as hell if there was a two-hour episode of 70s Dragnet where Friday hunted down psychedelic vampires. Quick! To the time machine!
Aug. 19, 2008, 1:26 a.m. CST
Aug. 19, 2008, 1:28 a.m. CST
Aug. 19, 2008, 1:33 a.m. CST
A bit like Evil Dead 2 with with unintentional consequences. Still really, really shit film.
Aug. 19, 2008, 2:11 a.m. CST
you're a good sport, Quint, but, we need to address the delicate matter of Performance Enhancing Drugs. Surely you must be on something to have the stamina to watch a film a day for the last 3-4 months. I assume it's just caffeine, but random drug testing will now be in effect.
Aug. 19, 2008, 2:57 a.m. CST
I'm clean! Just a steady influx of Diet Mountain Dew... which isn't as gross as it sounds.
Aug. 19, 2008, 3:05 a.m. CST
that DVR records off TCM are perfectly acceptable esp. since I've seen some awesome stuff on TCM
Aug. 19, 2008, 3:14 a.m. CST
I suppose it's cheaper than slammin your face into a bowl full of coke .... same effect though.<p><p>Also Quint, have you seen Quatermasss and the Pit, by Hammer? If not, go check it out. Also, it's nice to see some Yank love for Hammer, one of the UK's best exports.
Aug. 19, 2008, 3:17 a.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
... rocks. It's absolutely fucking ridiculous, and I have probably seen it four times since I bought it because it's so absurd.
Aug. 19, 2008, 3:21 a.m. CST
more boring group of movies? I've been reading this column for almost 3 weeks and have yet to see a movie I'd even be semi-interested in. The exception is Meatballs, and that is only if I could go back in time and see it as an awkward 13-year-old again.
Aug. 19, 2008, 4:20 a.m. CST
Has Lee ever turned in a bad performance? He's been in plenty of bad films but I've never seen him phone it in. The man just has so much of a commanding presence and gravitas. He's turned some otherwise unwatchable dross into, at least, bearable. He even kept me from stabbing my eyes out during Clone Wars. Hard to think of many or any other actors that consistent.
Aug. 19, 2008, 4:52 a.m. CST
by Bodenland Unbound
The "special feature that is Christopher Lee reading the original Bram Stoker novel" is a scene from Pere Portabella's "Vampir / Cuadecuc" (art house movie documenting the making of Jesus Franco's film), recently released in Barcelona. Vampir / Cuadecuc is also being preserved at the MOMA. You MUST see it! Jesus Franco's "The Count Dracula" is a boring movie, but "Drácula contra Frankenstein", also directed by Franco, is a GREAT FUN CROSSOVER!
Aug. 19, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST
kinda an Austin Powers Hammer movie, though the opening scene is the best and the film goes downhill from there. It's not as good as SATANIC RITES which is more a Roger Moore Bond Dracula (tho that's a subtle differece, I know...)
Aug. 19, 2008, 6:37 a.m. CST
As I remember he doesn't say a word, just stands in the background looking menacing or would stare with a foreboding expression on his face. My guess was they used shots of him from other movies and inserted it into this late Hammer release but that's just a guess.
Aug. 19, 2008, 7:14 a.m. CST
Don't think he's in that one, not the UK version anyway. He did go mute in a Dracula movie or two (allegedly as a protest against poor dialogue) but I recall , as a child, being even more freaked out by that as he was dressed like a demure cultured gent but would hiss and spit like an animal. You just can't loose with Lee.
Aug. 19, 2008, 7:24 a.m. CST
by Kid Z
...just visiting the office of one of my clients. Maybe you know him? Dr. Frankenstein?" "I work for Home Depot. Right now, I'm just visiting a client. Guy's putting in a new kitchen, he's something of a gourmet. Maybe you know him? Hannibal Lector?"
Aug. 19, 2008, 8:07 a.m. CST
by Sith Witch
The whole featurette of Lee reading is only 3 hours. To read the full 327 pg. novel takes around 24; it's obviously a VERY condensed version! I was so excited to hear it, but within seconds I detected the glaring omissions (I've read the novel many times).
Aug. 19, 2008, 8:10 a.m. CST
and, to be honest, have never watched the actual film. i just did an audio rip of the bit with Lee reading the (granted, abridged version) novel and have that in the car. i mean, the film looks ok-ish, we've just not gotten around to having a look. going on this review, i doubt i will be pushing to watch it in the near future.
ahh, exploitation... must see...
Aug. 19, 2008, 9:20 a.m. CST
Also worth reading is Klaus Kinski's autobiography "Kinski Uncut". I'm still not sure how much of it is actually true, but it does go a very long way to showing how completely insane Kinski was. You know if you see some really crazy and disturbing youtube clip you feel like some down and out has just come over and licked you on the eyeballs? Mixture of shock, revulsion and astonishment. The book has very much the same effect, except it does it with words, not pictures, so it's like PeeWee Herman has slowly dragged his nadsack over the surface of your brain.
Aug. 19, 2008, 9:50 a.m. CST
is one hell of a book. He basically fights every man he's ever met because they're all inferior to him and claims to have slept with any woman who came into a 5 mile radius of him. That's one book that really should be made into a movie except it'd be banned in every country.
Aug. 19, 2008, 10:06 a.m. CST
But, like any sane person, I much prefer Fisher's first (Horror of) Dracula. Arguably Hammer's best film. Actually, I'd like to hear what some other people think is Hammer's best.
Aug. 19, 2008, 10:19 a.m. CST
by Wilfy Fredericks
It was Mike Raven in that one - not Christopher Lee. For about 3 films in the early 70's he became the poorest of poor men's CL impersonators (check out Crucible of Death). He was also one of Radio 1's first dj's (UK specific fact - apologies) and apprently a nice fella. Shit Christopher Lee impersonator tho. And Dracula AD 1972 is all kinds of awesome - especially the Stoneground at the party scene.
Aug. 19, 2008, 10:20 a.m. CST
80's Kinski at his creepy, disturbing, funny best. Great hair-doo & wardrobe in some scenes to try to make him look somewhat attractive. What a hoot!
Aug. 19, 2008, 10:30 a.m. CST
I really loved 'Venus in Furs' and I love Kinski and Lee so that's pretty stupid on my part.</p> Kinski had my all-time favorite face so it's kinda funny to me to read that Darthkrusty thinks they had to try to make him look attractive. To each his own I guess.
Aug. 19, 2008, 11:07 a.m. CST
I should've said "hip" instead of "attractive." I think Kinski is a great actor with terrific & unique physical features. I just meant the filmakers tried to make him look "80's attractive" with big blown-dry hair and polyester shirts half unbuttoned & stuff. They tried to make him look cool, and it struck me as funny. Didn't mean any offense, but if you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favor. It's great, creepy fun.
Aug. 19, 2008, 12:04 p.m. CST
1. Horror of Dracula. 2. The Mummy 3. Curse of Frankenstein 4. Curse of the Werewolf 5. Phantom of the Opera
Aug. 19, 2008, 2:14 p.m. CST
Check out the Fu Manchu movies, also with Christopher Lee.
Aug. 19, 2008, 4:13 p.m. CST
by Tom Cullen
Cushing is so great in that film, that it elevated it above the throwaway gimmick film it could have been, and turns it into something quite retro-cool. The direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, is equally fun too.
Aug. 19, 2008, 6:06 p.m. CST
I love this movie. Many just do not get it -- but that's par for the course with Uncle Jess. Even though it deviates from the source material (which Drac flicks don't??), this one mostly nails the tone of Stoker's novel better than any other filmed version. Well, besides NOSFERATU (either version). I love it. Should also note that the German dvd of this contains a bit that's cut from the US dvd -- the scene in which a woman comes begging at the doors of Castle Dracula to have her baby back; The Count proceeds to give the baby to his brides. Brilliant stuff.
Aug. 19, 2008, 6:27 p.m. CST
"I'm a very fine man! from an alligator land!!!" Yer right Mori, I love that movie, it's like A Clockwork Orange meets Gothic Dracula done by people who watched both but didn't quite get either of them!
Aug. 19, 2008, 6:51 p.m. CST
... sometimes I really miss the '70s. But in the '70s there wasn't a plethora of free internet porn, so I takes the goods with the bads. Bring on Dracula A.D. 1972!
Aug. 20, 2008, 2:16 a.m. CST
by Red Dawn Don
The Made-For-TV Dracula starring Jack Palance is quite good. As always Jack Palance chews the scenery and savors being EVIL. I think I VHS taped it years ago. Anyone know what became of his HOT daughter HOLLY PALANCE. Oh, wait I can Google Image her. Gotta love the internet.
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