“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make.”
Count Dracula (1970)
Directed by Jesse Franco Starring: Christopher Lee Herbert Lom Klaus Kinski Soledad Miranda Maria Rohm
This is one of Jesse Franco’s more coherent films. It’s a somewhat faithful version of Bram Stokers Dracula, dripping with gothic atmosphere. It’s artistically lit with vibrant orange and blue tones contrasted with black shadows like a noir film. Suitably dramatic music score layers the mood, although the harpsichord main theme gets a bit monotonous. It is filmed and edited in late 60’s Euro style which portends its slow pacing.
It’s amazing how Lom’s portrayal of Van Helsing is mirrored by Hopkin’s version some thirty years later. Christopher Lee is gray-haired with a distinguished mustache in his portrayal of an aged Dracula. As he is inspired by a modern London (1800s) and feeds, he grows younger as the film progresses. This version spends more time with Renfield than others, but in an attempt to also be faithful to Stokers story, Klaus Kinski doesn’t have much substance to his part.
A few exceptional scenes break up the sluggish pace. The early scenes of Harker traveling the haunted woods of the Carpathian Mountains by stagecoach are as creepy as any film version. In one scene Dracula appears from the shadowed corner of Nina’s bedroom with Van Helsing as her guard. When Van Helsing makes the sign of the cross upon the floor, Dracula moves backward dissolving into the shadow.
It’s slow pacing and abrupt ending keep this from being a recommended vampire film. However, Dracula film aficionados and Lee completists will enjoy this for a few well crafted scenes and it’s gothic atmosphere.
Whenever you get Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the same film it is a treat. Add to that, a screenplay based on a story by Robert Bloch and director Freddie Francis, you have the trifecta of old-school British horror goodness.
The film concerns the accursed skull of the Marquis de Sade. Christopher Maitland (Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Lee), are collectors of occult artifacts. Maitland is offered the skull by a shady dealer and recognizes it as part of Lee’s collection. Knowing it must have been stolen he turns down the offer to purchase the skull. He contacts his fellow collector about the stolen item and Phillips tells him, he is happy to be rid of the accursed skull. He warns Maitland to stay away from it however, Maitland soon develops an obsession with the skull. When he re-visits the shady dealer, he finds the man dead and steals the skull. Once in his home the artifact haunts and torments Maitland, driving him to insanity and provoking him to kill.
The film is subtle, relying on atmosphere and mood to relay the psychological conflict between Maitland and the skull. The silent battle is brought to the screen superbly by Cushing. The visuals are dated and may be considered hokey by today’s standards, but none-the-less effective as the skull floats through the rooms of Maitland’s abode, taunting him to evil deeds. The gothic atmosphere provides a visual appeal that I find interesting. The Skull is quite different than most horror of the time, relying on the psychological horror rather than blood and gore, and the battle of wills rather than the usual perversions associated with the Marquis de Sade. It is a fantastic film for those who like old-style horror.
This review is part of a series I am doing to review all the Amicus horror films. You can check out all the reviews from links at this page: Amicus Films – overview