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Retro Review: COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (1973)

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COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE
aka DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE
aka CEMETERY GIRLS
(Spain - 1973; US release 1974)


Directed by Javier Aguirre. Written by Jacinto Molina, Alberto S. Insua and Javier Aguirre. Cast: Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina), Rosanna Yanni, Haydee Politoff, Mirta Miller, Vic Winner (Victor Alcazar), Ingrid Garbo, Jose Manuel Martin, Alvaro De Luna. (R, 83 mins)

Though he's best known for his "El Hombre Lobo" series of werewolf movies, Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy probably had his finest hour with 1973's COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE. Naschy (1934-2009) wrote most of his own films under his real name, Jacinto Molina, and was heavily influenced by the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. Starting with 1968's LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, released in the US under the misleading title FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR, Naschy played werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in several stand-alone films over the next 35 years, including the monsters vs. aliens mash-up ASSIGNMENT: TERROR (1970), DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN (1972), and the Daninsky-meets-Elizabeth Bathory outing THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1980), which actually played US theaters in 1985 under the title THE CRAVING. Naschy dabbled in various genres--action, espionage, western--but will always be associated with his run of horror films in the 1970s, like HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972), HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1972), THE MUMMY'S REVENGE (1973), VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1974), the giallo-inspired THE BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL, aka HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN (1974), and the EXORCIST ripoff EXORCISM (1975). Naschy only played Dracula once, but COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE, co-written by the actor and directed by Javier Aguirre, is a minor masterpiece and considered by most Naschy fans as his crowning achievement.






After their coach crashes and the driver is killed, five passengers--Imre (Vic Winner), Marlene (Ingrid Garbo), Senta (Rosanna Yanni), Karen (Haydee Politoff), and Elke (Mirta Miller)--find refuge at an isolated sanitarium owned by Dr. Wendell Marlowe (Naschy). It's not long before we learn that Marlowe is really a new incarnation of Dracula, who can assume the form of whomever his spirit is possessing. While Dracula and an undead handyman put the bite on the guests, Dracula's goal is reviving his dead daughter with the blood of a virgin. However, he seems to be working at cross purposes when he seduces Senta, but soon realizes he loves the pure Karen, which makes Dracula question his entire existence. Atmospheric, stylish, creepy, and erotic (save for a shot of Naschy's hairy, thrusting ass), it's easy to write off COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE as trashy exploitation, which is probably how it played in its shortened US grindhouse version, accompanied by a poster featuring the tag line "She's the kind of girl you can sink your teeth into." But there's a legitimately artistic fever dream at work here, with haunting imagery and a disorienting, trance-like feel that brings to mind the best of Jean Rollin or Jess Franco in VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD mode, when he could keep the camera in focus and not fixate on constant unkempt crotch zooms. The appearances of Dracula's vampirized victims, sporting the creepiest contact lenses you'll ever see, are chilling in a way that prefigures the terrifying appearance of an undead Ralphie Glick at the window in SALEM'S LOT. Even the scenes where Dracula speaks--via a reverberating voice over, with his mouth never actually opening--are unnerving when they really shouldn't be anything but cheesy.







After being hacked down to 72 minutes for its 1974 US release, followed by years of public domain DVD editions and a Shout Factory edition of its inferior image quality "Elvira's Movie Macabre" TV airing (complete with the standard Elvira cut-ins), COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE has finally been given a proper presentation courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome's recent Blu-ray release. Running 83 minutes, it looks better than ever and contains a Naschy commentary intended for a shelved BCI/Eclipse DVD release from a decade ago. It's a surreal, melancholy work that's easy to lump in with other erotic and gory takes on classic horror that were popular at the time (Hammer's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, the Roger Corman-produced THE VELVET VAMPIRE, the Italian LADY FRANKENSTEIN, and the Andy Warhol productions FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA), and was never handled well by any distributor, including a 1979 drive-in re-release by the mob-connected Motion Picture Marketing as CEMETERY GIRLS ("Crazed women desperate for satisfaction"). However, COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE finally gets the respect it deserves from Vinegar Syndrome. It's a surreal experience (starting with the insane repeated stairway roll in the opening credits), melancholy and mournful in tone, that really stands on its own and remains one of the strangest and most unusual Dracula films of its time.






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