Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dracula's Greatest Love

COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE, Directed by Javier Aguirre (1972).

Hello from the TOG headquarters, Erok decided to hand the keys over to one of the head honchos over at The Paul Naschycast, because most of our writers hands were bitten off by the Italian shark from one of those Bruno Mattei rip offs. Take it away Troy Guinn and thanks for the fun review.

Rod Barnett and I are the hosts of Naschycast. Our first episode was in February of 2010. We were already the two biggest Naschy fans we knew, and realized there weren't any podcasts devoted to him so we decided to start one. In 2017 we did audio commentaries for 5 Naschy films on Blu ray. We have a Facebook page for the Naschycast, you can also find the episodes on iTunes and on Rod's blog site, The Bloody Pit of Rod

This movie first drew me into its haunted, languid realm when it played on late night television, at a time when I was just becoming familiar with Paul Naschy’s face, if still a few years away from truly appreciating his importance to, and influence on, the horror films of Spain. Perhaps it was the combination of absorbing a previously-unseen take on a very familiar and beloved classic monster, the exotic beauty of the actresses, and the hypnotic three-note motif of the main score at 2am in a dark living room that left me feeling I had witnessed something singularly strange among horror films. Repeated viewings in the years since have revealed CDGL’s not-inconsiderable flaws, and yet the qualities I appreciated upon first experience have retained their power as well.

Don't snicker at my lockjaw, I stepped on a rusty nail!

After the pre-credits sequence, in which two workers delivering coffins to a castle get a bit too nosey and are brutally dispatched by an unseen assailant, our story proper begins: A group of young people (four female college students and their male friend) are traveling through the Borgo Pass (never a good idea under ANY circumstances) when their carriage is wrecked and the driver is killed in the accident. The companions are given shelter by a reclusive physician, Dr. Marlow (Paul Naschy). During the days of their stay, the girls frolic in Dr. Marlow’s swimming pool, read books about Dracula in his library, and a couple of them even vie for the doctor’s affections. Over the course of several nights, Marlow’s guests are turned to vampires (and subsequently vamp others themselves) until only the doctor and the lady who has won his heart, Karen (Haydee Politoff) are left. Ultimately, the vampiric presence haunting the castle turns out to not only be Count Dracula, but his spirit has been inhabiting Dr. Marlow’s body and he succeeds in overcoming the doctor’s persona completely. Thus begins a complicated series of rituals, intended to restore life to the Count’s daughter Radna and requiring Karen’s sacrifice, yet the Count finds himself seriously struggling with a complication he hadn’t foreseen: ol’ fangs is IN LOVE.

live action dainty thrift store figurines.

Of all the films I consider “essential” in Naschy’s filmography, CDGL is easily the sloppiest in its narrative construction. However, it also just might be the most hauntingly beautiful in its visual realization. Before I go further, let me state that while CDGL will always be considered a “Naschy” film, the credit for its qualities (which are 90% visual) really goes to director Javier Aguirre and cinematographer Raul Perez Cubero. Characters do a lot of walking and talking in this film. Even when they are not talking, they walk…and walk…and walk. Yet, the foggy moors, the sunlit treetops, the mist-shrouded corridors and vampire’s crypts, even the shades and tones of the characters’ skin, hair and clothing make the film wash over the viewer like a virtually unbroken cyclorama of dream imagery. Then there are those moments of more jolting visual inventiveness, such as when the vampiresses leap from the ground onto a rooftop, or when Dracula drives a dagger completely through a hypnotized victim’s neck and fills a goblet with her blood while she stands there mute, feeling no pain. Both of these ideas, I’m pretty sure, were new to vampire cinema at their time.

ACCHH I paid extra to have coffin skin protection, not cool!

In extolling the film’s virtues, certainly much praise must be given to the quartet of actresses who are the lovers/victims/vamps served up for the Count’s desires: Politoff, Ingrid Garbo, Rosanna Yanni, and Mirta Miller. These ladies are radiant, too be sure, and in a genre where creepily sexy vampiresses are plentiful, the vamps of CDGL can lure, seduce and destroy with the very best of the Hammer Films vixens. However, I doubt enough credit is ever given to the performances of the four actresses and how well they convey the individual personality “types” of their characters. One could say that Miller is a bit miscast as the “timid scairdy-cat” girl, but not because of her performance; simply that with her fiery red hair and arching eyebrows (which suggest nothing so much as bats in flight) she looks like a vamp-in-waiting already. When she finally is “turned” and revels in orgasmic ecstasy and fresh human blood spilling from her mouth (and her victim’s nude breasts), it seems as if the real Mirta Miller has finally stood up. Okay, so no shortage of beauty among these ladies, but equally commendable is the chemistry the actresses establish with one another, believably conveying the dynamics of long-time friends.

Despite the ultimate great failings of the script, I still marvel at Naschy’s ability to bring fresh ideas to genre archetypes. In CDGL, we have what has to be one of the earliest portrayals of Dracula as a tragic figure, struggling between fulfilling the destinies proscribed for both his daughter and himself, yet dreading the need to sacrifice the woman he loves. He even sheds tears, and while Naschy is not technically the FIRST crying Dracula (there are those odd shots of Christopher Lee seeming to weep as he crumbles to dust at the end of HORROR OF DRACULA, and his tears of blood as he is impaled on the cross in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE), at least Naschy’s Count cries over the choices he’s made, not just over his own rotten luck. It is important here to note that CDGL prefigures Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” and the modern “Vampire as anti-hero” by several years. When Dr. Marlow makes love to Karen, it is seemingly this action that triggers the takeover of his personality by Dracula, in remarkable similarity to what happens to the vampire Angel/Angelus in the 90’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series. Now, I’m not suggesting that Buffy creator Joss Whedon drew this idea directly from CDGL (though the film DID make the television rounds so Whedon could certainly have come across it); I simply take it as more evidence that Naschy was so often ahead of the curve.

Naschy is the genius behind The Werewolf & The Yeti, impressed?

Okay, enough of being nice. Each new viewing of COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE also makes me aware of what a face-palming mess the script is. That script…oh dear. Yes, anyone who studies this film is aware of its troubled production history: how an accident that injured a few of the cast members caused the filming to shut down, how HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE was filmed in the interim (and emerged as the far superior of the two films) and then work resumed to complete CDGL. Such setbacks can allow us to cut the film a little slack, but it can’t excuse everything. We’ll never know how many of the story’s flaws were there initially, and how much stems from the confused production schedule, but the impression is often of a film that doesn’t remember what has happened in the previous scene. Naschy commonly loads his mythologies with overly-detailed rituals and laws, but even a flow chart here wouldn’t help us understand (1) whether Dracula is a sadistic harbinger of evil or an avenging angel, (2) whether Dr. Marlow KNOWS he carries Dracula within him, or is unaware of his vampiric alter-ego (3) why, if Dracula has been dormant inside Dr. Marlow, has he still obviously been operating freely on his own? There’s no doubt it is Dracula who arranges the delivery of his daughter’s body and subsequently vampirizes one of the men who drop off the casket in the film’s prologue.

the negative reviews are in.

Apparently, there were intentions to film a sequel to CDGL that would have focused on Dracula’s resurrected daughter, Radna. While it is enticing to imagine how this never-filmed project might have turned out (just think, it could have been called COUNT DRACULA’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER!), I’m of the opinion CDGL would have been better to have lost the daughter subplot altogether. Instead, the idea of Dr. Marlow and Dracula inhabiting the same body and the one’s attempt to dominate the other could have been more cohesively developed, with Karen’s fate hanging in the balance.

SHHH, She's sleeping be quiet!

Then, of course, we have one of the film’s most odd devices: The elimination of virtually all dialogue once Dracula makes his appearance. The final act of the film instead features narration by Dracula while the cast all bare their fangs and stare at one another. It’s assumed each character is hearing Dracula’s voice via telepathy, but just why this method was chosen remains a mystery. It can’t be because the actors had difficulty speaking with fangs in place, because any dialogue (English, Spanish or otherwise) would have been dubbed anyway; and if the narration was intended to explain to the viewers what is going on, then it is so confusingly written that it ultimately achieves the exact opposite effect. Perhaps the film’s last third would have been better without any words at all, since its greatest strength is its visual poetry. If the last act had been fully relinquished to the dream-like series of images, it might have become the Spanish horror film genre’s closest equivalent to the vampire cinema of Jean Rollin.

Despite its flaws, I still consider COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE to be a lovely bit of cinema, and I recommend you let it take you on a stroll through its misty forests. The modern phrase of “Just go with it” could easily have been created to explain the seductive qualities of European horror cinema, and it could very well be the key to falling in love with COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE.

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