Breaking out of Hammer studios to sign with Harry Alan Towers and director Jess Franco, Christopher Lee hoped to finally film the most faithful adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel to date. It turned out to be an admirable attempt that came up short due to the obvious budget limitations that derailed the dream.
Still this Dracula has it’s moments giving Lee an opportunity to repeat some of Stoker’s original dialogue. It now turns up from Severin on blu-ray with an abundance of special features that make it a solid addition to fans of the genre, Lee and Franco.
Previously released by Dark Sky Films on DVD, this edition carries over some of the bonus features from that edition but adds plenty including a trimmed scene from the earlier release. When Lee’s Dracula presents his three brides with a baby to feed upon, the child’s mother is seen banging on the doors to the castle. Scenes of the mother were omitted from the Dark Sky release.
Like any film, some are more important personally than others. For me this Lee/Dracula effort is my earliest memory of seeing Lee as the count. I had seen this one at a young age on late night TV before being exposed to the Hammer series. Lee made for an imposing Count and the music of this version credited to Bruno Nicolai still creeps me out having been ingrained in my memory banks.
Carried over from the Dark Sky edition is an interview with Jess Franco at a running time of 26 minutes. He speaks extensively of working with Lee and Lee’s preparation for the role. Working with the film’s producer Harry Alan Towers and volatile actor Klaus Kinski and his refusal to appear in a Dracula film. Also of note is the fact that he and Towers had hoped to cast Vincent Price in the role of Van Helsing but due to Price’s contract with AIP were unable to do so.
This in turn led them to securing Herbert Lom for the role. He also discusses the seductive Miranda Soledad and her untimely death as she approached international stardom.
Also carried over is Christopher Lee reading the Stoker novel in fine fashion with his baritone voice.
Added to Severin’s blu ray release are a 26 minute interview with Fred Williams who portrayed Jonathan Harker in the film and covers his career with Franco. He genuinely seems to enjoy reliving the memories of his career from that period. As for Chris Lee, “he was a God like figure.”
We also are treated to a ten minute spot from cult favorite Jack Taylor who took the role of Quincy Morris in the film He seems very appreciative of his career and the light shone on it by genre fans. He even talks of working on The Ninth Gate for Polanski and working alongside Johnny Depp.
An audio commentary featuring film historian David Del Valle and the film’s leading lady Maria Rohm playing Mina is a treat. She covers quite a bit of material throughout the films 98 minute running time from her marriage to the producer Towers and his falling out with Franco to her costars and getting roughed up by Kinski’s Renfield. “He just wanted to be difficult.” She speaks highly of Herbert Lom and some others who were not in this film but worked with her on her other Towers/Franco films including Jack Palance, Dennis Price and George Sanders.
The highlight of the bonus features is a 66 minute art house styled film titled Cuadecuc, Vampir that is best described as a black and white silent version of Franco’s film. It mixes in alternate takes and footage with behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew setting up for the next shot. At first I was not so excited but as it got going it was like finding a long lost Dracula film with Chris Lee once again essaying the role! There is some wonderful footage of Lee nearing the end where he is removing his make up and as the ending approaches we’re treated to an added surprise from Lee that should make his legion of fans quite happy to get their hands on this latest version of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula to hit the home video market.
Rounding out the bonus features is a German trailer of the film that carries the title, “When Dracula Awakes at Night.”