Jess Franco’s 1970 Count Dracula (Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht was promoted at the time as being the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel up to that date. In fact it’s probably still the movie adaptation that remains closest to the original book. Personally I don’t care about the faithfulness of adaptations, but this is certainly a very good version of this much-told tale. Franco was fortunate in being able to assemble a very strong cast indeed, with Christopher Lee as the Count, Klaus Kinski as Renfield, Soledad Miranda as Lucy and Herbert Lom as van Helsing. In the accompanying interview Franco claims that to the best of his recollection this film was actually Christopher Lee’s idea, and that he was very excited about the prosect of being able to play Dracula as Stoker had written the character. Lee’s enthusiasm for the project pay dividends – he gives a great performance, far better than in any of the vampire movies he did for Hammer Studios. As superb as his performance is, it’s Kinski (as so often) who steals the film. Franco recounts that while most actors will battle a director to get more lines, Kinski would do the opposite – he much preferred to have as little dialogue as possible and to show emotions rather than talking about them, and this movie shows just how well Kinski was able to do just that. Herbert Lom is wonderful as van Helsing, and Soledad Miranda is mesmerising as Lucy. Apparently Christopher Lee wasn’t too happy at first about her casting, but after the first day’s shooting he had to admit that Franco was absolutely right about her. The movie boasts higher production values than most of Franco’s films, some glorious sets and some luscious location photography. It just drips gothic atmosphere, but not the overdone rather stagey gothic atmosphere you often get in horror movies.
For those who think Jess Franco’s movies contain too much nudity and gore – this one has no nudity at all, and virtually no gore. The Region 1 DVD release contains an exceptionally interesting interview with Uncle Jess, and it looks magnificent. It’s worth buying this one just for the performances of Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski (and I’m not even a Christopher Lee fan). For those who like their literary adaptations to be reasonably faithful to the source material this is a must-buy, and it’s really a must-buy for any self-respecting horror movie fan.