Count Dracula [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - 88 Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd May 2024).
The Film

"Over fifty years ago Bram Stoker wrote the greatest of all horror stories. Now, for the first time, we retell exactly as he wrote, one of the first - and still the best - tales of the macabre."

Although it fell short of being the truest adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel as claimed in the opening credits, Jess Franco's Count Dracula is to fans and critics either a triumphant (if imperfect) or sad conclusion to the collaboration between Franco and globe-hopping, tax break-finding producer Harry Alan Towers –who scripted under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck – which was preceded by Marquis de Sade: Justine, The Blood of Fu Manchu, The Castle of Fu Manchu, the trend-setting women in prison film 99 Women, Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion, Venus in Furs, and The Bloody Judge. The first thirty-odd minutes of the film is fairly faithful to Stoker as London solicitor Jonathan Harker (She Killed in Ecstasy's Fred Williams) travels to Transylvania to close the sale of a long derelict London property (rather than Whitby's Carfax Abbey in the novel and most adaptations) to Count Dracula (Horror of Dracula's Christopher Lee) despite the warnings of superstitious locals (including The Bloody Judge's José Martínez Blanco as a fellow traveler and Nightmares Come at Night's Colette Giacobine as the innkeeper's wife). He finds himself a prisoner of his host – after the obligatory mirror scene and "children of the night" speech – and the prey of the count's brides (two of which are Let Sleeping Corpses Lie's Jeannine Mestre and Al Otro Lado del Espejo's Emma Cohen).

The film starts to diverge form the source with Harker's escape from the castle as he subsequently ends up in the clinic of Dr. Van Helsing (A Shot in the Dark's Herbert Lom, later a Towers regular) outside London where much of the film is set since it is across the lawn from Dracula's new old home and Harker's fiancée Mina (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu's Maria Rohm) arrives with her friend Lucy (Franco's subsequent first muse Soledad Miranda). Once Dracula puts the bite on Lucy, her fiancé Quincey Morris (Succubus's Jack Taylor) – an English gentleman in the mold of the novel's Arthur Holmwood who does not appear here rather than the novel's clichéd Texan – is summoned to her bedside. After Lucy dies and comes back as a vampire, Van Helsing slowly realizes that the vampire Count Dracula is responsible, and the men race to destroy him before he can make Mina another of the undead. In a movie unto himself is future Nosferatu the Vampyre Herzog-headache Klaus Kinski as fly-eating mental patient Renfield (in scenes shot in Italy while the rest was shot in Spain) who has a psychic link with Dracula because of a previous encounter with the vampire that left him insane and his daughter dead.

While there is much to savor for the converted Franco fan (and those of us who saw this film early on as just another Dracula film without prior knowledge of the director), Count Dracula may seem like a cheap, zoom-ridden, sloppy vampire film despite the respectability the actors try to bring to it (particularly Lee playing Dracula as depicted in the novel rather than filtered through the Hamilton Deane play and Tod Browning film). Cinematographer Manuel Merino (Horror Rises from the Tomb) and Franco start with some elegant compositions but pan and zoom the camera through extended takes for maximum coverage during the rushed shooting schedule (Lee shares the screen with Williams, Miranda, and Rohm but never Kinski or Lom). As prolific as Ennio Morricone – for whom he conducted many of his scores throughout the sixties and early seventies – Bruno Nicolai (All the Colors of the Dark) aids the atmosphere of the authentic locations with a mix of lush orchestral and atonal pieces. Kinski and Miranda are equally effective as passive victims of the vampire turned aggressors while the rest of the cast gets by respectably (later Franco regular Paul Muller has little to do as Dr. Seward, and even less to do as Seward without Van Helsing in Franco's Vampyros Lesbos).

The problem is that Franco just was not interested in a faithful adaptation (and less so as the money ran out once Lee's scenes were finished). During the shooting of the film, Spanish experimental filmmaker Pere Portabella was on the set covering the shoot but, rather than compiling the footage into a standard making of, he created Cuadecuc, Vampir, a shuffling of footage avant-garde enough to suggest what Franco himself might have preferred in an adaptation (and filmic storytelling in general as his subsequent films would reveal). While Count Dracula was in post-production (without his involvement), Franco would mount Vampyros Lesbos in Turkey for prolific German producer Artur Brauner (Europa Europa) with Miranda's vampire countess and Ewa Strömberg's (The College Girl Murders) estate agent/seduced victim two of the many inversions of vampire and Dracula tropes Franco would undertake in the film. This riff on the Dracula legend features daylight dwelling vampires, a modern seaside villa in lieu of a moldering castle, kites instead of bats, fishing nets in place of spider webs, and scorpions substituting for wolves with the exploratory moves of Merino's camera seeming better suited along with the psychedelic scoring of Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab (augmented by cues by Nicolai and jazz musician Franco himself in the tamer Spanish cut). This star vehicle for the mesmerizing Miranda lead to a handful of subsequent collaborations with Franco cut short by her tragic death in a car crash before she was to be signed by Brauner to a multi-film contract.


Count Dracula first arrived on VHS stateside courtesy of NTA Home Video who were distributing the Republic Pictures library. This was followed up by a sell-through edition from Republic Pictures Home Video whose rights expired before it was sold to Paramount. Dark Sky Films<' American DVD release featured a brighter and more colorful fullscreen master but it was problematic in other respects. Licensed from Italian owners Variety and utilizing a French print under the title Les Nuits des Dracula but with otherwise Italian credits, this version lopped off the opening build-up of the title sequence and music and was also missing the sequence in which a mother tries to get into the castle to get back her baby which the count has taken to feed his brides. The credits were also riddled with Italian quota names of people who either did not work on the film or only worked on the Kinski sequences shot in Italy, with only editor/future Italian exploitation director Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead) having a ring of truth since Mattei was also credited on French prints of 99 Women (presumably the original assembly it was fine-tuned stateside and hardcore inserts shot by someone else added to the French version) and possibly the Italian version of Venus in Furs which also appears to have been the initial version subsequently fine-tuned drastically for U.S. release. The uncut version was available on DVD in Spain, but from an extremely old tape master in Spanish only (a Japanese release was English-friendly but apparently only ran seventy minutes). A two-disc edition popped up in Germany restoring the missing footage from a German master which also included the German title sequence animation and credits full of quota names.

The film had its Blu-ray debut in 2015 from Severin Films sourced from an Italian master but with a textless version of the opening credits onto which newly-created French-language credits with some errors ("Jack Tailor") were added. It did not take much for Dark Sky's DVD to improve on the Spanish disc, and the same can be said for Severin's transfer if only marginally so, with a minor bump up in detail and slightly more naturalistic color. The scene missing from the Dark Sky edition was also missing from the Italian HD master and was restored using a 16mm Spanish print from a private collector with flickering and scratches very evident. When Germany's niche label Wicked Vision announced a 4-disc collector's edition mediabook edition with four limited edition cover options and a keep case 2-disc edition, it was hoped that it would be a new transfer but it was the same master with the German title sequence in place of the newly-created French ones, although it did offer a number of new extras (not all of which were English-friendly, however).

Severin Films brought the film's 4K debut last year in a 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray four-disc collector's edition utilizes a new scan from the original Spanish 35mm camera negatives - for which we have to thank Guillaume Le Disez of French boutique label Pulse Video who also discovered the negative in the one of the inventories of European distributors along with the negatives for some American sexploitation films long believed to have been junked by the American labs - restoring the complete original opening shot and featuring the English title sequence, albeit in white lettering whereas the earlier video transfers featured the lettering in red.

88 Films' 2160p24 HEVC 1.37:1 4K UltraHD image and 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray - also available separately - are derived from the same master, and the two transfers – with and without HDR10 – look more or less the same. Framing is identical, as is the grading for the most part – Severin may have upped the saturation a hair with the opening looking slightly more blue but this may be a trick of the eye switching back and forth between sources – and the improvement over the earlier master is appreciable in both cases. The new master reveals a greater variegation of colors, with Lee's old age make-up boasting a range of grays instead of pasty white and no longer smothering his wrinkles and laugh lines. The human characters also boast a wider range of healthy hues, with Miranda's pale look no longer just an effect of the blue lighting. Framing is also opened up on all four sides revealing additional slivers, and the greater resolution reveals more texture in the Barcelona locations as well as the studio interiors, more spun sugar cobwebs lurking in the corners and foregrounds of every shot in Dracula's castle, as well as the Count's brides being transparent superimpositions as they rise from their coffins before becoming more corporeal in the next shot. The scene with the mother also matches the surrounding footage, the overall day-for-night tinting is better judged, and the use of blue and amber gel lighting can be quite lovely in some close-ups while background doorway red gels are separated from the brownish look of the earlier transfers. The foggy Borgo Pass scene, however, looks only slightly better than what has come before due to the heavy use of both smoke and lens diffusion. The violet tinge to the shadows in the magic hour hotel exteriors early on may be a matter of shooting with tungesten-balanced film that could not be entirely timed out.


Both 4K and 1080p24 versions include English and Spanish LPCM 2.0 mono tracks, although only English SDH subtitles. Besides every one of the actors being post-dubbed on the Spanish track as per usual, the Spanish/Italian/West German/Lichtensteinian co-production status – the latter being British producer Towers' production base for tax purposes – also means that the only thing that really makes the English track more official is that Lee and Lom dubbed their own performances (although American-born actor Taylor was working as a dubbing artist in Spanish film including lead performances of Paul Naschy, he is dubbed by someone else). The track is fairly clean with some faint hiss evident in the silences as one would expect from the mixing technology of the period, and it is nice that the full English track has been restored including that few moments of birds twittering and the build-up of the score at the opening which was missing in the composite track synchronized to the Italian master.


The 4K and 1080p24 disc both include English export trailer (3:19) and three audio commentary tracks starting with an audio commentary by film critics Kim Newman and Sean Hogan who discuss the notion of faithfulness to the source in terms of the film's claim and other Dracula adaptations – with Newman making the surprising claim that the most faithful adaptation so far is Alucard, a low-budget and rather ludicrous American DTV production that nevertheless attempts to incorporate much of the novel's incidents and characters – the process involved in whittling down a Victorian novel (and also noting that the binge-watchable streaming format seems ideally suited to the structure of such works). They also observe that the film is less interesting to Franco fans when approached as an auteur work than as a Harry Alan Towers film, and suggesting that his claims of fidelity stemmed from interviews Lee gave in which he expressed frustration that the Hammer films never went back to the book, while also discussing Towers' practice of exploiting literary properties. he pair also address Franco's seeming preference for the Universal horror films and his low opinion of the Hammer productions and their directors – some of whom were on note as disliking horror films – while also observing that Franco's own approach to the genre was more pulp than scares.

The audio commentary by film experts Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thomson also ruminates on the fidelity of the film and other adaptations – including the treatment of characters like Harker, Seward, and Renfield – and comparing Franco's approach here to his more experimental Vampyros Lesbos and Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, the latter of which recycled cues from Nicolai's scores for this and Justine. They also discuss viewing the film in the context of Franco's oeuvre which was not possible for most theatrical viewers and even those who caught the film on VHS in the eighties and nineties, and the unfair opinion that the film is a Franco "hack job" while overlooking Towers' own tactics, and also debunk the rumor that the film was initially offered to Terence Fisher who had actually been associated with a proposed 3D adaptation by Amicus producer Milton Subotsky. They also suggest that Franco not exploiting the eroticism of the genre here had more to do with Towers, and that as a 1969 production it anticipated the seventies boom of Dracula adaptations on stage, television, and screen including the documentary In Search of Dracula in which Lee appeared as both Dracula and Vlad Tepes in light of the claims of historians Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally of Vlad the Impaler as the inspiration for Stoker's creation. They briefly discuss Cuadecuc, Vampir and assumed that is would be included on this disc. It was not included in the Severin 4K – as it has been on the 2015 Severin Blu-ray – but we have since learned that it was Portabella himself who would only license it to Severin as a separate release, and that is presumably also the case with 88 Films. Severin released the Portabella film separately in a double feature with his Umbracle which was shot at the same time and features Lee and Mestre, while U.K. viewers can pick up the film on Blu-ray from Second Run.

Ported from the Severin editions is an audio commentary by actress Maria Rohm, moderated by David Del Valle. They take a little time to establish a rapport, with Rohm proud but initially defensive of Towers' career and Del Valle racing to couch the film in the history of Dracula screen adaptations and his theories of the allure of vampire cinema. In discussing the faults of the film, Del Valle contextualizes them in terms of how the film was highly anticipated for purporting to be the most faithful screen adaptation, the opportunity for audiences to see Lee playing Dracula outside of his Hammer Films – in which he had been increasingly relegated to cameo status despite top billing – and the opportunity for Lee to perform the character as written. Rohm discusses Towers' beginnings in radio including the "Harry Lime" radio series with Orson Welles (with whom Franco later worked on Chimes at Midnight), his interest in literary properties including the Fu Manchu novels and Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" which he adapted three times in 1965, 1974, and 1989. Having been married to him for forty-five years until his death, she conveys Towers' disappointment with how his big ideas at the scripting stage shrunk with the budgets, and how he hoped to do better with "the next project" and then the next after that. She also discusses her relationships with the cast as well as working with Kinski who she considered suing for libel for statements he made about a relationship between her and Venus in Furs/The Secret of Dorian Gray co-star Margaret Lee). Del Valle discusses interpretations of the Stoker novel gleaned from "The Annotated Dracula" scholar Leonard Wolf, Lee's aspirations to be a theatrical actor and how his style differed from that of Vincent Price, Franco's lack of interest in a "straight" telling of Stoker's novel – the lack of eroticism and gore was a demand of the distributors – and how Vampyros Lesbos represented his interpretation of the tale.

The bulk of the video extras are on the Blu-ray disc and are the same as the Severin edition but there are some new exclusives starting with the newly-produced "Bloodsucker - David Pirie on Count Dracula" (23:17) in which Pirie observes that charm Dracula may have had for Victorian readers was in the ways Stoker likened him to an English gentleman and their shock when he showed his monstrous side, as opposed to the stage play and the Universal adaptations that emphasized Dracula as a "foreign menace" in contrast to Lee's interpretation in the first Hammer film.

Ported from the Severin edition is The State of Dracula (19:50), a 1973 audio interview with Lee by filmmaker Donald Glut which was conducted in researching The Dracula Book. Lee describes the script as dismal but it offered him the opportunity to be the only actor to portray Dracula correctly as per the novel, and he finds his part in the film "alright." He discusses Portabella's film as a "feature film" rather than a "documentary" more positively as well as Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu's "In Search of Dracula" and the as-yet-unreleased documentary in which narrates and appears as the literary Dracula and Vlad the Impaler.

New to this edition is "Dracula in the South" (33:35), an interview with film historian Howarth that was actually recorded for a release of Dracula and Son (it may have been produced for but not included in the Severin release or intended for a U.K. release and repurposed here); as such, the titular "Dracula" is Lee and his attempts to get away from being pigeon-holed as the character, agreeing to star in the Italian comedy Uncle Was a Vampire while refusing to lampoon Dracula himself, playing the villain of Mario Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World whose vampiric qualities were emphasized in the German version titled "Vampire Gegen Herakles" and the red herrings of Crypt of the Vampire and The Virgin of Nuremberg. In addition to highlighting his Spanish genre credits including Franco's film, he also notes that Hammer seemed not to know what to do with Lee outside of Dracula with his star vehicle Rasputin, the Mad Monk seemingly a concession as it was produced back-to-back and double-billed with Dracula, Prince of Darkness. The remainder of the program focuses on Dracula and Son with Howarth noting that the film leaves it ambiguous whether Lee's vampire count is indeed Dracula in contrast to the novel it adapted.

"Beloved Count" (26:35) id a re-edited version of the 2007 Dark Sky interview with Franco and producer Towers. Franco discusses his working relationship with Towers and his admiration of Lee. He reveals that Towers was concerned that the audience would lose interest in the film during Dracula's monologue about his heritage. Franco and Lee decided to film it even if it might end up cut. He also refutes Towers' anecdote about tricking Kinski into doing the film by convincing him it was not a Dracula film only for the actor to reveal the jig was up during the scene in which he was strangling Rohm's Mina (Franco suggests that Kinski was well-read and savvy enough to realize what he was working on even without any dialogue to give it away).

"Handsome Harker" (26:14) is an interview with actor Williams who is less charitable (but perhaps pragmatic) about his impressions of Franco and Towers but more than a little ungallant in his anecdote about Rohm. The interview includes footage from a 2004 reunion with Franco and Lina Romay.

"A Conversation with Jack Taylor" (10:00) finds the American-born actor – who went to Mexico after a brief appearance on The Jack Benny Show and then to Spain – discussing how Franco was a big part of his career despite only doing ten films with Franco as director. Taylor does not go into his behind the scenes work for Franco as set decorator and dialogue coach but it is mentioned elsewhere in the set.

"Stake Holders (7:32) is an appreciation of the film by French director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) is no hollow tribute à la Tarentino or Eli Roth. The filmmaker enthusiastically conveys his admiration for Franco and the film, describing how Franco's love of jazz translated into an interest in "filming music" rather than scenes with Kinski as a musical instrument rather than an actor.

"Jess Franco's Bram Stoker's Count Dracula (45:21) is an interview with Franco scholar Stephen Thrower who discusses the Franco/Towers collaborations and the confusing co-production status of the film and Towers' piecemeal financing. He discusses what works in the film while noting that just as many elements do not – and suggests Towers set the film up for failure by claiming it to be the most faithful adaptation of the film in order to attract Lee to the project – noting that the money was always there when Lee was on set but every other part of the film was shortchanged. He calls into question Lee's claim that he had to do the Hammer sequels because they were sold to America with his name and that a lot of people would be out the job if he did not do them, as well as Franco's various stories about working with Lee on the film.

The "In the Land of Franco bonus sequence" (6:07) came about during the shooting of the location visit featurettes for Severin's continuing line of Franco Blu-ray releases, with film historians Alain Petit telling Stephen Thrower about his surprise encounter with Lee who was perusing the same French fantastique book shops as he one morning and asking him about the film. After stepping in dog shit and pausing to wash it off, Petit tells Thrower about Franco's dubious anecdote about Venus in FursThe Bloody Judge actress Margaret Lee attempting to seduce Lee.

The disc also includes a series of alternate title sequences. The Spanish (1:40) is also presented in white unlike the tape and DVD sequences and may have been what was on the Spanish negative while the German (1:36) features the animated "Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht" title card, the French (1:25) comes from the Italian SD master – although presumably a big French distributor like Cocinor would have warranted a full French sequence – while the actual Italian (1:35) sequence features the "Il Conte Dracula" card.

Not ported from the Severin 4K edition is the 2017 Spanish documentary Drácula Barcelona – previously available on Spanish DVD with English subtitles – which provides a rich context to the Spain of the sixties and seventies in which both Franco and Portabella were working.


The first pressing includes a limited edition slipcase with artwork by Graham Humphreys and booklet notes with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw (neither of which were supplied for review).


88 Films shows Jess Franco's "faithful" adaptation Count Dracula far more interest than he ever did with a 4K release that should prove invaluable to the film's (and Franco's) fans.


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