• Count Dracula



    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: December 15th, 2015.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Soledad Miranda, Maria Rohm, Klaus Kinski
    Year: 1959
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    The Movie:

    Jess Franco's Count Dracula (or, if you prefer, El Conde Dracula) is definitely one of the more literal adaptations of Bram Stoker's original novel. It benefits from a fantastic cast and some nice atmosphere – but is it really any good? Yes and no… but more yes than no on Blu-ray, especially when the package is as flat out stacked as this one put together by Severin Films.

    The story follows a young man named Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) who works for a law firm in London. He's been tasked with traveling to a remote area of Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula (the late, great Christopher Lee). The Count is in the midst of purchasing a gloomy old building in London where he intends to relocate to. Harker's journey starts to get odd when some of the townsfolk that he meets along the way warn him against going to that old castle outside of town. This is, of course, the very castle that the Count calls home. Harker pays their warnings no mind.

    After a rather shaky coach trip to the castle, Harker meets the Count, a noble looking grey haired man who seems nice enough despite some quirks. That night, after dinner, Harker finds that he's been locked inside his bedroom and he knows that something is amiss. Soon, Harker finds out that Dracula is in fact a vampire and that he drinks the blood of the living. Harker manages to escape from the castle alive and get back to England in one piece where he rests in a sanitarium run by Dr. Seward (Paul Muller). Once he's recovered, he meets with a man named Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) and the two of them discover that Dracula has already made the move and has set up shop in the area. His first victims? Harker's fiancée Mina (Maria Rohm) and her friend Lucy (Soledad Miranda). If that weren't bad enough, another patient in the sanitarium where Harker was recovering named Renfield (Klaus Kinski) has been exhibiting some truly strange behavior…

    Franco's film follows Stoker's novel quite closely and in fact it was this idea, to stick so close to the novel, that won Lee over to the project. The film starts off very strongly, with a lot of great mood and a truly sinister atmosphere. When we finally do meet the Count Lee is fantastic in the role, aging in reverse as the film plays out. The very obviously Spanish locations (with some interiors shot in Italy) don't double well for London or Transylvania but they do add an interesting vibe to the picture that gives it some flair and Franco makes the most of the castle and the surrounding area. This is a very handsomely shot film and the camera work is excellent.

    The cast list for the film reads like a 'who's who' of Franco's better movies, with Kinski, Muller and Rohm having starred in Venus In Furs (definitely one of his better and more accomplished efforts), Miranda having starred in more than a few of his films before her death and Lee having appeared in The Bloody Judge, The Castle Of Fu Manchu and Eugenie by the time this film was made. These were people who were familiar with Franco's aesthetic and his style as a director and who, by this point, would have had a rough idea of what to expect from the project. As such, their performances are uniformly quite good (with Kinski and Lee stealing the show).

    It's unfortunate then that Count Dracula isn't as good as it could have been. A few too many of the irregularities associated with Franco's work creep into the picture – unnecessary zooms, cheap effects (the bat at the window is laughable), cameras appearing in the frame from time to time and pacing issues all wreak havoc with the movie and hurt what should have been an exceptional film. As it stands, not all of the blame has to fall on Franco as some of it stems back to the source – Stoker. There are slower portions of the book where Dracula really doesn't have much of a presence and the choice to adapt the novel literally means that these slower stretches, which work fine as a book but not so well in a movie, are carried over. The result is a Dracula film where we don't have a whole lot of Dracula to digest. When you’ve got Christopher Lee cast in such an iconic role and you walk away from the movie feeling he’s been underused, it’s a bit of a drag.

    Thankfully, the good definitely outweighs the bad here, and by quite a solid margin at that. Despite some shoddy direction in spots and the slower moments in the movie, Franco's film succeeds more than it fails thanks to some great locations and the mere screen presence of that fantastic cast. There are moments here where Franco really nails it – the coach ride, the scene where Dracula deals with a hypnotized Mina towards the end of the movie – and they stand out more so than the flaws. Kinski, though filmed separately from much of the cast (the same can be said about Lee and Lom who never appear on screen together!), is perfect as Renfield. Here he goes as over the top as you'd expect and hope he would in such a part, his performance here is iconic. Bruno Nicolai's unusually eerie score also really goes a long way towards adding some atmosphere and mood to specific parts of the movie.

    Even if it’s not the flat out masterpiece that it should have been, Jess Franco’s Count Dracula isn't the turkey that many critics have made it out to be either. If it falters in spots, at least it does so in an unusual and interesting manner.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Severin Films roll out Count Dracula onto Blu-ray framed at 1.33.1 fullframe (the previous DVD release from Dark Sky Films also used this aspect ratio and the framing looks just fine) in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. It’s worth noting that a quick scene that was missing from that Dark Sky DVD release (where a woman begs at Dracula’s castle in hopes of saving her infant) has been put back into the movie, albeit from a 16mm Spanish print. As such, there’s a quick drop in quality here compared to the rest of the movie, but better to have it here than to note have it here. As to the transfer itself (which uses a French language video card and features some video generated credits for some reason), the increase in detail and clarity isn’t huge but it is there even if skin tones look a little soft and a little less detailed than you might hope. Colors look a bit cooler but also a bit more natural while the darker scenes appear to have been brightened a bit and benefit from the added clarity. It’s not the same sort of revelation that some Franco films have come by on Blu-ray but it’s better than the DVD was.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language LPCM 2.0 Mono track. The score gets a nice boost in clarity here, while the dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are nicely balanced.

    The extras are what really make this release an essential one for Franco fans. Things start off with a commentary track featuring actress Maria Rohm and moderator David Del Valle. This is a pretty interesting track as Del Valle knows his stuff and is able to keep Rohm, who was married to producer Harry Alan Towers, engaged throughout. The two have a good vibe going as she shares some stories about her late husband’s work in the film industry, her thoughts on Stoker’s source material as well as on Franco and his relationship with Towers, her experiences on set and her thoughts on the cast of the picture (including some interesting stories about Kinski, as you’d expect!).

    Also on hand is Pere Portabella’s Cuadecuc, Vampir, a sixty-six minute experimental film that the director shot in black and white and almost entirely without sound on the set of the Count Dracula as Franco was making it. It’s an interesting assemblage of footage set to strange ambient music and effects and it’s a very bizarre hybrid of sorts in that it serves as an art project and a behind the scenes documentary at the same time. Most of the cast show up here, aside from Kinski, and there’s a wealth of fantastic footage of the actors and the crew in action, at work, and relaxing. It also ends perfectly (but we won’t spoil that ending here). Severin presents this in HD, which is a nice touch, though the video quality varies from shot to shot depending on what sort of look and tone Portabella seemed to be going for. It’s weird stuff, but an essential inclusion on the disc.

    If that weren’t enough, Severin has included some new interview featurettes, starting with a ten minute segment called A Conversation With Jack Taylor which is exactly what it sounds like. Here the actor talks about his work with Franco on this and other pictures that the man directed, the sexuality in Franco’s pictures, the different cast members he worked with and what his relationship with Franco was like.
    The twenty-six minute Handsome Harker sits down with Fred Williams who talks about how he came to know Franco and be cast in this picture and his thoughts on how life on set went down. He also shares quite a few interesting and/or amusing anecdotes about the different actors and actresses that he was cast alongside in Count Dracula before discussing a few of the other Franco movies he appeared in over the years. Stake Holders: An Appreciation Of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula gets Christophe Gans in front of the camera for seven and a half minutes. Here the director of Brotherhood Of The Wolf and Silent Hill talks about Franco’s work bringing Stoker’s novel to life and his thoughts on the finished product.

    Carried over from the aforementioned Dark Sky DVD is an interesting twenty-six minute interview with director Jess Franco entitled Beloved Count. Franco speaks at some length about the production and the cast and crew who worked on the movie with him. Jess speaks in English but optional subs are there for those who have trouble with his accent. Smoke in hand, Franco talks about how Lee was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and the problems that were inherent in adapting the book. Franco talks about how other versions of the book were 'primitive' and how his film is more faithful even than Coppola's take. He talks about the puzzling sequence with the dead birds and animals and why it's there. Harry Alan Towers also shows up here, talking about Kinski's work on the project though interestingly enough Franco discounts what Towers says about Kinski here. Franco seems to be really appreciative of Kinski's work in the picture, referring to him as a good friend. All in all, this is a pretty comprehensive examination of the picture and those who made it, and fans of the movie and of Franco's work in general should be very pleased with this featurette.

    Also carried over is an eighty-four minute recording of Christopher Lee performing sections of Bram Stoker's Dracula. This plays out with some dramatic background music and over top of a wealth of stills and promotional images from the film. Lee does a great job here, getting into character for a few different parts and reading the material with great enthusiasm.

    Rounding out the extra features are German, French, Italian and Spanish credits sequences, a German theatrical trailer, menus and chapter stops for the feature.

    The Final Word:

    This is one of those instances where the extras are so good you don’t even need to necessarily love the film to want this release. Severin have gone all out, and the addition of the commentary, the complete Cuadecuc, Vampir and the interviews in addition to the previous extras from the Dark Sky disc really round out this package beautifully.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






























    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      After reading this I may just have to upgrade from the dvd.
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      It's a great package but as some other posters around have mentioned, the image quality is very much below BD levels. Something is just plain 'off' about the master used for this transfer.