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LES NUITS DE DRACULA (Onscreen title)*
Transylvania, the late 19th Century: Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) travels by train, and then by coach, toward the dreaded castle of Count Dracula to deliver some real estate documents… Well, you know the rest of the story, but Jess Franco and producer-screenwriter Harry Alan Towers had planned to tell it in close alignment with the famous Bram Stoker novel, with an enthusiastic Christopher Lee, who also wanted to do it as written, in the title role. But something happened along the way…

Having just finished taking in Severin Film’s new HD presentation of Jess Franco’s EL CONDE DRACULA (1969), along with Pere Portabella’s highly original, experimental documentary about the making of the film, also making its North American HD premiere, I would immediately rank this as one of the must-have Blu-ray releases of the year. Much like Severin’s equally impressive Barbara Steele set, it seems specifically designed for fans, scholars and horror film collectors all at the same time. It allows us to see Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA as never before, with layer after layer of detail, color and definition, which have been missing from all previous releases, finally available.  It calls for an in depth reevaluation of the film itself while satisfying numerous questions about Christopher Lee’s interpretations of the character, the nature of Jess Franco’s input into the production and the placement of this version in horror film history.

Whatever one thinks of the film itself, it looks and sounds magnificent here. Remastered in 1080p full HD, these two features represent a crucial turning point in horror film history and are now together to be watched, evaluated, compared and revisited.

Equally important is the HD restoration of Pere Portabella’s CUADECUC-VAMPIR, an experimental masterwork in its own right. This 1971 B&W film was shot during the production of EL CONDE DRACULA in late 1969. It shows Jess Franco, Christopher Lee, Soledad Miranda, Maria Rohm and the impressive supporting cast at work and as never seen in any other video presentation. It may be the best ever making of…documentary, and it’s certainly the most original.

Portabella, who co-produced the banned-in-Spain VIRIDIANA (1961), was the same kind of artistic outlaw as Bunuel and Jess Franco, but his approach is at the opposite end of the representational spectrum from Franco’s staging of Harry Alan Towers commercial production.  Portabella’s startling, abstract soundtrack provides an atmospheric counterpoint to what is seen, deconstructs the generic elements and provides an allegorical narrative about making a commercial art work in Francisco Franco’s Spain. Both films, when seen together in HD, allow a fascinating new perspective on EL CONDE DRACULA,  Jess Franco’s career and European genre cinema of that period.

A high spirited, entertaining, informative commentary by film historian David Del Valle and Maria Rohm has some new reveals about the shoot and other Jess Franco productions of the era. Interviews with Jack Taylor, Fred Williams (Jonathan Harker), Jess Franco and  much more make this a fully loaded package. I’ll be doing a much more detailed breakdown of EL CONDE DRACULA and this impressive presentation in the near future.

*This appears to have been restored in HD from original French elements and some brief material cut from other versions (the distraught mother looking her baby at the castle, which is missing from the previous DARK SKY DVD) has been restored, making this 98m presentation the most complete version possible.  The opening and closing credits are in French and Italian, with Augusto Finocchi credited as screenwriter. Strangely, co-writer and co-producer Harry Alan Towers is not credited at all on this print.


(C) Robert Monell, 2015

Written by Robert Monell

12 diciembre 2015 a 10:33 PM


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