The affection that horror fans of a certain vintage feel for Christopher Lee, the man who played Dracula in myriad offerings from Hammer Films, is such that even Lee’s lesser efforts with the horror genre are held in some esteem. Combine that with the admiration some people feel for the work of Spanish director Jesús Franco, a prolific purveyor of low-budget shockers, and you begin to understand why there’s a small but loyal following around Count Dracula. The behind-the-scenes story goes that Lee was tired of starring in repetitive Hammer movies about Bram Stoker’s most famous creation, so when Franco and co. approached Lee about starring in a “faithful” adaptation of Stoker’s original book, the actor saw an opportunity to do something more edifying than his usual fare. Unfortunately, good intentions only go so far. While Count Dracula hews more closely to Stoker’s storyline than most previous films, there’s a huge fundamental problem. Stoker’s book is written in the epistolary style, meaning that characters describe their emotions via diary entries and letters. Franco’s movie includes events without the accompanying nuances (there’s no voiceover), so the result is incredibly slow pacing. Characters walk around with flat expressions on their faces, speak in monotones, and react to startling sights with so little vigor that many scenes feel more like lighting tests with stand-ins than final footage with proper actors. Lee, whose reputation as a formidable screen villain is, ironically enough, predicated on the lurid excesses of his Hammer work, gives a genuinely boring performance here—glowering and stiff. Even costars Klaus Kinski (as Dracula’s mad accomplice, Renfield) and Herbert Lom (as the vampire’s rival, Van Helsing) deliver uncharacteristically drab performances. Clearly, there’s a good reason Hammer prioritized sensational thrills over loyalty to the source material when adapting Stoker.
Count Dracula: LAME