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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Count Dracula's Great Love (1972) review



Paul Naschy (Count Dracula/Dr. Marlowe), Rosanna Yanni (Senta), Haydee Politoff (Karen), Mirta Miller (Elke), Ingrid Garbo (Marlene), Vic Winner (Imre Polvi), Jose Manuel Martin (Vampire)

Directed by Javier Aguirre

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

"For this Gothic tale I transformed the terrifying Transylvanian Count into a Romantic vampire who destroys himself for the love of a beautiful mortal woman."--page 111 of Naschy's Memoirs of a Wolfman.

The Short Version: Javier Aguirre's incoherent vampire tale is a perfect example of style and (lots of) sex over substance. Its main vein lies in its thick Gothic atmosphere and erotic encounters, but is totally drained when it comes to plot and logic. Despite his size, Naschy looks fine as the Count, even if the script writes him as possibly the most anemic Prince of Darkness ever put to film. This Spanish Dracula is a hopeless romantic who INfrequently does what vampires do to remind us that we are in fact watching a Dracula movie. Curiously, the Brides and the male bloodsuckers enjoy sampling the Sangria more than the title fiend. The dubbing is more silly than usual, and the Dracula narration (in the dubbed print) doesn't help matters. The ending mimics BLACULA's, but feels forced as opposed to an attribute of the script. It's a mixed bag, but Naschy and Euro horror lovers will want to stake this one out.

Five travelers are stranded after their coach loses a wheel and the driver is seriously injured by one of the horses. With a storm and the cloak of darkness looming, the group decide to make their way to a nearby palatial sanitorium recently bought by a Dr. Wendell Marlowe. This spooky castle has a sordid history behind it that includes a devilish mad doctor and also a certain Transylvanian Count. Forced to stay for several days, they accept the hospitality of Dr. Marlowe. Later bearing witness to some frightening sights and diabolical happenings, the weary travelers discover they're actually the guests of Count Dracula.

As a movie, Naschy's sole effort playing Count Dracula is a mostly mediocre affair. There's virtually zero plot, and what little there is (cropping up late in the film) is summarily dropped from the narrative barely ten minutes later; by then, the movie is almost over with. The plot -- when it makes its sudden appearance -- involves Dracula reviving his daughter Rahdna by the bewildering process of torturing a virgin then mixing her blood with that of a woman that has fallen in love with him. 

About five minutes later, Dracula suddenly decides against reviving his daughter, desiring to spend his everlasting days with a human bride named Karen, who loves him. But with scant few minutes remaining, the idea of being a vampire doesn't sound very appeasing to her. So what's a lovelorn vampire to do but take his own life; and so Dracula stakes himself, committing suicide. Much was made of this unusual scenario even though William Marshall did the same thing in BLACULA (1972) from the same year, but it had meaning there. In Naschy's film, Dracula's suicide feels almost like an afterthought.

"The Prince of Darkness will not acquire the true potential of his bewitching power until he encounters a true virgin that will fall in love with the vampire in a natural way... giving herself to him without the need of his diabolical powers."--a scripting addition to the Dracula character that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 

There's also this bizarre Dracula narration (see above quote) that dominates the latter portion of the movie. According to Naschy's memoirs, he lost his voice for a time, so possibly this narration is on both the dubbed and Spanish versions. Up to this point, Naschy's interpretation of The Count has been unlike any ever seen, and not particularly in a good way. 

Turning the King of the Vampires into the lovesick undead sounds like a potentially enthralling idea; but not only does Dracula have cold hands to go with his warm heart, he's also something of a pushover. He's attacked and beaten up by those he's vampirized, and at one point, he's knocked unconscious(!) by Jose Manuel Martin's agitated vampire. Incidentally, the two male vamps seen in the movie look far more frightening than Dracula ever does; this may have been the intention of Naschy via his original work.

Aside from this peculiar treatment of Dracula, the film is filled with creepy visuals. These visuals act AS the story when there is none -- which is quite often. While the plot fails to materialize (Naschy wrote the story and screenplay with contributions by Alberto S. Insua and Javier Aguirre), the script compensates with scenes of whipping and torturing by vampires, creepy slow motion shots of vampires walking down fogged up corridors, or vampires battling each other for no reason at all other than to pad out the running time.

Even more bizarre is the opening credits sequence. Apparently fearing we might get bored watching the names of the cast and crew, the filmmakers decide to replay the shot of the first pre-credits victim rolling down the steps over and over again.

What makes the picture of greater interest is the incredible atmosphere the filmmakers were able to create. While fog machines and slow motion do their fair share, a lot of this ambiance derives from real locales, which were a vital component of European horror -- particular that of Spanish heritage.

Indoor (or to a degree, even outdoor) constructed sets lend an operatic feel to these movies, but for those that can't afford such luxuries, there's a certain mood that's captured by surroundings that live and breathe; that look like there's a great deal of history carved within their sometimes crumbling architecture. In the case of this movie, it's the home of 16th century nobility, the Duke and Duchess of Osuna and the surrounding grounds. Speaking of historical significance, the film does pay homage to both the mythical Dracula and the real one via some background told through dialog spoken by Vic Winner before our five ill-fated travelers end up at the castle-sanitorium.

The aforementioned look of the vampires -- the two other male ones -- is unique and very unsettling with their cat-like eyes. This look was later replicated for 1979s SALEM'S LOT; what this reviewer feels is still the scariest vampires ever designed. In fact, the vampires in Aguirre's movie are onscreen the bulk of the running time even when there's no motivation for seeing them all that time. 

The amount of exposed flesh in COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE is also high. Euro horror tends to showcase at least two scenes of nudity in their movies. Spanish horror was, for its domestic releases at the time, forbidden to show sex and nudity so folks kept their clothes on; but took them off in scenes shot exclusively for the international markets. Naschy's Dracula opus contains more sexual content than usually found in these movies and it still packs an erotic wallop some 40 years after its release. 

The statuesque Rosanna Yanni is the key ingredient to this films high sexual quotient. Her character of Senta is bursting at the seams with sexual energy. Her cleavage alone threatens to explode through her dress at any moment during shots of her bending over, or heaving her chest. Yanni is all too eager in her insistence to tease the camera and we, the viewers are happy to oblige whenever she disrobes, or is seen enjoying herself in a pool. 

Sexy Senta is perpetually horny and when she's scorned after a lovemaking session with Dracula (she wasn't a virgin, after all, to which Drac fails to fulfill his vampiric potential according to his narration), the next time we see her, she's laid out on a tombstone being ravished by two of her now undead female companions. The two female vamps -- Elke and Marlene -- bite her on both sides of the neck then proceed to claw and suck at her breasts. 

It's far more erotic and envelope-pushing than anything Hammer had done at this time; and despite its lack of cohesion, Aguirre's movie is far more engaging than anything Jean Rollin ever did -- a French director whose movies likewised lacked cohesion, but aside from sumptuous photography, were often great cures for insomnia.

Naschy's sole Dracula outing isn't as gruesome as the same years HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1972), but there's a lot of bloody violence and stakings throughout to deter from the lack of a plot. One of the films handful of creative moments showcases an unusual scene where a vampire stakes another vampire! One poor blood-drinker is impaled on a spiked fence; another is run through with a steel rod and one victim receives an axe in the head.

According to Naschy's memoirs, COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE was released in Spain in September of 1975, but a much earlier release date of December, 1973 is listed in the excellent, gorgeously mounted Naschy memorabilia compendium Muchos Gracias Senor Lobo. The film was reportedly a big success around the world. It was released in America in 1974 and also as a double billed shared with the Leon Klimovsky vampire spooker THE VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY (1973). Naschy's vision of Dracula also played here as the exploitably titled CEMETERY GIRLS. 

while it's far from being one of the man's exemplar works, it has things to recommend it to Euro cinephiles and vampire movie aficionados. Even so, it's often cited as a favorite among his devoted circle of followers. Viewing it as a movie, it's a relatively poor showing. With oodles of atmosphere, sex, nudity and blood, this neckbiter satisfies strictly on a visually entertaining level.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD paired with VAMPIRE HOOKERS.

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