Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Daughter of Dracula (1972)

Daughter of Dracula (La fille de Dracula) is one of Jess Franco’s lesser known efforts, and although it doesn’t compare with his best work it’s worth a look.

It’s one of his many attempts to combine the classic gothic horror elements of the traditional vampire film with a contemporary setting. The settings - the wonderful castle and some exquisite interiors - are among the movie’s strengths. It’s a great looking film, and it certainly captures the atmosphere of aristocratic decay of the Karlstein family.

The matriarch of the family is dying, and needs to tell the eldest daughter Luisa (Britt Nichols) the family secret. Their infamous ancestor, reputed to be a vampire, still lies in the crypt of the castle. And he isn’t exactly dead. More importantly, Luisa has inherited his vampirism. While plotting isn’t terribly important in a Franco film this one is quite convoluted. There have been a series of murders, and the police are looking into the matter. The present-day holder of the family title, Count Max Karlstein (played by Daniel White who is better known as the composer of the music for many of Franco’s films), is certainly a suspect. The police aren’t the only ones investigating these events - Cyril Jefferson (played by Franco himself) is a kind of free-lance researcher into the occult and he is convinced the murders are connected with the supernatural, and more specifically with the very unnatural Karlstein family.

Luisa has another obsession besides blood - the beautiful Karine (Anne Libert). Karine knows Luisa is dangerous, but she doesn’t realise just how dangerous.

The plot is never really resolved satisfactorily, but this is a Jess Franco film so that isn’t a major problem. If anything it adds the slightly dream-like ambience that a good Franco film requires. This movie probably needed a little more of that - it’s caught between trying to be a fairly conventional horror film and being a true exercise in Franco weirdness.

Oddly enough the most impressive acting performance comes from Daniel White - he’s slightly creepy but also dreamily melancholic. It’s always nice to see Howard Vernon in a Franco movie but as the original count he has little to do. Franco himself is quite good, and Alberto Dalbés makes a good cop. Britt Nichols looks great, but she lacks the strange depraved charisma that Soledad Miranda and Lina Romay brought to their performances for Franco. She’s just too much like a 20th century model to be convincingly evil or tortured.

Despite its flaws the film has enough touches of Franco visual invention to be worth seeing, and it does have some some very atmospheric moments (especially the scene with Count Max playing the piano while Luisa and Karine are making love). This is reasonably good second-rank Franco.

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