Directors: Javier Aquirre, by Cirio H. Santiago

As part of its new “Exploitation Cinema” double feature line (formerly known as “Welcome to the Grindhouse), BCI is presenting COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE under CEMETERY GIRLS (used for a late 1970s drive-in re-release). Although the cover presents it under the forgettable latter title, all else (the DVD’s menus and the film print itself) is rightfully identified as COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE, here presented in its uncut R-Rated form in a widescreen version that’s a vast improvement over what’s previously been available.

One of the most interesting directors to work with Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy was Javier Aquirre. Together they made EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) and EL JORBADO DE LA MORGUE (THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE), both of which many fans consider to be the actor's best work. The idea of having Naschy play Dracula seems ludicrous, but somehow with the help of a few nice added attractions, it all works rather well.

Two scoundrels (one whose dubbed voice sounds amazingly like Mel Blanc) deliver a coffin to a smoke filled ex-sanitarium. After foolishly wandering around for items to steal, they encounter what appears to be the Count. One is given the ax in the head and the other is turned into an ugly imbecile vampire. Later, Imre (macho man Vic Winner) arrives with a bevy of beauties (Haydee Politoff, Rossana Yanni, Ingrid Garbo, and Mirta Miller), when their carriage breaks down. They are greeted by one Dr. Wendell (Naschy), who is really Dracula in disguise. For most of the first half, Wendell appears to be the hero, as the vampirizing of the guests is commenced by the imbecile scoundrel (José Manuel Martín) . After combing his hair back, sporting some fangs, and donning a black cape complete with red lining, he is revealed to be Dracula (made up to look like Christopher Lee), and has designs on reviving his long dead daughter. To do this, he must find true love and almost succeeds (with Politoff), but she refuses his wishes and he resolves to suicide.

Aquirre's vampire film is filled with enticing eroticism that pads out the film to good effect. Like Leon Klimovsky's vampire endeavors, it's a sex film, and is openly content with the fact. There are lesbian vampires who slowly caress and seduce each other and attack their victims with a grin of gratified lust (the scene where two vampire women feast on Rossana Yanni is particularly outrageous). Less impressive, but somewhat amusing is Naschy's Dracula. His awkward-looking Wendell is later redeemed by his tolerable vampire persona. Dracula's role is not all that demanding, as he hardly ever uses his mouth to speak (most of his words are heard as narration interpreted as thoughts). Dracula is essentially limited to these thoughts, as well as acts of sex and sadism, but two of his scenes stand out; Dracula embracing his lover, casting only her passionate reflection in the mirror, and the close-up of tears on Dracula's face as he departs with his dead daughter. On the whole, Aquirre's sole vampire contribution is a credit to the genre, yet it is highly underrated within its confines.

There have been several DVD releases of COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE, all of them using the same dark, cropped 16mm transfer originally released on VHS by mail order seller Sinister Cinema. While not nearly as good as the HD transfers in BCI’s “Spanish Horror Collection,” DRACULA is here presented 1.78:1 anamorphic. The film was shot hard matted (in-the-camera letterboxing) with an intended 1.85:1 ratio, so framing looks pretty much dead-on throughout, and compositions are vastly improved over the full screen version. The 35mm print source is in pretty good shape, with a few lines and markings, but nothing too drastic. Colors hold up well for the most part, as does the bright picture detail; this is inconsistent though, since some shots appear washed out or tend to bleed, but it’s still the best the film has ever looked on home video. It’s the complete “unclothed” version of the film, though for some strange reason, a brief, steamy love scene between Naschy and Yanni appears in black & white and is tinted purple-ish! The mono English audio is in pretty good shape, but at around the 15-minute mark, the dialog goes out of sync – a minor problem that lasts a little under three minutes.

The second feature here is VAMPIRE HOOKERS, which ironically was also released as CEMETERY GIRLS at one point. Shot in the Philippines, it concerns American sailor friends Tom Buckley (Bruce Fairbairn) and Terry Wayne (Trey Wilson) looking for excitement during a shore leave. After fleeing a disco full of transvestites and two would-be alley muggers, a smooth-talking cabbie (Leo Martinez) takes them to a cemetery where a beautiful prostitute called Cherish (Karen Stride) resides. Little do the sailors know that Cherish is a vampire who recently killed their superior officer. In the cemetery is a lavish crypt where head vampire Richmond Reed (John Carradine) drinks blood cocktails with Cherish and two other lovely bloodsuckers (Lenka Novak and Katie Dolan). The sailors are able to escape death when daylight approaches, but no one back at the military base believes their chance encounter with the undead. Tom later makes his way back to the crypt and gets the ultimate in satisfaction when the vampiric female trio decides to act human for one night and conduct an orgy with him as the star.

A cheap and crude horror comedy, VAMPIRE HOOKERS was directed by Cirio H. Santiago, the man who gave us endless exploitation action flicks and continues to work to this day. With its nonexistent plot, bad sight gags and relentless toilet humor, VAMPIRE HOOKERS can hardly sustain 78 minutes and is only watchable for those who appreciate enduring really bad movies, especially really bad movies with John Carradine, and we know how many of those exist. This is the umpteenth time the 72-year-old Carradine played a vampire (but during this period, relegated to films such as this one and the Disco nonsense of NOCTURNA), and here he’s garbed in a white suit, quoting poetry through his plastic fangs as his painfully arthritic hands are in full view. No Pilipino exploitation film is complete without Vic Diaz, so he’s on hand as Carradine’s idiotic, flabby sidekick Pava, frustrated that he’s not a vampire and constantly cutting loud farts (the fumes from them are so appalling, he has to breathe through a plastic tube when he sleeps). Bruce Fairbairn and Trey Wilson stumble around like some kind of fourth rate “Hope and Crosby”, and the orgy scene, showcasing all three beauties in various states of nakedness, is boring and badly edited. The blonde and buxom Lenka Novak (a onetime Playboy playmate) is great eye candy, but she deadpans some of worst jokes here (“I’m sick of these Bloody Marys”), none of which are any the bit funny.

Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer with anamorphic enhancement, VAMPIRE HOOKERS looks pretty good for such a shoddy production. The print source appears to be in decent shape, and colors are stable, if not anything to write home about. Detail is okay, though some scenes tend to be too dark. The mono audio (featuring a lot of looped-in dialog) doesn’t have any major flaws. This “Exploitation Cinema” release gives you the option of watching each film separately, or as one big double bill, complete with trailers (BLOOD MANIA, WILD REBELS, ANGELS DIE HARD, HELL ON WHEELS, CHAIN GANG WOMEN and THE VELVET VAMPIRE/SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER) and at least one vintage concession stand commercial. The 3-D menu is really cool, showcasing a typical grindhouse theater lobby (complete with a rat scavenging across the floor). (George R. Reis)