I’ve never been big on Dracula or vampires, in general. I’m all for women with heaving bosoms coming under the thrall of a vampire, and the scenes of “consummation” can be a lot of fun. Back in the day, I loved watching the Hammer Dracula films on television on a Saturday afternoon, because they were so different from the staid portrayals of vampires up until then (but, hey, isn’t that why Hammer became so popular to begin with?). I still love Horror of Dracula, largely because of that absolutely kickass ending, and some of the later Hammer films, when they incorporated Satanism into the mix, are a joy, as well. The 1931 versions of Dracula (Spanish and English language versions) are great stuff (the former especially elides the cumbersome elements of Browning’s take, and it doesn’t hurt any that Lupita Tovar is absolutely ravishing). That said, the romance angle that so many films hang their coats on does nothing at all for me. Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula bores me to tears, this despite some fantastic effects work (all done practical and very, very old school). I’ve never wanted to watch John Badham’s Dracula with Frank Langella even a little, and stuff like Twilight are as far away from the mark for me as you can get. Give me Nosferatu (1922 or 1979; I’m not picky), or Near Dark, or Martin, or Shadow of the Vampire, anything with either something to dwell on intellectually or respond to viscerally (sure, sex can be considered visceral, but I like monsters, and blood and sex is more interesting to me than sex and sex). Aren’t you glad I didn’t say, “give me something with some bite?” Javier Aguirre’s Count Dracula’s Great Love (aka Cemetery Girls aka Dracula’s Virgin Lovers aka El Gran Amor Del Conde Dracula) gives me so much of what I want, but still flubs it.
A carriage carrying Imre (Victor Alcazar), his secret love Marlene (Ingrid Garbo), and three other chicks, Karen (Haydee Politoff), Senta (Rosanna Yanni), and Elke (Mirta Miller), throws a wheel in the middle of the Burgo Pass. Seeking shelter for the night, and since the coachmen is dead from an ill-timed horse hoof to the head, the gang make it to the old sanitorium, where they are taken in by Dr. Marlow (Paul Naschy). From there it isn’t long before the blood and boobs start flowing.
I have a weakness for many of Naschy’s films, because, like the man himself, I have a weakness for the classic Universal monster movies. His Waldemar Daninsky character is a true member of the lycanthrope hall of fame, though my all-time favorite film of his (and Aguirre’s) is The Hunchback of the Morgue (reviewed previously on this site). He loves his monster mashes, and he’s not afraid to tackle multiple characters in a film (witness: Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf). He even managed to inject some life (man, the puns are flowing tonight) into the Mummy (The Mummy’s Revenge). Naschy was fantastic at playing the physicality of monsters, incorporating his background as a bodybuilder to give his performances a kinetic energy. His films have a concrete atmosphere that plays with the gothic trappings of the classics of the Thirties through the Fifties.
It is entirely possible that Naschy’s Dracula could have been all the things I look for in a vampire film. The problem is that the movie follows its dopey, half-baked love story to the point of schmaltzy sentimentalism. The film does have some fine moments for any exploitation/horror fan. The actresses are all willing to get naked. There is enough blood to make things pop here and there, and it’s often intermingled with female flesh. Naschy gets to tussle with other men often, showcasing his Shatner-ian slugfest skills. The male vampire makeups include these great contact lenses that really give the monsters an otherworldly, creepy mien. There is just enough sadism to please fans of whippings, and some sleazy moments are mixed in with them (the lady vampires suck the blood from the wounds incurred during a lashing). There are even some “what the fuck?!” elements, such as the knife sticking through a character’s throat like Steve Martin’s old arrow-through-the-head bit.
That said, the filmmakers are infinitely more interested in the love between Dracula and Karen, and even that they get wrong. Much ado is made about how the only way for Dracula to regain all of his powers and resurrect his daughter Rodna (yes, Rodna) is for a virgin to fall in love with him of her own free will. Now, you may recognize this plot device, as it’s the exact same one used in every one of Naschy’s Daninsky films, and it’s handled in the exact same way (as is the film’s structure). The women in these films fall in love at the drop of a hat, all for the sake of the tragic endings these movies have to have, and it feels like it. Karen is not only no different from any other Naschy heroine (and I really hesitate to use that term to describe them) in this respect, but the boundaries of just how much love can forgive is stretched past breaking. After giving of herself physically and emotionally to the Count, he promptly cuts Karen open as part of Rodna’s resurrection ceremony. Then he throws her into a cell for what must be a couple of months (he keeps having to inexplicably wait for another full moon to complete the next step of his little ritual), where she sleeps on a straw bed and shouts for help. During all this time, he keeps begging her to love him (I’m confused; didn’t she already say that she did?).
Before the “finale,” Dracula and his lady vamps bounce around the countryside, attacking peasants, thither and yon (these sequences are actually entertaining, and had there been more of this, the film probably wouldn’t stink as bad as it does), and Dracula continues to pontificate about this, that, and the other thing and plead with Karen, who remains as emotionless here as she does in the rest of the picture. The filmmakers then give up on any semblance of reason or narrative in one of the most anticlimactic endings you’re likely to see. There are so many “WHY?!” instances in the film, it really deflates the bits that work well (because they do work so well). I can’t say I recommend Count Dracula’s Great Love, but goddamn it, I want to.
MVT: The elements that deal with the more graphic aspects of the story, both red and pink.
Make or Break: Dracula’s monologue in the third act, that seems to go on for over twenty minutes and not make a lick of sense.