COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE (El gran amor del conde Drácula) not only delivers one of Paul Naschy’s (aka Jacinto Molina) more significant monster rolls, but it’s also one of the most enjoyable Spanish horror films, getting much exposure in the U.S. Shot in 1972 and first released here theatrically by International Amusements Corp. in 1974 (on a double bill with Leon Klimovsky’s THE VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY) it then became a late-night TV staple in a heavily edited version. Due to the film’s assumed PD status, a number of VHS and DVD releases followed steadily throughout the years, with Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo being the one everyone’s been waiting for.
One of the most interesting directors to work with Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy was Javier Aguirre. Together they made EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) and the outrageous 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 the not-so-tall 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 on the English track sounds amazingly like Mel Blanc) deliver a coffin to a smoke filled ex-sanitarium/castle. 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, A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL) arrives with a bevy of beauties—Karen (Haydee Politoff, THE COLLECTOR), Senta (Rossana Yanni, THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE), Marlene (Ingrid Garbo, MANIAC MANSION) and Elke (Mirta Miller, VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES)—when their carriage breaks down and their driver is accidentally killed. They are greeted by one Dr. Wendell Marlow (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, CUT-THROATS NINE) . 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, particularly how he appeared in SCARS OF DRACULA, with a high level of sadism to match), and has designs on reviving his long dead daughter. To do this, he must find true love and almost succeeds (with Karen), but she refuses his wishes and he resolves to suicide.
Aquirre's vampire film is filled with enticing eroticism that pads out the running time 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. As Naschy also wrote the story (using his real name, Jacinto Molina), his Wendell/Dracula character is irresistible to women and ironically, shortly after Karen (Politoff) meets him she proclaims “I like my men slimmer and taller” after Senta (Yanni) declares her great attraction to him (both ladies end up bedding him and falling in love). On the whole, Aguirre'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, most of them using the same dark, cropped 16mm transfer originally released on VHS by mail order seller Sinister Cinema (a 1980s Gorgon/MPI VHS release actually utilized a cut TV print). Using a somewhat superior film source, BCI/Eclipse last released COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE on DVD in 2009 (on a double feature with VAMPIRE HOOKERS) under the CEMETERY GIRLS title used for a late 1970s drive-in re-release, and although it was the fully uncut R-rated version, it suffered from several flaws (the dialogue went out of sync for several minutes and a steamy love scene between Naschy and Yanni appeared in black & white and was tinted purple-ish).
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray transfer of COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE is cause to celebrate and is as definitive as it gets. Presented in an AVC encoded 1080p HD transfer taken from a 2k scan of the original 35mm internegative (of the uncut “unclothed” R-rated version), the film is finally presented on domestic home video in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Needless to say, compositions are now correctly framed, with the fantastic picture quality bringing the film’s aesthetic value to a level that can now be fully appreciated. With strong, organic grain structure, the transfer has bold colors, natural-looking skin tones and deep black levels. The overall clean image has excellent detail, so the numerous night-time scenes (or should we say, “day for night” scene) look scrumptious. The audio is provided with two different tracks: English DTS-HD Mono and Spanish Dolby Digital Mono with two different English and Spanish subtitle options for both tracks. The familiar English track is strong, with clear dialogue and Carmelo A. Bernaola’s repetitive yet hypnotizing score also coming through nicely. The Spanish language track also sounds fine, though it's in rougher shape than the English track (it joggles back to English on several brief occasions, perhaps due to bits missing due to Spanish censorship) but both tracks are post-synced (so don’t think you’re hearing Naschy’s real voice on the Spanish one). A DVD is included and is identical in content.
Included is an audio commentary with the late Paul Naschy and director Aguirre originally recorded some years ago for a BCI Special Edition DVD that never materialized. Conducted in Spanish without a moderator and including optional English subtitles, Naschy and Aguirre show their admiration for the film during the entire talk, with good reason. Naschy states how he wrote the Dracula character to have a human side (pointing out how he frees a trapped rabbit rather than sucking its blood) and a weakness (in this case, love) and how other Dracula films to follow (including Coppola’s version 20 years later) also utilized this concept. There’s not much in the way of precise anecdotes, but when the film’s actresses are touched upon, both men agree how beautiful they all were. Aguirre’s techniques, the film’s locations and the gothic elements are also discussed, and on several occasions, they mention that “clothed” scenes were shot to substitute nudity in the tamer Spanish cut of the movie. This is definitely a worthwhile listen, and it’s fun to hear Naschy make such scene descriptions as, “shamelessly erotic and brazenly lesbian”. A video interview with Mirta Miller (8:22) has the actress talking about starting out as a model in the late 1960s, her early film career and filming COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE. She tells of how very cold it was on the film’s set and the laughing attacks that were had while shooting it (“It was fabulous. All the actors were my friends”). She calls Aguirre a detailed director (in comparison to Leon Klimovsky) and describes her smoking death scene, her fear of horses and that the actors didn’t like getting into their coffins (thinking it was bad luck). Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, the original international theatrical trailer and an insert booklet containing liner notes by Spanish horror expert Mirek Lipinski (the cover is also reversible, showcasing alternate poster art on the opposite side). Highly recommended (no, essential!). (George R. Reis)
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