All six of Shout! Factory's Elvira's Movie Macabre DVDs have below average, 4:3 transfers, but it's especially unfortunate that the most promising film of the set, Count Dracula's Great Love (El Gran amor del conde Dracula, 1972) should offer what's probably the worst transfer of them all. Through the awkward framing, ugly color, and wretched dubbing one can discern a somewhat ambitious and unusually elegiac, romanticized Dracula film, but the presentation is so bad that these qualities can only be surmised. A better DVD more accurate of the film's original release version doesn't seem to exist anywhere in world at present, which is unfortunate. Maybe someday.
The film stars beefy Paul Naschy - the stage name for Jacinto Molina - as Dracula. The former professional weightlifter gained fame in the 1968 film La Marca del Hombre-lobo which in turn begat a long, disconnected series of wolfman movies all starring Naschy as the tragic Waldemar Daninsky, Spain's answer to Larry Talbot - a role the actor has essayed at least a dozen times since. Naschy has a very real affection for the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s and '40s, especially Frankenstein meets the Wolfman (1943), and it shows in his horror films, which he usually co-writes and sometimes directs.
Naschy's oeuvre received spotty distribution outside Europe, but a growing list of his films have been released to DVD in their original Spanish with English subtitles and in beautiful 16:9 transfers. Partly for this reason Naschy's films have been reevaluated in recent years and the best ones given high marks. Count Dracula's Great Love seems to rank pretty high, but with this DVD it's hard to say for sure.
A quintet of travelers - four women and a man - are stranded when their coach loses a wheel and the coachman is fatally bludgeoned by a spooked horse. Seeking shelter yet already well aware of Dracula's legend in the region, they chance a visit to a dilapidated former sanatorium-castle now occupied by courteous Dr. Wendell (Naschy, here looking rather like director Joe Dante). The sanatorium's remoteness precludes further travel for several days, so Imre Polvi (Victor Alcazar) and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo) pursue their budding romance while the other three women, Elke (Mirta Miller), Senta (Rossana Yanni), and wide-eyed virgin Karen (Haydee Politoff) explore the grounds of the castle.
One-by-one the travelers fall under the spell of Dr. Wendell, who is in fact Count Dracula. He transforms them into pathetic, bloodthirsty vampires, but spares Karen, whose willing love can transform Dracula's afterlife and revive the lifeless corpse of his long-dead daughter.
The last act of Count Dracula's Great Love goes off in unexpected directions that, in addition to the Americanization's and video transfer's other issues, appear heavily cut to the point of being almost schematic. (The full version apparently runs 10-15 minutes longer; most of the cuts seem to come near the end, when the film races to an abrupt conclusion.) The film's first half is a predictable mix of classical Naschy retroisms and contemporary flesh and gore - coming fast on the heels of Hammer's The Vampire Lovers, Count Dracula's Great Love offers heaping helpings of lesbian vampire lovemaking and bloodletting. But its last third, after everyone save Karen has joined the ranks of the undead, is something else entirely, quite unlike any Dracula film before or since.
As the vampire slaves openly rebel against their new master and wreak havoc in a nearby village, Karen is both attracted and repelled by Dracula's passion toward her in scenes that reflect Spain's passionate romanticism much as Hammer's Draculas with Christopher Lee reflect unleashed Victorian sexual repression.
Though Naschy's stocky appearance would seem all wrong for the part, the actor's sincere, melancholy performance is unusually persuasive. He obviously understands the role and for the most part overcomes any physical miscasting. As Dr. Wendell he's low-key but congenial, not austere like Lee in his Dracula movies, making his sudden bursts of violence as Dracula all the more shocking. By the end of the picture Dracula's tragic qualities are unusual well-realized, and Naschy engenders a lot of unexpected sympathy.
Unfortunately, the dubbing of the American version is appallingly bad. The lip-synching is atrocious: the actors awkwardly hesitate mid-line when mouths stop moving, then badly ad-lib dialogue when the situation is reversed. The English dialogue script laughable, full of clunker lines like, "It's getting late - why don't we take a shortcut through the woods?" and near the end Dracula's incessant voiceover narration doesn't seem to reflect the original film's intentions. Villagers are given voices that sound more like Chill Wills and Dub Taylor than, say, Michael Ripper and George Woodbridge, and dialogue more appropriate to a Western. When one such villager finds his ankle snared in one of Dracula's animal traps, he tells the approaching Count, "Ma foot's all tore up!"
Video & Audio
Count Dracula's Great Love appears identical to an Eclectic DVD release from several years back. Nudity and graphic violence are intact (this version runs 82:29), but otherwise the transfer is disastrous. The film appears to have been hard-matted at 1.66:1, and this 4:3 full frame version results in terrible framing that favors the right side of the frame. When Dr. Wendell makes his first appearance, we hear his voice but can only see the candelabra he's holding in front of him. Throughout are shots of people talking at the extreme edges of the frame, while title cards announce the picture as an "anus Film" production. The soundtrack is all snap, crackle, and pop. There are no subtitle options.
As with all of these Elvira titles, artificially-added fades in and out have been added to accommodate her segments, which were murkily recorded on technically outmoded videotape. There are no subtitle options and no Extra Features.
Director Javier Aquirre generates some spooky, at times almost poetic atmosphere throughout with creepy slow-motion shots, imaginative staging (such as Dracula's sad disposition of his daughter's remains), and lighting, most of which is thwarted by the inferior transfer. A complete version of the film in its original form is something to be on the look out for; until then, horror fans might want to rent this to satisfy their curiosity.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.