Jess Franco’s “Count Dracula”: Perhaps the most spellbinding version of Dracula in movie history

By on May 22, 2019

Spanish exploitation cineasta Jesús “Jess” Franco’s Count Dracula (El Conde Dracula, 1970) stars legendary actor Christopher Lee as the title character, in a film heralded by Severin Films as “perhaps the most spellbinding version of Dracula in movie history.”

Count Dracula — an English-dubbed co-production with financial backing from Spain, Italy, Germany, England and Liechtenstein — is now streaming in our brand new Severin Films collection over on Night Flight Plus.

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Franco’s El Conde Dracula opens in the year 1897, with a solicitor named “Jonathan Harker” (Fred Williams) traveling by train through a foreboding moonlit forest to Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

After his first conversation with his host — who recently purchased an estate back in England — Harker falls asleep only to awaken later to find he’s on the floor of a large, barren crypt and three beautiful vampiresses are preparing to sink their fangs into him.

Count Dracula appears to call off the trio of undead vixens, declaring “This man is mine!”

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Later, Harker awakens again, this time in a locked room — was it all just a hideous nightmare? — and discovers he’s got two suspicious-looking teeth marks on his neck.

Harker begins exploring Dracula’s castle, coming upon a massive stone sarcophagus.

After looking inside, he’s stricken with terror and then runs through the castle and leaps from a second-story window into the river below.

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The scene abruptly shifts to sometime in the near future, after he was found delirious in a river near Budapest.

Harker is now under the care of “Dr. Seward” (Paul Muller), a white lab coat-wearing technician employed at Professor Van Helsing’s private clinic, located near London.

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One of the clinic’s other patients, housed in a padded cell, is “R.M. Renfield,” who seems obsessed with a nearby unoccupied estate.

Renfield — — played by certifiably kooky Klaus Kinski — spends most of his time onscreen collecting and eating dead insects in order to consume their life, believing that consuming their lives increases his own.

Kinki later claimed he didn’t know he was making a “Dracula” film (Franco contradicts this by stating that Kinski knew very well what movie he was acting in).

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Harker’s foxy fiancée “Mina Murray” (Maria Rohm, producer Harry Alan Towers’ wife) and her lovely friend “Lucy Westenra” (Soledad Miranda, who also appeared in Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, another title available from Severin Films) arrive at the clinic, to help take care of him.

Not too much later, Lucy awakens, as if in a trance, and she’s drawn to the nearby estate, which we learn is actually occupied by Count Dracula himself.

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Lucy’s fiancé, Texan-born land baron “Quincey Morris” (Jack Taylor) arrives soon thereafter.

After Dr. Seward determines Lucy is “seriously ill,” Morris offers his blood for a transfusion.

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“Van Helsing” (Herbert Lom) then appears to inform everyone present about the dangers posed by Count Dracula.

Franco himself appears as Van Helsing’s vaguely sinister manservant.

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Unfortunately, Lucy dies not too much later. Don’t fret, though, because she’s not dead, she’s undead, a vampire. In a forest, she entices a young girl to join her (the girl’s corpse is found later).

Van Helsing, Harker and Morris must deal with Lucy before it’s too late, and they do, driving a stake through her heart and chopping off her head with a shovel.

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The action continues as Dracula lures Mina to an opera house, attacking her thee, before securing his passage back to his castle.

Harker, Morris and Dr. Seward travel back to the castle as well, where they finally deal with Count Dracula before any more young lovelies can be made undead.

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Read more about Count Dracula below.

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By the time Count Dracula was theatrically released in April of 1970, Christopher Lee was undeniably already well-known for his portrayal of the world’s most famous vampire.

Later that very same year, after appearing in Franco’s film, he shows up in several more Dracula films, including One More Time, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Scars of Dracula.

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It’s been claimed that Franco was able to entice Lee to Barcelona, Spain, by promising him that his film would be the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel ever filmed.

It’s also been claimed the Franco repeatedly consulted his copy of Stoker’s novel on-set, to make sure he was being as accurate as possible.

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Despite his best intentions, his El Conde Dracula occasionally does drift away from Stoker’s novel.

Serious movie critics at the time were actually quite upset that Franco’s Dracula sports a bushy mustache and claiming to be a distant relative to Attila the Hun.

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Franco also plays around with camera movement, courtesy of cinematographer Manuel Merino.

He continually rack-focuses on solitary items like candelabras, Renfield’s jail cell bars, and Dracula’s collection of taxidermied animals in Carfax Abbey (which seem to come to life under the count’s command).

One reason for the herky-jerky zooming in and out is to make sure the audience understands the significance of what we’re being shown onscreen — neck holes, crosses and crucifixes, etc. — and at some point all this movement has simply become part of Franco’s beloved visual storytelling style.

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Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack score is suitably moody, and it may also be worth noting that El Conde Dracula — which also features Jeannine Mestre, who appeared in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, in a minor role  — confounded many Franco-philes, exploitation film fans who were probably expecting it to be more risqué and outrageous.

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Watch Count Dracula and other titles from our brand new Severin Films collection on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.