In the Carpathian Mountains, an abandoned sanitarium is purchased by the reclusive Doctor Wendell Marlow. When a carriage breaks down on a nearby road, the passengers – four beautiful women and one young man – are forced to accept Marlow’s invitation to stay with him until a supply coach arrives at week’s end. The travelers eventually learn, however, that their host is not what he appears to be. Indeed, he is the legendary Count Dracula, revived after being destroyed by Jonathan Harker and Professor Van Helsing but not at full strength. To restore his power and resurrect his bloodsucking daughter, the Prince of Darkness needs to win the love of a virgin and convince her to surrender her purity to him without using his supernatural influence.
Jacinto Molina is better known to English-speaking audiences as Paul Naschy, the most prolific Spanish horror star of all time. Beginning with the first of many turns as the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in 1968’s LAS NOCHES DEL HOMBRE LOBO (NIGHTS OF THE WOLFMAN), Molina/Naschy has starred in well over 50 genre efforts, including appearances in films as recent as 2004’s TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF (a dreadful, softcore Daninsky reprise directed by Fred Olen Ray), COUNTESS DRACULA’S ORGY OF BLOOD (a similar blood-and-boobs video opus by Don Glut), ROTTWEILER (Brian Yuzna), and 2005’s UN LOBISOMEM NA AMAZONIA, a Brazilian update of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. In terms of longevity and international recognition (and a willingness to be in both good and bad movies in the genre), Molina ranks right up there with Karloff, Lugosi, Cushing and Lee as one of the greatest horror stars in cinematic history.
In COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE, Molina plays the iconic vampire with charm and sensitivity. Because he needs one of his female visitors to willingly submit to him, he cannot use the sort of mesmerizing menace employed by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Universal film or the carnal brutality of Christopher Lee in the Hammer series. Instead, Molina’s Dracula is a lonely, sympathetic figure, demonstrating great compassion toward his stranded guests and supposedly prone to long, quiet hunting expeditions during the day. While the veteran thespian certainly has the charisma to sell this unique variation on the character, the actor who dubs his dialogue in the English print is as stiff as a board. Still, Molina makes a credible Count, with a vulnerability and emotional depth absent in even the highest-minded cinematic renditions of Bram Stoker’s monster. Of course, all of this “touchy-feely” stuff ultimately proves to be his (and, to an extent, the film’s) undoing.
Though the pan-and-scan print which appears on Shout! Factory’s upcoming ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE DVD doesn’t really show it, this movie is beautifully shot by cinematographer Raul Perez Cubero and lavishly staged by director Javier Aguirre. The colors are rich, the natural scenery striking, and the attention to detail in the wardrobe and sets is excellent overall. There are also a few clever cinematic touches, including a scene in which Dracula is making love to his new bride and the camera pans to a mirror which shows only the woman. With its dreamy gothic look and romantic storyline, COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE feels in many ways more like an old Universal chiller than a cut-rate Hammer knockoff. Intended as a direct sequel to Stoker’s novel, this tale of love and immortality almost succeeds in being worthy of that lofty aspiration.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of post-Hammer trappings here. As in most of Molina’s films, there are copious amounts of gore, sadism and bare flesh on display, and many of the scenes of graphic blood consumption have blatant and quite deliberate Sapphic overtones. In the pre-credit teaser, the unseen Dracula drinks the blood of one victim but dispatches another with a hatchet to the forehead. When two of the Count’s female disciples convert another woman to undead parasite, they spend an inordinate amount of time removing her flimsy nightgown and pawing and gnawing at her ample breasts. The final ceremony to revive Dracula’s daughter requires not one but two chaste young ladies, the second of whom must be flogged and tortured before having her blood spilled by good, old-fashioned throat slitting. As the female vampires attack a nearby village, one fends off a particularly defiant local by slashing his jugular with a huge scythe. There are also a handful of sex and nude scenes without any underlying horror elements, including a gratuitous, incongruous nude frolic by the women in the sanitarium’s swimming pool (?). This brief sequence isn’t entirely unpleasant, mind you, but it doesn’t take a scholar of old European architecture to tell you just how unlikely it is that an abandoned nuthouse above the Borgo Pass would have an outdoor pool. It’s the one bit of detail that undermines the authenticity of the otherwise sharp production, and it was clearly thrown in just to raise the exploitation quotient.
It is noteworthy that other than the stodgy monotone of Molina’s English-speaking stand-in, the dubbing here is excellent, with the other voice actors making the most of the unusually well-crafted dubbing script. The plot does get a bit convoluted in the last act, but the blame for that rests in the original story, not a flawed translation. Despite a great first two-thirds and the clever premise that the most evil figure in history must be nothing but nice to achieve his sinister ends, the climax is a bit of a letdown. After a long, deliberately-paced build-up to the rebirth of Dracula’s daughter, the Count actually aborts the plan at the last minute out of genuine love for his new squeeze, leaving the viewer feeling decidedly unfulfilled. Further, the Lord of the Undead actually ends up taking his own life when his lady refuses to join him in immortality. Though this ending is moving and quite unique in the annals of vampire cinema, it seriously undermines the menace of the titular antagonist. That’s a mistake in a film that keeps the legendary Dracula basically incognito for most of the running time.
Like the other titles in the line, the MOVIE MACABRE release of COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE offers viewers the opportunity to see an uncut English print of the film with or without comedic intermissions featuring curvaceous hostess Elvira. This particular episode of Cassandra Peterson’s popular horror movie show does feature a few funny bits (including an insightful “Instant Replay” recap of the action) and the Mistress of the Dark has never looked sexier, but purists may want to stick to the “Movie Only” option. The “Dress Up Your Meat” skit (don’t ask!) is a real groaner. The film hits stores in both the single and double feature (with FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS) formats this September.
COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE doesn’t have the manic energy of Molina’s better werewolf entries, but it is still a lush, well-made, expertly-dubbed Spanish shocker. Whether you’re a fan of the hard-working actor or just lean toward the romantic in your taste in vampire fiction, this one is a worthy addition to your DVD library. Seekers of bloodier, bawdier drive-in fare will also find plenty to enjoy here, although the slower pace and the soap opera finale might have the most impatient viewers reaching for the remote control. The movie certainly doesn’t suck, but it also doesn’t have quite as much bite as it could have.