Feeling a bit nostalgic of late, I thought we'd talk about that ever-present boogeyman in our collective consciousness, Count Dracula, but to bring a little something out of the ordinary, I wanted to talk in particular of the vision of the story from the perspective of legendary Jess Franco, as shown in his 1973 work, "Count Dracula".
Let me just start with that you simply can not beat Christoper Lee as our ubiquitous Lord of the Vampires. I know (and love) Lugosi's defining performance, thought Palance did a remarkable job, thought Langella brought an immense sensuality to the role, and Oldman's take on the character was brilliant...
..but kiddies, my humble opinion is that Mr. Lee was just born to play the Count, and this film is my submitted evidence.
Now, that said, it's obvious I've watched all of the Hammer films (and loved almost every moment of them), but have to agree with many, including Christopher Lee himself, that in most, Dracula was more or less used as a visual boogeyman; sadly reduced to merely the thing that jumps out of the closet rather than portrayed as a character with actual motivation. Stoker's novel, while problematic in places and not overt in outlining the Count's plans, subtextually gives us a feel for the character and makes us fear him for more than just his "BOO" value...and this Franco film was one of the first (maybe THE first, unless you're a purist like me and consider Murneau's "Nosferatu") to try to play Dracula as such.
The film was obviously plagued with a low budget (Spain simply looks NOTHING like London, although it does a fair job in the Transylvanian sequences), but the adaptation, while it of course takes it's liberties, is much closer to the novel than any other film attempt (Unless you count Coppola's film, but as much as I loved it, I was dismayed by the overworked "reincarnation of the love of his life" aspect; Dracula is a horror story, not a love story, unless viewed from the perspective of the love of Harker, Van Helsing, Seward, Holmwood, and Morris for Mina; if you want a vampire love story, watch "Twilight"). Lom, Kinski, and of course, Lee, turn in excellent performances, and the rest of the acting isn't horrid.
Lee's performance alone is worth the price of the flick. Dracula not only looks as he's described in the novel, growing younger as the film progresses, but his pride and menace exude throughout...just as in the book, while Dracula actually makes very few appearances, his presence is felt in every frame. The Count is frightening not simply for the red eyes and bloody fangs; he FEELS evil as you watch. You can tell that what's going on in his mind isn't a pleasant plan for us lowly humans. It's quite obvious Lee had a great deal of passion in this portrayal, and I'm thankful to have been able to see him play the character as he always wished to.
All in all, I would recommend this film to any fan of classic horror films, and especially to Dracula fans...just keep in mind that this one succeeds with story and acting rather than a big budget.