Christopher Lee and Marc Warren from El Conde Dracula (1970) and Dracula (2006) by Guest Author Eddie Butler

Author Eddie Butler Photo by Branwell Bronte

El Conde Dracula (1970) starring Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee plays the Count for the fifth time,discounting his token guest spot as Baron Rodrigo in the comedy, Uncle was a Vampire (1959). It is claimed that he made subtle differences to his performance in this film to avoid confusion with his Dracula character. Having already resurrected Sax Rohmer’s anti-hero, Doctor Fu Manchu, for Producer Towers¬† in the mid sixties, it was perhaps an obvious step to continue with Stoker’s ageless satyr.

That he is happy to be doing the film is so evident that he shrugs aside the idea that there may be anyone else acting with him and seemingly prefers to carry on undirected. Parading around in dark frock coats and sporting a grey drooping moustache, he does resemble the Count’s description to an uncanny degree. His resonant voice booms through the large mausoleum that doubles as his authentic-looking castle, as he accurately relates his bloodthirsty history to the wild-eyed Harker. Unfortunately, delivering his lines like a proud child exhibiting himself in front of his parents in his first school play, he comes across as incredibly camera-conscious in some sequences. This, coupled with the input of excruciating editing, robs his Count of the powers that had served him so well four times previously.

Gone is the tigerish ferocity with which he attacks his enemies. All we get are static glares with red contact lenses and a sibilant hiss. When the peasant woman beats on the Castle doors for the return of her baby, he never calls the wolves from the forest to have a midnight snack as is told in the novel. Even his sexual proclivities are dumbed down to an infinitesimal degree. There is no preliminary nuzzling. The scene with the wolves is dampened because of the fact that the wolves themselves are actually German Shepherds,¬† a case that has had reviewers unkindly guffawing at for years, as it is Lee’s best managed scene in the entire movie. The whole performance, which, conversely, still dominates most of the film, turns involuntarily to a parody of his earlier successes in the role.

Director Jess Franco would continue his unique take on the vampire cinema with such exploitative adventures as Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971), with resident Count Howerd Vernon and a slumming Dennis Price, in his last role, as Dr F.

All in all, El Conde Dracula, as a whole is a major letdown. An enjoyable romp in schtick that is a kind of landmark film in that it successfully fails in its attempts to be the first true representation of the Bram Stoker novel.

Dracula (2006) starring Marc Warren

The final adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel – to date – gives us a different slant to the ageless bloodsucker.

As Dracula, announcing himself “Dracul”, Marc Warren – star of BBC TV’s Hustle – is surprisingly effective. Shambling around his castle in an overdone make-up application, he comes across more leprous than romantic. He sleeps happily in a large wooden crate while cockroaches clamber over his body. He has a nasty habit of turning up unexpectedly behind an unwilling victim. He shows victims premonitions of their deaths in loving detail and his disregard for the human race is evident when he seduces Lucy whilst she sleeps next to her clinically frustrated husband. With Mina Murray, he is driven by lust alone, even to the extent of trying to rape her down a back alley. His sole purpose is to keep going in any way possible. He uses Holmwood’s money to obtain illegal immigration into London, then, with a gratuitous shrug, casually separates his head from his body in the final confrontation.

As Singleton and Hawkins discover, once their Master has no more use for them, his servants tend to succumb to a bullet through the brain at the Count’s command. He wanders around the churchyard filled with the corpses of suicides and gains strength enough to project himself as another being entirely; Mina sees him and mistakes him for Jonathon Harker. He confesses to having to be invited into a home to enjoy the company of the women, idly listening to their morbid fantasies of death before taking their husbands by the throat in a snarling turnabout of unbridled ferocity. Even Van Helsing is housed in the Count’s Chelsea home. Dracula understands the old man’s threat and keeps him locked in the cellar. In London, he looks more Dickensian than Stoker, like the Artful Dodger on ecstasy, exuding a dangerous charisma. But his boyish-face hides years of cunning and deception.

Holmwood describes him as a magician in a fitting throwaway growl, which holds resonance throughout as, in a 21st century turnabout, he survives the stake wielded by his persecutors and the final scene hints that he will rise again in the future.

All the cast carry believability to the maximum degree. There is a lot of fresh enjoyment to be had in this brief tale – 88 minutes approximately – of illegal immigration and Satan worship of a different order.Some of the Count’s prosthetic appliances lend a nod to Gary Oldman’s interpretation, but Marc Warren prefers downplaying to overacting, and emerges as genuinely creepy throughout. Why Dracula doesn’t order Van Helsing to kill himself and save himself later trouble is never explained or pursued. One tends to wonder if a sequel will surface in the future.

The connection with a satanic Brotherhood is not a new concept. Hammer films had toyed with vampires and Satanists in The Kiss of the Vampire (1963), and also The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), while Hubert Noel as Count Sinistre had a bevy of red-robed lovelies hanging on his every word in Devils of Darkness (1965).

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