Javier Aguirre, 1974
Starring: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Victor Alcazar, Haydee Politoff
The creepy Dr. Wendell Marlowe purchases an old sanitarium in the Carpathian Mountains. Two delivery men take crates to his basement and break in to them, assuming they contain something valuable. They are both mysteriously killed and a man is revealed to be sleeping in one of the crates. Later, four women traveling in a coach – Karen, Senta, Marlene, and Elke – have an accident and their driver is killed. They take shelter at the sanitarium, though many of them are afraid of the decrepit castle or of Dr. Marlowe.
The innocent Karen insists they stay on longer, because she has fallen in love with the mysterious Marlowe. It turns out that he is really Count Dracula in disguise and slowly turns the other women into his vampire brides. Dracula has feelings for Karen, but wants to use her in an elaborate ritual to resurrect his undead daughter. Will he be able to go through with the sacrifice?
This film scripted by star Paul Naschy has absolutely nothing to do with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Really it’s just another excuse for Naschy to star as another of the Universal monsters – he made his name with a series of Wolfman films – and to make out with a lot of attractive actresses. With director Javier Aguirre, Naschy also made The Hunchback of the Morgue, one of his best loved films. Though this is more subdued than Hunchback, there are a couple of key moments of violence, namely a well-shot whipping scene.
Like a lot of European vampire films from the ‘70s, this is essentially a sex film and is certainly the most explicit Naschy film I’ve seen. More erotica than softcore, it is light on plot and heavy on cleavage, mild lesbianism, and makes any excuse to show blood to running down a woman’s naked throat. The most over the top scene involves two female vampires slowly, almost luxuriously feasting on a third woman. Jess Franco regular Rosanna Yanni (Kiss Me, Monster) is particularly alluring in these scenes.
The female vampires add a lot of atmosphere to the film, particularly moments where they wander through the foggy crypts in slow motion, wearing gauzy nightgowns. They perform a few convincing attacks, but are mostly dreamy, erotic creatures with some predictably silly fangs.
Naschy looks ridiculous as Dracula – he essentially just slicks his hair back and puts on a costume-store cape – and plays the same role he played in the El Hombre Lobo series: the tragic hero. As with nearly all of his films, he has trouble deciding if he wants to be the monster or the protagonist, but is not a skilled enough writer to make both compelling (think An American Werewolf in London). The idea to turn Dracula into a romantic hero has been done before, most notably in Blacula (1972), the Frank Langella Dracula (1979) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). It doesn’t work here simply because there is very little plot and the focus seems to change abruptly based on Naschy’s mood.
Another major issue is that Naschy’s Dracula often seems physically weak. He is sometimes overcome by other characters, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be King of the Vampires. He fails to seductively stalk his victims and just appears in front of them, ready to awkwardly feast on their blood. The few male vampires aside from Dracula are designed remarkably well, with beady, almost glowing eyes that would be used to such ill effect a few years later in the TV production of Salem’s Lot.
Also known as Cemetery Girls, Count Dracula’s Great Love was initially released as a double feature with the similarly slow and atmospheric Vampires Night Orgy. The former is available online and on some cheap DVDs, namely as part of Elvira’s Movie Macabre series. Fans of Eurohorror will want to check this out – particularly devotees of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco – as it has some wonderful atmosphere and some lovely visual moments, but anyone reliant on fast paced, more plot driven or coherent horror will want to avoid it. It’s not the best Naschy film, but it’s certainly not the worst.