Posted by: Trey | 08/29/2010

“…For the Dead Travel Fast”

Review: Count Dracula (1970)

Trey’s rating: 3 Wooden Stakes (out of 5)

I must confess, I consider myself something of a connoisseur when it comes to Dracula movies.  Hammer, Universal, big budget or grade-Z, I enjoy them all (or in some cases at least, I love to hate them).  A Dracula movie does not, by necessity, have to stick to the letter of Bram Stoker’s novel – in fact, some of the best (like Hammer’s series) more or less abandoned everything but the character names.  This particular adaptation has a reputation for being more faithful than the other preceding Dracula films, and in some ways that is correct.  The portrayal of the title character by Christopher Lee is not only very effective, but is also the closest to the novel’s description of the character that I have seen.  Unlike Lee’s character in the Hammer films, this Dracula has a thick mustache and is introduced as an old man; as he feeds throughout the film he grows younger, with his white hair becoming darker and thicker.  Also, as a nice touch, virtually all of Dracula’s lines are quoted directly from the novel.  Given the actor’s vocal disappointment with Hammer’s treatment of Dracula, especially in their sequels, this film is probably the closest to Lee’s ideal Dracula that he would ever get to play.

Where is the film *not* accurate to the novel? Pretty much everything that doesn’t involve Dracula, actually.  Again, that isn’t by default a bad thing, but considering it was billed as the most faithful adaptation I was disappointed.  The sequences with Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) and Dracula are the closest (although I was very sad to see no attempt at Dracula crawling on the castle wall – always one of my favorite images from the novel, and one rarely seen on film), but once Harker escapes the deviations begin.  I assume these changes were due to the low budget, as they appear to have made the film much cheaper to produce.  Almost all of the remainder of the film takes place in and around Van Helsing’s (Herbert Lom) asylum, which houses Renfield (an almost silent but effective Klaus Kinski) and eventually takes in Harker, Mina (Maria Rohm), and Lucy (Soledad Miranda).  Dr. Seward (Paul Muller) is present only as a doctor working for Van Helsing, and Quincy Morris & Arthur Holmwood are combined into one character.  Except for a scene at an opera house, none of the action reaches London.

There are also some inexplicable decisions for which I have been unable to find answers.  Some of the cinematography comes across as amateurish – for example, in dialogue scenes the camera would occasionally zoom to an extreme closeup on the speaking actor, for no discernible reason.  Also, likely owing to the low budget, it is clear that Lee and Lom’s confrontation was shot without the actors ever meeting; the scene is full of choppy editing and lots of shot-reverse shot.  The same low budget, in addition to the European production, is also probably why there is noticeable dubbing in many of the scenes.  At one point and without warning, Van Helsing has a stroke which places him in a wheelchair for all of one scene before suddenly being capable of walking soon after.  There is also one scene near the end of the film in which Harker, Morris, and Seward are attacked by Dracula…or something.  I couldn’t figure out exactly what the threat was, really.  There were lots of closeups of what looked to be stuffed and mounted animals, but I couldn’t figure out if they were supposed to be possessed, alive, or something else altogether.  There may have been an explanation, but at the time I was reminded of the Evil Kandarian Demon Moose from Evil Dead: the Musical and couldn’t stop giggling.  Finally, I won’t give away how the final confrontation with Dracula goes, but suffice it to say I found it a little anti-climactic.

This isn’t the best Dracula film ever made, but it is a solid B horror movie with a very talented cast – especially Lee and Lom.  The claims to accuracy are a bit of an overstatement, but as I said before accuracy isn’t everything.  It isn’t as scary or as bloody as other adaptations, but it makes the best of its budget and delivers a solid, atmospheric retelling of what has become a very familiar story. If you’re a fan of the genre, or of Christopher Lee in general, give it a try – I don’t think I would recommend a purchase, but it’s easily obtained from Netflix.

TRIVIA: Vincent Price was Jess Franco’s first choice to play Van Helsing, but he was unavailable due to his contract with American International Pictures.  I can only imagine the awesomeness of Christopher Lee and Vincent Price playing opposite each other in a real horror film – as far as I know the only film in which they appeared together (along with Peter Cushing & John Carradine) was House of Long Shadows (1983)

© Ralph Lawson III, 2010, All Rights Reserved

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