Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, sociological*

**SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*****


In its era THE DUNWICH HORROR was the most faithful adaptation of a Lovecraft "Cthulhu mythos" work, and it still outstrips most of those now in existence. Aside from one problematic acting-performance, seen above, DUNWICH captures much of the appeal of the great author's themes.

To be sure, there are some major changes. H.P. Lovecraft almost never allowed any form of romance to appear in his stories, while sexuality generally manifested in displaced forms.  The prose original, though, does indirectly involve sexual congress, since it eventually comes out that the otherworldly being Yog-Sothoth has spawned not one but two entities from a human mother. So in this case it's not surprising that the script for the cinematic DUNWICH plays up the 1970's version of ilicit license, in the form of hallucinatory pagan dream-orgies.

Romance is not present in the original story, wherein a foul-seeming young man, Wilbur Whateley, seeks to get a copy of an occult tome, the Necronomicon, and is killed before he can perform any rituals, though his alien "brother" escapes to create havoc. Since a commercial film needs more audience-involvement than was necessary for Lovecraft's type of story, DUNWICH creates a young female college-student, Nancy (Sandra Dee), and has her become interested in the young, rather stone-faced Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) when he comes to her college's library on his evil-book hunt. It's a little hard to buy Nancy's fascination with Wilbur, since he displays no ingratiating charms and projects the febrile intensity of a serial killer. Perhaps director Daniel Haller and/or actor Stockwell decides that this was the best way to communicate Wilbur's disengagement from the emotions of ordinary humanity, but the approach sabotages the credibility of Nancy's behavior. It's been suggested that Nancy is under Wilbur's hypnotic control as she makes herself increasingly available to the obsessed bibliophile, but I was never convinced that she was entranced, perhaps because Sandra Dee plays the part as if she's genuinely intrigued.

Fortunately for humanity, one of Nancy's teachers is Dr. Armitage (Ed Begley).  Armitage not only prevents Wilbur from getting access to the book, he and a student named Elizabeth follow Nancy to the Whateley farm in rural Massachusetts, here they encounter Wilbur's grandfather (Sam Jaffe).  When they are unable to draw Nancy away, Armitage begins investigating the reputation of the Whateleys, and learns that Wilbur's father was lynched for attempting a demonic ritual. They also meet Wilbur's mother Lavinia, now confined to an asylum.

While Armitage is busy with research, Elizabeth trespasses on the Whateley house looking for Nancy, and finds the "brother" instead. The creature, represented as a sort of dazzling light-show that human sight cannot resolve, kills her and gets loose. In a rather strange side-plot, the grandfather is killed afterward in a fall, and Wilbur takes time out from his occult plot to attempt burying his relation in the local graveyard, inciting more antipathy from the locals.  The conflict comes to a head as Whateley almost completes a forbidden ritual in what looks like the Massachusetts version of Stonehenge, but Armitage interferes and uses his own occult knowledge to counter the ritual, dooming Wilbur and sealing Yog-Sothoth back in his own dimension. In the final coda, however, it's revealed that at some point Wilbur got the chance to impregnate Nancy, and that the Whateley line will go on.

Plot and characterization are only fair here: the real attraction are the visuals of director Haller, who made his fame providing art direction for most of Roger Corman's Poe pictures.  Unfortunately DUNWICH did not lead to greater prominence for Haller, who, like Sandra Dee, spent the rest of the 1970s in television projects. Ed Begley died shortly after DUNWICH, and of the stars only Dean Stockwell seemed to prosper in later years, though he just about ruins the film at the climax, braying "Yog-Sothoth!" at the top of his voice, when a subtler, more modulated approach might have communicated more of a creepy otherworldy resonance.

Monday, October 27, 2014

DONOVAN'S BRAIN (1953)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*


Coincidentally, I just recently remarked on the indebtedness of THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT  to both the brain-transplant films of early horror and Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MISTER HYDE. Now by coincidence a local channel re-showed DONOVAN'S BRAIN, one of those early brain-films-- albeit not one dealing with a transplant-- and that film's script even briefly references Jekyll and Hyde!

I've never read the original Curt Siodmak novel. Allegedly Siodmak liked none of the movie-adaptations of his work, but based on Wikipedia descriptions, this one sounds pretty close to the original. The 1953 film's direction and screenplay were both courtesy of Felix E. Feist, who does an efficient but unremarkable job with the story.  A plane crashes in the vicinity of the home of Doctor Patrick Cory and his wife Janice, and they manage to pull from the wreckage the dying body of wealthy financier W.H. Donovan. Cory, aided by his colleague Dr. Schratt, removes the brain from Donovan's body in order to study it, even though Schratt protests that this bit of "brain robbery" could land them both in jail.

Soon Cory's hubris catches up with him: the brain not only survives being removed from its body, it develops telepathic powers and begins using Cory as its catspaw. Cory begins mimicking the habits and attitude of the corrupt financier, and becomes Donovan's mouthpiece in continuing shady deals with the rich and powerful.  But the brain's control lapses occasionally, and in one of Cory's periods of clarity, he conspires with Schratt and his wife to destroy the cerebral horror.

One interesting aspect of BRAIN is that while it doesn't include a sustained discussion of the topics of God and science, it doesn't entirely take the standard mad-scientist POV that the scientist shouldn't trespass on the dictates of heaven. When Schratt initially protests that removing the brain goes against God, Cory replies that the scientist's skills are the creation of God like everything else. The big finish, in which the brain is destroyed by lightning, is surely meant to conjure with the notion of God striking down evildoers (as well as being one major difference from the novel, whose described conclusion includes no lightning). Yet the only reason "God" can take this action is because Cory reroutes his home's lightning rod so that it will electrocute the brain if all else fails.

The most interesting thing about the film is that though its story is probably distantly derived from the Stevenson classic, Cory does not suffer annihilation for his hubris, unlike both Doctor Jekyll and the majority of 1950s SF-scientists.  Cory and his wife go through a lot, but they survive unscathed, and even Schratt, after being forced to shoot himself by the brain's mental commands, lives through the ordeal.  Only a nasty blackmailing reporter is killed during the reign of Donovan's brain, and certainly the audience isn't likely to weep for him.

The film lacks the more inspired dialogue of the best 1950s SF-films, but it does have one risible line at the climax, when the brain-possessed Cory grabs hold of Janice and tells her, "Look at my brain, my dear-- your last look--!"

Saturday, October 25, 2014

THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*


I had not watched TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT in twenty (maybe more) years. My only memory of that experience was that TRANSPLANT was nothing but forgettable trash.

I won't exactly say that the many years of slogging through bad movies made TRANSPLANT any better than it was. It's still pretty lackluster work. Its writers and its director, one Anthony Lanza, didn't really go the extra distance to engage with their ludicrous premise. But if one is in the "bad movie" spirit, TRANSPLANT may at least hold your interest, even without a payoff on the level of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, or even 1970's BIGFOOT, on which Lanza worked as an assistant director.

The justification of Doctor Girard (Bruce Dern) for wanting to create two-headed creatures-- beginning with various animals, and graduating to a human being-- is no better or worse than the rationales provided by the brain-swapping flicks of the 1940s, not least the recently reviewed MONSTER AND THE GIRL.  As Girard tells his older assistant Max, the idea is to be able to graft a healthy noggin onto a body whose regular head has contracted brain cancer. Girard, surprisingly, has no special Frankenstein-like quirks, no desire to seek revenge on anyone for not realizing his genius-- though the viewer gets a little of that from Max, who was forced to quite the practice of medicine due to deterioration of his motor skills.

Others reside at Girard's rustic country house/laboratory-- his pretty blonde wife Linda (Pat Priest), the caretaker for the property, and the caretaker's adult son Danny (John Bloom), a huge hulk who became mentally damaged in a mine accident.  In keeping with the archetype of the "gentle giant," Danny has a childlike affection for Linda. Linda also receives a visit from former beau Ken (Casey Kasem). He serves little purpose beyond being available as Linda's "consolation prize" when her over-ambitious husband comes to grief, also a common motif in such 1940s flicks as THE MAD GHOUL.

At the same time Girard and Max are creating two-headed snakes, dogs, and so on, a sex-obsessed madman named Cass escapes a police dragnet.  Cass happens onto Girard's house, shoots the caretaker, ties up Girard, and abducts Linda with the intent of finding a good hideaway in order to enjoy himself.  Max comes to Linda's rescue, shooting Cass dead with a rifle.

It's also Max who puts into Girard's head the idea of taking the next experimental step.  Max argues that Danny, reduced to confused mourning by his father's death, is as good as dead, so why not try transplanting the head of the murderer to Danny's hulking form?

As easily as falling off a log, the two mostly-mad scientists create their unholy merger. In a bit of psychological parallelism that the film doesn't explore adequately, Cass's consciousness survives and dominates Danny's mind, not unlike the manner in which Max wields a subtle influence over Girard.  And soon the Two-Headed Transplant is on the loose, killing whatever victims come to hand.  The highlight of the creature's murder spree is an encounter in which Old Double-Dome has a fight with a biker, despite the latter's advantage of being mounted on his cycle and wielding a bike-chain.  This little scene makes all the sense in the world when one knows that Lanza and two of TRANSPLANT's writers collaborated on 1967's biker-flick THE GLORY STOMPERS.

I can't say that TRANSPLANT is ever anything but predictable, but since Lanza had ample experience as a film editor, the film's visuals are at least efficient.  John Bloom tries hard as Danny, but though the role isn't that demanding he just doesn't have the mojo to convey much pathos as the "weak brother" in the enhanced body. Albert Cole as Cass is just a bad over-actor, failing to convey the necessary menace that would have improved even a "so bad it's good" film. Dern, Priest and Kasem are no more than adequate, bringing nothing special to their parts.  The conclusion does include one "full-circle" moment in that the Transplant seeks to hide in the same mine where Danny was injured, but even here the pathos of Danny's fear is conjured more by the situation than Bloom's talent.  And though the "two heads" might be considered a variation on the theme of the "Jekyll and Hyde" split-personality, the two minds of the monster remain so separated that there's not much psychological interest here.

About a year later, director Lee Frost collaborated with one of TRANSPLANT's three writers on THE THING WITH TWO HEADS. It was not any subtler than its predecessor, but it showed a much better grasp of how to get some fun out of a silly idea.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

PROJECT SHADOWCHASER I-III (1992, 1994, 1995)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: (1) adventure* (2) *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological*


I had seen PROJECT SHADOWCHASER III years ago on cable, and for many years had no idea what the other installments were like. YouTube gave me the chance to find out.

The opening film from 1992 is essentially "Die Hard with a Killer Android."  In a near-future setting some terrorists break into a government installation. There they find and liberate an intelligent android being kept on ice. The android, name of Romulus (Frank Zagarino), takes over the gang, and they invade a high-rise hospital in order to kidnap the daughter of the president.  More or less by accident, the authorities also unleash a convict from cryo-sleep, name of DaSilva (Martin Kove). To keep his freedom DaSilva braves the high-rise and begins knocking off terrorists in the approved John McClane manner, with a little help from the aforesaid daughter (Meg Foster). It's a tolerably executed cheesy action-flick with decent direction from Jon Eyres, also the director on the other two in the official series.



Next up is 1994's SHADOWCHASER II, aka NIGHT SIEGE. Although Romulus appears to be destroyed at the end of the 1992 film, again an android-- this time without a name, but identical in appearance and again played by Zagarino-- recruits a bunch of terrorists. With this gang he proceeds to take over a nuclear plant, apparently in the hope of triggering armageddon. This time the tough McClane-clone is Frank (Bryan Genesse), a janitor at the nuclear facility, who for no clear reason is a master of the martial arts.  Of the three films, this one puts forth the best hard-hitting fight-scenes, particularly a face-off between Unnamed Android and Forgettable Janitor-Hero at the conclusion.  Female lead Beth Toussaint is both a physicist at the plant and a working mom, so of course her young boy arrives during the chaos in order to up the tension a bit.




PROJECT SHADOWCHASER III, however, has even less to do with the earlier two Eyres films than they do with each other. Number Three jumps forward to an era in which mankind is now exploring space on a regular basis. Our viewpoint characters are a motley crew aboard a communications station orbiting Mars, all of whom are just minding their own business, shooting the shit and complaining about work. Then an ore-mining spacecraft suddenly careens into their vicinity. The crew manages to steer clear of the onrushing spaceship-- until it turns around and deliberately runs into them.  The protagonists soon learn that the ship's original crew has been killed by a berserk, again nameless android (Zagarino), who then begins stalking the comm-station crew as well. For absolutely no reason, the android can assume the appearance of anyone he sees-- which means that, in essence, Eyres and his scripter decided to borrow not from one movie, but two: the original ALIEN and 1982's THE THING.

Ironically, though Eyres' handling of the larger ensemble of actors and the low-budget ALIEN-derived setting is quite skillful, Number Three is the least enjoyable of the series.  The actors are skilled but their characters are all cookie-cutter types, and whatever charisma Zagarino displayed in the earlier films is mitigated by all the shapechanging.

Given that dozens of DIE HARD imitations appeared during the nineties without birthing sequels, I speculate that Zagarino's lean muscular bod is the main reason the first film managed to spawn two more entries.  It's interesting that while Zagarino doesn't look anything like Alexander Godunov, who played the long-haired blonde crook in DIE HARD...




...it might be that Zagarino's essaying of yet another "blonde muscleman" sparked in video-viewers some enthusiasm for this particular DIE HARD knockoff. But as I say, it's pure speculation on my part.

Since the android in the third movie doesn't have any decent opposition, that and its copying of ALIEN relegate it to subcombative status.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

ANNIE (1982), LITTLE RITA OF THE WEST (1967)



PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2)  *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*


I haven't reviewed many musicals on this blog, but the form presents a number of challenges to the NUM theory.  In contrast to more mimetically oriented narratives, musicals take a pleasure in "breaking the fourth wall." Most of these are "fallacious figments" in the naturalistic sense, meaning that audiences know that they're meant to disregard most, if not all, departures from causality. The most prominent figment is the manifestation of orchestral music to accompany the performers' songs, but there are also moments in which the protagonists briefly contravene causality, as when Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling in 1951's ROYAL WEDDING.  Yet there are also instances in which musicals include metaphenomena that are not meant to be disregarded. The cinematic dance-team of Astaire and Lucille Bremer did one of each type of metaphenomena. In ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, a dying Astaire dreams that he dances a sumptous exotic ballet with Bremer, while in YOLANDA AND THE THIEF, Astaire poses as a heavenly angel to the naive Bremer, only to encounter the Real Thing.

Except for one brief sequence, the 1982 ANNIE could be a musical in the naturalistic mode. This would be in keeping with the comic strip, which seemed to place Little Orphan Annie's exploits in a largely naturalistic, if larger than life, world. As my knowledge of the strip is spotty, I don't know if the film's attribution of magical powers to Daddy Warbucks' aide Punjab is on-target or not. But Punjab provides the only example of marvelous content in the film; that of levitating a flower-vase with his mind-powers for Annie's entertainment. Thus the film falls into the category I've termed "the marginal metaphenomenal," in that the metaphenomenality doesn't really contribute to the plot and barely adds anything to any of the characters.  Yet this doesn't seem to be a phenomenon meant to be disregarded as with my first Astaire example. There's at least a degree of logic in that Punjab, being a Hindu, may have developed mental powers through the mystic arts for which India has become famous. I tend to think that there ought to be at least a tenuous chain of logic that justifies a real metaphenomenon, even as tenuous as when a vampire and a mad scientist appear in the manor-setting of ONE MORE TIME, apparently for no better reason than the tendency of monsters to show up in such settings.

Incidentally, I don't have much to say about ANNIE as entertainment: it's tolerable on that level, but it doesn't bother to address any of the social issues relevant to the conservative Harold Gray comic strip, except in the most dismissive manner.





Much more negligible in the history of film musicals is the Italian western spoof LITTLE RITA OF THE WEST. It's a silly farrago of comics scenes in which the titular Rita-- played by Italian singer Rita Pavone-- goes around beating down various cowboy opponents, except when she takes time out for non-diegetical musical performances.  The script is cheerfully anachronistic, so the question comes up: should anything be taken "seriously?"  Or should everything fantastic be dismissed in the manner as ROYAL WEDDING's ceiling dance?

The particular maybe-metaphenomenon I had to consider is seen in the still above. Following a scene in which the miniscule cowgirl beats up a guy dressed like Eastwood's "Man with No Name" (and played by former *peplum* star Kirk Morris), she blows the guy away with a "golden pistol" that doubles as a grenade-launcher. Real spaghetti westerns sometimes edge into the realm of the uncanny with the use of weird weapons, but my verdict is that the only way Rita's golden pistol would have qualified would be if it had been given even a tenuous thread of logic to justify it. No such logical chain is evoked, so in essence Rita's pistol-- really no more than a verbal reference to the 1966 film, RINGO AND HIS GOLDEN PISTOL-- is no more a "real fantasy" than Astaire's ceiling-dance.

Like ANNIE, RITA is only tolerable entertainment if one happens to be in the mood for its charms. Its most amusing sequence is one in which Little Rita triumphs over a villain outfitted exactly like Franco Nero's Django.

Friday, October 17, 2014

THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (1967), MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *poor,* (2) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


These two kaiju films debuted in the same year, both coming from studios not known for heavy involvement in the genre, unlike Tojo (home of Godzilla) and Daiei (domicile of Gamera).  THE X FROM OUTER SPACE originated from a studio called Shokichi, best known to Americans for their production of anime films, while MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET was the only kaiju to come from Studio Nikkatsu.  But their differences are far more fundamental.

I've seen reviewers who harbor quite a bit of affection for THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, with its reptile-chicken monster Guilala. I might have liked Guilala if he'd appeared in a film that showed some life. Unfortunately, before the monster appears, almost an hour of X's running-time is squandered with slow-moving scenes with no action and superficial characters.

The story begins by stating that a Japanese space program has already sent ships to visit Mars, and that none of the ships have returned. A new ship, commanded by Captain Sano, takes off for Mars to investigate, and although most of the crew is Japanese, there's one pretty white girl named Peggy, who's patently in love with the brave captain. Sano's got nothing but business in mind, though, especially when his ship nears Mars and almost encounters a UFO. The ship fails to intercept the UFO but the alien craft leaves some spore-like residue on the Earth-ship's hull. Having failed to unravel the mystery, Sano's ship goes home (because we all know that in the future space-ships will be able to simply turn around like you turn around your automobile).

There's not much to say about this. Once the ship returns to Earth, the spores, upon exposure to air, spawn the aforesaid giant chicken-reptile, which then goes on a rampage-- an exceedingly cheap rampage, with inferior visual effects and miniatures. Is the creature the tool in an alien conquest-plot? No one seems interested in the matter.  After the monster has rampaged for a while, Sano's team isolates an element from the detritus that birthed the monster. Just like Lex Luthor could synthesize kryptonite, the Japanese manage to synthesize "Guilalanium," which has a kryptonite-like effect on Guilala. The monster, after being coated by what must be tons and tons of white Guilalanium foam, shrinks back to spore-size, and the humans send it back into space.




MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET doesn't have a plot that's any more complex than that of X. However, even if its visual effects had been on the same low level as those of X-- which they aren't-- MONSTER plays fair with its simple story, and delivers a giant-monster tale with a little bit of heart.

I suspect MONSTER had a higher budget, since the director allows for a number of engaging shots even at the beginning, while the protagonists-- a Japanese exploring group, combining both scientists and reporters-- are simply riding in their chartered boat. The comedy-relief guy sees a shining UFO flash through the sky, but of course, he's the only one, so no one believes him.

The explorers have been hired by Japanese businessman Funazu to scout Obelisk Island. Funazu plans to find some way to dispossess the island's natives in order to remake the island into a tourist-trap. The explorers-- primarily represented by scientist Hiroshi, reporter Daize and lady photographer Itoko-- don't initially worry too much about their role in this dicey plot, so it's not clear how much they know about the tourist-project in advance. However, they end up committing a similar act of imperial aggression all on their own.

The natives are happy to meet the explorers, having had some previous contact with Japanese people, though it's never clear what that contact was. There are a few seismic rumblings, and the explorers attribute these to the local volcano, though a young native boy claims that the shocks are caused by "Gappa."  The curious explorers trespass on the cave-temple of Gappa, assuming that he's merely some non-existent local god. Within the cave, they find giant dinosaur bones and a giant egg. Hiroshi jumps to the erroneous conclusion that the bones belong to a mother dinosaur, whose only legacy is the egg. When the egg hatches, disclosing a bird-reptile, the explorers decide to take the creature with them. Hiroshi wants to use it for experimental biology, Daize wants a good story, and Funazu wants to exhibit the monster in the time-approved Carl Denham manner. Only Itoko feels squeamish about taking the creature away from its habitat, though neither of the Japanese males listen to her. While the three characters are merely stereotypes, the script attempts to ground them in reality with some reasonably lively dialogue.

The creature not only grows to small-dinosaur proportions, it's pursued by its two larger parents, twin bird-creatures who fly all the way to Japan from Obelisk Island. Even when it becomes clear that the twin monsters are seeking to recover their offspring, Funazu doesn't want to give up the creature. Granted, this sort of satire was better done by MOTHRA. But MONSTER has its heart in the right place.The ending is somewhat predictable, but in a pleasing manner if one isn't too demanding.

Strangely, after the demise of Nikkatsu Studios in the 1990s, Shokichi announced a crossover film that would have starred both Guilala and at least one of the Gappa-monsters.  I for one am just as glad no such film ever came to be.





COUNT DRACULA (1970)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological, sociological*


At the beginning of Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA there's a short intro that claims that the film will adapt Bram Stoker's novel "exactly" as written. Perhaps it's not surprising that filmmakers would fib for the sake of publicity, but I'm amazed that a few fan-critics have agreed with this assertion.  For the record, COUNT DRACULA may use more of the novel's plot structure than either the 1931 classic or 1958's HORROR OF DRACULA.  But the Franco version is just as cavalier about condensing or switching around characters-- to less good effect than those previous Stoker-adaptations.

Like the majority of the films in the Hammer Studios "Dracula" series, the king-vampire is played by Christopher Lee. Lee sometimes phoned in the Dracula role in some of the lesser Hammer entries, and aside from the actor's opening scenes, COUNT DRACULA is about on the level of weak efforts like DRACULA A.D. 1972. The opening scenes also display director Franco using his much-loved zoom lens to best effect, to capture the eerie tension of Jonathan Harker's journey to Castle Dracula.  But it's all downhill after this.

One of the few changes that resonates well is that after Jonathan Harker escapes the castle, he's found by Transylvanian authorities and shipped back to his native England-- but because he makes the mistake of telling his fantastic story, Harker ends up in an asylum; the same one that, in the novel, just happens to be within spitting-distance of Dracula's English hideaway.  In addition, Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing (Herbert Lom), who in the novel is called in for a consultation, is the asylum's administrator, while Doctor Seward, who held that post in the novel, is demoted to a staff physician, whose role is largely confined to his interaction with the inmate Renfield.

The two friends Mina and Lucy are still in the story, and Mina is at least still affianced to Harker, in contrast to the turnabout of the girls' roles in HORROR OF DRACULA.  Lucy, however, does not have three suitors; Arthur Holmwood is written out and Quincey Morris is Lucy's bethrothed. Van Helsing does not initially seem to believe Harker's story, but he comes around quickly when Lucy Westenra begins to suffer a mysterious blood-loss.

One of the most interesting twists-- one which could have been exploited to good effect-- is that Van Helsing recognizes the vampire phenomenon because he's been researching black magic for years. Why? Because he became interested in the subject after Renfield (Klaus Kinski) became his patient. This version of Renfield, unlike the one from the novel, has been to Transylvania like the Renfield of the 1931 film. But this Renfield, who traveled in the company of his daughter, was simply a victim of the vampire's predations: the daughter died-- or possibly became one of Dracula's wives-- and Renfield went insane. Renfield doesn't really have much to do in Franco's tale: as in the novel Mina tries to reach out to him, but the madman almost strangles her. But I can imagine a situation in which Van Helsing might have been more involved in treating Renfield, perhaps using him to track down the vampire-lord.

Unfortunately, even though Franco selects a handful of scenes from the novel, none of them maintain much tension. The actors are partly to blame, for most of them, aside from Herbert Lom, give bland performances-- but not even the best actor could pull off Franco's most idiotic scene. In it, three of Van Helsing' vampire hunters-- Seward, Morris, and Harker-- invade Dracula's lair, where his coffin is guarded by-- a bunch of stuffed animals? I guess Franco envied the novel's ability to have the villain conjure up troops of wolves or rats at a moment's notice, and since the director's budget didn't allow for such spectacle, he decided to go with a bunch of taxidermy victims. I don't even think the scene even works as self-indulgent cinema.

As in the novel the vampire flees England for Transylvania, and his hunters pursue him. Franco doesn't come anywhere near the excitement of the final confrontation, either in the novel or in superior renditions like BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. The hunters' defeat of Dracula's gypsy minions and their execution of the vampire are both listless affairs, so that unlike the novel and some of its translations, COUNT DRACULA proves to be a work in the subcombative mode.