Director: Jess Franco
Image Entertainment

Attempting to pay homage to classic Universal monster mashes of the 1940s (namely FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA), Jess Franco’s DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN can be more or less termed a monster mishmash, but an intriguing, visually rewarding one at that. It’s an outlandish, cartoonish mixture of the aforementioned motifs, combined with a cast chock-full of Franco regulars, brimming atmosphere and trance-inducing execution.

In an old-world European village which we assume is Transylvania, Dr. Jonathan Seward (Alberto Dalbes) notices the bite marks on the neck of a pretty young victim (Anne Libert), realizing that it’s the work of the undead Count Dracula (Howard Vernon). Seward visits Castle Dracula, drives a stake in the vampire's sleeping heart, and he perishes as a dried up bat lanced by a pin. Soon after, Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) and his aptly named hunchback assistant Morpho (Luis Barboo) come to town and revive the Frankenstein Monster (Fernando Bilbao) in Dracula’s castle. The Monster is then let loose to kidnap a cabaret singer (Josyane Gibert) so Frankenstein can utilize her blood to revive Drac (a real bat is bathed in a glass jar of bubbling red stuff). Under Frankenstein’s control, Dracula puts the bite on a few more victims in what is the mad doctor’s ultimate plan to create an army of otherworld beings that will be at his beckoning call.

Also known as DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (the actual on-screen title) and THE SCREAMING DEAD, DRACULA, THE PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is a very strange effort even by Franco standards, but his obvious penchant for traditional monsters and crumbling castles makes it hard to resist, even if the rest of the world likely looks upon it as a sleeping aid. A film void of much dialog, not one character speaks until almost 17 minutes into the proceedings, making it all the more surreal. With authentic locales (including the same scenic Portuguese castle seen in THE BLOODY JUDGE) that give the film a rich look, Franco’s direction is still rushed and the zoom lens is in constant full swing. The film is actually not too badly paced, but it moves from scene to scene in a hodgepodge of mounting absurdity, and it’s difficult to tell what period the film takes place in (Dr. Seward steers a horse-drawn coach while Dracula is chauffeured in a hearse), which again, only adds to the bizarre (perhaps comic?) approach.

As a mute Count Dracula, Howard Vernon is supposed to be possessed so he looks stilted in his plastic fangs, tux and facepaint. A memorable sequence has the camera close-up into his wandering bloodshot eye as he sucks on a neck, coming up for air with what resembles lipstick dashed across his mouth. Towards the end of his life and ravished by years of boozing, Dennis Price makes for a bloated and perplexed-looking Frankenstein, with all his thoughts and dialog being spoken by a narrator. It’s hard to take his performance seriously, and you can only imagine Franco giving him direction as to how to act through expression, which in his case looks disastrous on film. The Luis Barboo monster himself is a somewhat honorable attempt at a Universal square-head clone, which looks pretty good until you get a closer look at the red stitch marks drawn on his face, a chin half-falling off, and a Herman Munster flannel suit. During the final few minutes, a werewolf (played by a one-shot thesp who calls himself “Brandy”) is summoned by a gypsy to assault the castle, and his wrestling stint against the Frankenstein monster bestows us with some nostalgic moments, even if the hairy creature looks like he just stumbled off the set of “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.”

Although the film offers a handful of beautiful vixens, there is no on-screen nudity which is unusual for Franco during this period (various publicity shots from this film would dictate otherwise, but nothing of the sort has ever turned up in any known print of the film). Beautiful blonde Brit Nichols is one of the most fetching female vampires ever, but for some reason, her character seems detached from everybody else in the film, and she really isn’t in cahoots with Dracula (his bride of choice is played by the equally lovely Paca Gabaldón). The music of composer Daniel White (who appears briefly as a man giving directions at an inn) was mostly lifted from his scores for Franco’s JUSTINE and COUNT DRACULA. Price and Bilbao revised their characters for an even more outrageous follow-up, THE RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, which also featured much of the same cast.

Image Entertainment presents DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN on DVD to American audiences with a Spanish cut of the film. The transfer here is passable at best. Even though the main credits are a bit wider, the rest of the film is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It was originally shot 2.35:1 Scope, so naturally, some scenes look too tight. Colors are ok for the most part, and some scenes look a bit murky, while others look fine. The audio is a serviceable 1.0 mono Spanish language track with optional English subtitles. An English track does exist for the film, so it would have been nice if it were included, but then again there is so little dialogue in the film that it hardly matters. No other extras are included. (George R. Reis)