Lawyer Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) arrives in Eastern Europe seeking to assist a local nobleman, one Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), with finding a property in London as he is planning to move abroad. But when he mentions where he is heading to a fellow traveller, the reaction he receives is troubling, and that continues when he reaches the inn near Dracula's castle: the innkeeper treats him as if he were a doomed soul, and his wife stops Harker on the stairs that night to tell him that as tonight is St. George's night, he would be deeply unwise to head off to that place...
We know very well why that is, but the locals are oddly reluctant to offer any more advice, possibly because they want rid of the Count from their neighbourhood pronto, though that doesn't quite explain why they're on the brink of warning Harker away from the territory once and for all. But this was a Jess Franco film, and you had to expect some degree of illogicality even if producer Harry Alan Towers made the claim this verson was the most faithful to Bram Stoker's original to date (it's not as if many were going to check in 1970 whether this was indeed the case). For a while, it looked as if Towers had a point, but then the stuffed animals arrived.
Actually before that there were deviations from the text, but there was a lot here which represented a conscious attempt to stick to the classic horror novel, it was just that the money to make a lavishly mounted version as it really needed was lacking. This left a sparse appearance, poor special effects and a strange, remote atmosphere which lacked the full-blooded passion such a tale required, but for Franco fans demonstrated his own particular way with a chiller yarn. Meaning his roving camera was to the fore, zooming into faces, panning across rooms, getting distracted by something halfway through a scene, and generally doing little to hide the lack of budget which seemed mostly to have gone on securing the cast.
Lee famously said he was only interested in returning to the role which made him famous if it was entirely drawn from Stoker, but the results were not really much better than the Hammer he made around the same time, Scars of Dracula, if in a more Continental style. Certainly it was a coup to get his services in the middle of Hammer outings in this part, but in effect it couldn't avoid the way that in the novel, the Count doesn't actually have the starring role in spite of being the character the rest are talking about from page one to the grand finale. Other places where Franco and Towers got it right were in the talent they found for Renfield, the insect-eating maniac who has a connection with the vampire, and Van Helsing, the elderly professor who knows all too well the way to scupper the Count's plans.
Klaus Kinski was Renfield, and by some accounts was so into his character that he actually ate flies on camera, and that is the way it appeared: you couldn't have asked for a better fit, even though he never speaks a word so Stoker's great dialogue for the lunatic was missing. As for Van Helsing, Herbert Lom did well to offer the production much-needed dignity when Lee, with whom he never shared a scene, was not onscreen, and if Maria Rohm, wife of Towers, and Soledad Miranda, then-partner of Franco (although soon to be tragically killed), were not too surprising additions to the cast as Mina and Lucy respectively, they did loosely look the part despite being underused, and perhaps miscast anyway. If you were a stickler for detail, then this might prove frustrating when it gets so close to the original then either cannot present itself with the necessary aplomb, or goes off the rails when Franco opted for his own "improvements". It had that atmosphere peculiar to his productions, but was a rather anaemic in effect. Music by Bruno Nicolai, heavy on the zither.
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.