Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

Universal Monsters Mixed With Spanish Horror Mixed With German Expressionism

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen Preview)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Spanish language version)

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Dracula Contra Frankenstein (Dracula Contro Frankenstein/Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein) (1972) *** PG-13

Dennis Price: Doctor Rainer Frankenstein

Howard Vernon: Count Dracula

Alberto Dalbes: Doctor Jonathan Seward

Genevieve Robert: Amira, the Gypsy Sorceress (as Genevieve Deloir)

Paca Gabaldon: Maria (as Mary Francis)

Carmen Yazalde: The Vampire Woman (as Britt Nichols)

Luis Barboo: Morpho (as Luis Bar Boo)

Josyane Gibert: Estela, the Cabaret Singer (as Josiane Gibert)

Fernando Bilbao: The Monster

Brandy: The Wolfman

Written by: Paul D’Ales & Jesus Franco (forward credited as David H. Klunne) (Loosely Based on the Creations of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker)

Directed by: Jesus Franco

Synopsis: When Dracula attacks far too many young women, Dr. Seward drives a stake through his heart. Not long after, the mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein takes up residence in Dracula’s Castle where he revives the Count, and orders him to become the forbearer to a new race of undead superhumans. Now Dr. Seward, with the aid of a Gypsy Sorceress and a renegade woman vampire, must stop both the Count and the Doctor.

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After the passing of his Muse Soledad Miranda, maverick exploitation filmmaker Jess Franco decided to bounce back from his depression with a fan homage to the classic Universal Horror Monster films of 1930’s and 40’s. The final result was an unusual mishmash of not only the Universal Monsters, but also German Expressionism, Silent Cinema, and Spanish Surrealism. Franco wanted to bring the old school form of Horror back into vogue and popularity, feeling that while Hammer’s take on the classic was memorable in its own right, the studio has taken the genre far into the gaudy and high class. With his own film, Franco intended to take the genre back to its origins in the works of authors like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, and while his efforts mimicked Hammer’s in that he told the story in his own way, he did take it back to Universal’s style in the costumes and locations. Two of the heavyweights of the Universal Monsters, Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula, lead the charge here, and the rare distinction here is that Dracula is actually under the control of the Doctor, after being revived by him, a heavy nod to Universal’s House of Frankenstein.

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Since Franco was deemed by the Spanish Government of the time as too radical for what they wanted foreign audiences to see Spain as, the majority of his backers were German, French, and Italian producers, and often times his location scenes were shot in either Portugal or Lichtenstein. These countries provided beautiful scenery and old architecture, and were good substitutes for when the budget couldn’t allow Franco and his cinematographer access to places in France, Italy, even Spain when the project wasn’t co-produced there.

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Bruno Nicolai, most noted as the protégé & conductor and friend of Ennio Morricone, worked on several of Franco’s films including this one. Much of Nicolai’s score from Franco’s previous film Marquis de Sade: Justine was utilized for the film, along with some new spots by Daniel White and Nicolai himself. Since Franco never had specific scoring in mind, he tended to utilize the same scores on multiple films with the permission of the composers of course, sometimes the recycled usage working better than in the original film, this case being a good example.

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Dennis Price, a classically trained British character actor whose career spiraled downward due to various addictions, does quite well in spite of the limited budget at hand in the role of Dr. Frankenstein. The character gets taken back to his megalomania roots with Price, and this time is focused on using the undead as his means of absolute power. By bringing Count Dracula back to life, he ensures the Prince of Darkness is fully under his control, and will do his bidding. His dialogue mostly a form of thoughts and journal entries, the Doctor lays out his plans in detail, certain this experiment can’t fail. Like his Hammer counterpart of the period, for Frankenstein the ends justify the means, and is willing to do anything and everything to ensure he succeeds, including draining the blood of an innocent young woman so he can make Dracula his slave. Price might not speak much on camera, but does evoke Frankenstein’s desires and goals very well through movements and facial expressions.

(Author’s Note: I read Tim Lucas’ review of this Blu Ray on his blog [I seriously encourage Googling Tim Lucas film blog and check him out] and while I normally think he’s spot with the majority of what he writes, I do have to disagree with him that Price looked like he didn’t want to make the film. Franco himself stated he never had serious issues with the actors he worked with, including Price, and likely his health limited what Price was physically capable of)

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Howard Vernon, a Swiss, French, German actor whose brilliance was lost on many high-profile filmmakers, and led to his doing many B-films and many more low-quality films, evokes a bizarre evocativeness as Count Dracula. Like Christopher Lee in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, Vernon plays the Count completely silent, not speaking at any point in the film, save for the occasional snarl. Taking more of a cue to German Expressionism, Vernon is placed in heavy make-up, and uses facial expressions similar to the German actors of Silent Cinema, creating an effective, if at times over the top, performance worthy of the Universal era. The Count is very one-dimensional here, seemingly content with feeding on a nightly basis and causing terror among the ignorant Gypsies of the land. When he finally goes too far, his enemy Dr. Seward finally stakes him to Hell, and his pestilence is at an end. In an ironic twist, the Count then finds himself at the mercy of Doctor Frankenstein, and is now himself a slave, forced against his will to do the madman’s bidding, although at times he’s shown to enjoy killing people at random again.

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Alberto Dalbes, one of the many Argentinian actors who came to Spain for success, does all fight with what little he was given in the role of Dr. Jonathan Seward. Used by Franco as a replacement for Van Helsing as Universal had copyrights on certain make-ups and characters, Dr. Seward spends most of the film going about the countryside, making sure none of Dracula’s victims rise from the grave as vampires. He’s very dedicated, and always arrives quickly when the locales fear for the souls of Dracula’s victims. He is, however, unaware of Frankenstein’s arrival and his plans for using the Count to raise an army of vampires. After a run-in with Frankenstein’s Creature (who acts as muscle and not the main menace of the film), Seward is close to death, but is luckily rescued by the local Gypsies. Their leader, a noted Sorceress who herself is a victim of a mysterious woman vampire, knows immediately who Seward is, and informs he is the key to her people’s freedom from the menace of both Dracula and Frankenstein.

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A point many fans make about this film is the wooden acting, and vast majority of the characters are one dimensional. Now while to extent many of the actors, especially Dennis Price and Alberto Dalbes, speak very little, many of their scenes didn’t require them to speak much, or at all. There’s just enough dialogue from secondary and minor characters, and Price & Dalbes to keep the story going at a fair pace. Franco kept the production and story very simple and generic, but his use of scenery, mood, and atmosphere is really what helps sell the film and keeps audiences interested.

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While not one of Franco’s better efforts, Dracula Contra Frankenstein is certainly not one of Franco’s worst either. The scenery and visuals are always a treat in a Franco film, and here is no exception. Even with little dialogue being exchanged between the characters, the actors pay great homage to the Silent Cinema style of filmmaking, their body language, body movements, and faces telling as much as any amount of dialogue. At times very banal, but always unique visually, the film is an enigma that does its job in making people curious as to what it’s all about.

(Now this is a Franco film I can recommend, and while it’s clunky on many levels, and the acting can sometimes leave little to be desired, it’s fairly well made and shows what Franco was capable of when he was doing a project he really felt like he could do a lot with. Dennis Price, Howard Vernon, and Alberto Dalbes were either in the twilight or nearing the twilight of their careers, and weren’t exactly up for leading men roles anymore, and while Price and Vernon were more adept at character parts, they, Vernon especially, sometimes weren’t given the types of parts they were capable of, and often did the best they could with the filmmakers willing to work with them. The Blu Ray from Al!ve AG Films, in conjunction with Colosseo Films in Germany, offers a very good transfer of the film with the elements available, the picture and audio quality varying at times, but not ever bad.)

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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