Friday, November 18, 2016

COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE 1973

aka EL GRAN ARMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA





     The year 1972 was a particularly busy one for Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy as along with appearing in EL RETORNO DE WALPURGIS (CURSE OF THE DEVIL) where he portrayed his famous alter ego as the lycanthropy affiliated nobleman Waldemar Danisky there was also THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, LA ORGIA DE LOS MUERTOS (THE HANGING WOMAN) and LA REBELIÓN DE MUETAS (VENGENANCE OF THE ZOMBIES). This year also saw the release of EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRÁCULA (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) containing Naschy's only portrayal of the famous Count and lord of the un-dead. Shot back to back alongside HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE by director Javier Aguirre with both films written by Naschy under his birth name Jacinto Molina.
    COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE unfolds like a euro-horror hallucinatory dream with plot elements that would have seemed to be jotted down immediately after awakening from a restless sleep of nightmares. Naschy's take on the classic vampire plays out with a crawling dirge-like ambiance that at times can be almost mind numbly slow. One of the hallmarks of Spanish horror is those meandering plots with emphasis on brooding Gothic atmosphere, heaving bosoms splattered with blood, candelabras and stories that slowly twist & wind to a somewhat ambiguous conclusion - and COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (for better or worse) revels in all these these elements.




     Opening with two workman delivering a crate to an abandoned sanitarium (and who both speak like characters out of a Warner Bros. cartoon) in whose catacomb like cellar they find a roomful of coffins. An unseen figure hidden in shadows attacks one of the men while the other flees in terror and upon running up some stairs an ax is buried in his head and he falls in slo-motion back down the stairs. Drawing us almost immediately into the dream like atmosphere this sequence is repeated through the opening credits while Carmelo Bernaola's organ based score eerily plays.
     Starting off proper with an opening sequence that appears in almost every other Dracula themed movie as were introduced to a group of travelers in a horse drawn coach galloping through the countryside in the area around the Borga Pass. An accident leaves them stranded in the vicinity of an abandoned sanitarium (which happens to be the former residence of Count Dracula) which was overseen by a Dr. Kargos (i.e. "Karloff-Lugosi") and who was later hung by the local villagers for conducting sadistic experiments on the inmates (where's that Naschy film ?!?). The travelers include Imre (Naschy regular "Vic Winner" aka Victor Alcazar), Senta (Rosanna Yanni THE AMAZONS along with Jess Franco's KISS ME MONSTER & TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS), Elke (Mirta Miller VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES), Karen (Haydee Politoff QUEENS OF EVIL) and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo MANIAC MANSION).
     Seeking shelter in the sanitarium the group is welcomed by the new owner Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy) who keeps it in readiness for stranded travelers (reminiscent of Hammer's DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS). Quickly getting into the spirit of things the women slip into their nightclothes and begin wandering about the premises while Irma runs into one of the delivery men from the prologue (who is now a vampire) and is instantly initiated into the coven of the undead. It's interesting to note how the man of the group is the first one bitten which follows a previous attack on the male deliveryman in the prologue and it's this that sets in motion the vampirism of the female cast with the seemingly male hero sidelined immediately.
    It's soon revealed that the kindly Dr. Marlow is Count Dracula and has in mind a highly convoluted scheme to resurrect his dead daughter Rodna "Countess Dracula".




     Naschy plays his Dracula character here much like his Waldemar Danisky alter ego - that of the sympathetic monster agonizing over lost/never to be had love while wrestling with his destiny its and attached curse(s) -and as with his werewolf Nascy portrays a much stockier and barrel chested Dracula then we're used to. Though he does have a truly evil plan here involving the sacrifices of various female victims for his sister's rebirth he also takes long walks with Karen (who he alternately sees as physical lover and a sacrifice to his daughters resurrection) while engaging in some ludicrously hilarious dialogue with her as she intones at one point "These have been the most terrible and happiest days of my life ..". The English dubbed version is a veritable goldmine of this type of priceless dialogue
     With an almost hypnotic fascination, the plot drags along ponderously at certain points with seemingly endless wandering down hallways or walks in the woods. Alternating between scenes of bizarre interludes (such as the female cast taking a morning skinny dip in the sanitarium's stone pool) along with the sight of two female vampire jumping in slo-motion to a rooftop (complete with a penny whistle on the soundtrack) along with poetic-like sequences such as the mist filled basement with the negligee clad cast gliding through its hallways or the female vampires in waist high blowing foliage stalking a victim.




      Director Agguire stages some scenes of highly charged erotic horror that make Hammer's "nudge nudge wink wink" nudity such as in in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS pale in comparison with the highlight being two female vampire eagerly feeding upon the breasts of their reclined victim. The film also features healthy dollops of blood and sadism with Naschy and his female vampire companion savagely whipping a captured women and bloody feedings by the gaggle of un dead. Naschy's Dracula fades in the background for lengths of the plot with the female trio of vampire taking center stage violently and lustfully with Rosanna Yanni's Senta putting a scythe to good use at one point.
      Part of the allure of COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE was that it was one of the few Naschy films (at least in my neck of the woods) that played regularly on television during the coming decade or so under various titles including an American theatrical branding of CEMETERY GIRLS (or TRAMPS in some cases). When the uncut version began circulating on the video market for many a folk (including me !) the full strength version was a revelation as with its bright red blood splattered about and the profusion of nudity was quite an eye opening experience as this was one of the first Spanish horror films I saw in all its glory.
      Although the uncut version in various forms has been floating around for quite a while (showing up from both Code Red/BCI and Rhino's Elvira DVD line among others) the new Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Vinegar Syndrome (containing both the original Spanish language and English dub) is an eye-opening beautiful viewing experience. An added bonus is a subtitled audio commentary from Naschy and Javier Aguirre that was originally recorded for an unreleased entry in Navarre's line of Spanish horror DVD's.









   All Above Screen Caps Are From The Vinegar Syndrome DVD 
     




2 comments:

  1. Great review of one of my favorite Paul Naschy films. Saw it first in 1985 on a local New York TV station. The new Blu-ray is fantastic!

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    1. Thanks Al ! This is one of my favorite Naschy's too. And your right - this new blu is fantastic.

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