Thursday, October 20, 2011

COUNT DRACULA (Jesus Franco, 1970, Spain)

Filmed in 1970, Jess Franco’s version of DRACULA was touted with the tag tine as the most faithful adaptation of Stoker’s classic. Unfortunately, Franco’s film deviates in both plot and subtext by taking liberal narrative short cuts and expunging the sexual riptide that drowns the characters in Victorian guilt and shameful physical desires.

The film begins much like the novel as Jonathan Harker travels to the dank keep of his mysterious benefactor, chagrined at the furtive glances and whispers of the local villagers. Franco is able to build a modicum of suspense though his style quickly becomes visually tiresome: he uses a pan and quick zoom for reaction shots that seems rather clumsy. His style eschews the need for inserts and it would be interesting if used for effect, but it becomes a matter of routine and thus stands out instead of accentuating the emotive response. The first act is enjoyable as Franco transforms dream and reality into Harker’s nightmarish journey into the sepulcher of his unholy host. But the story soon excises all suspense and adventure and unites the major characters at Van Helsing’s (?) Sanitarium. Franco also diminishes the strong willed Lucy to a weak minded victim who fails to partake in the action. And why is Van Helsing relegated to a wheelchair at the midway point, when it plays no role in the outcome of the redacted story? The acting is neither good nor bad, it just is, and Klaus Kinski is sinfully mitigated to a voiceless and static role (though his eyes mirror madness). However, Christopher Lee as the Count is both Lordly and lethal, speaking much of Stoker’s dialogue with the perfection of a Shakespearean performance.

Bruno Nicolai’s score seems a poor man’s Ennio Morricone, more spaghetti western than gothic horror. The music often stands out in opposition to the visual, more aggressive than the motionless story. The cinematography is bland and forgettable, as the compositions are mostly framed in close up. Franco somehow transforms Stoker’s adventure story into stagnant dialogue. The ending of the film is laughable as Styrofoam blocks bounce harmlessly off a horse’s head, and then cut to Gypsies crushed by the cheaply made props.

Final Grade: (D)

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