Written and directed by: Jesus Franco
Reviewed by: Brett H.
The films of Jess Franco have been much maligned by horror fans everywhere and for that reason alone I havenít jumped into the well of Franco that is out there on DVD. Iíve stuck my toe in and tested the waters with films such as Oasis of the Zombies and Jack the Ripper, but neither film really turned my wheels, they were pretty average schlock. At the very least they were watchable and with that information in tow, I figured Iíd set out and watch a few more of the manís ďclassicsĒ. The one at the top of my list to see was Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, otherwise known as The Screaming Dead on its North American VHS release. Iíve always been a fan of different worlds of horror colliding and thereís few match ups out there that are as good on paper as Dracula vs. Frankensteinís Monster. Itís been done many times in b-movies from around the world but unfortunately execution has always been a problem. Can Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein buck the trend?
The film opens with a shot overlooking the town before zooming in on a mysterious castle up on a hill, mostly hidden by fog and itís apparent that whatever is going on up there is bad news. A woman begins to undress in her room when the lights cut out in a thunderstorm and the familiar visage of Count Dracula (Howard Vernon) appears out of nowhere and dines on her precious blood before taking the form of a bat and disappearing out a window. Shortly afterward the Count strikes again, this time only scaring the wife of Dr. Jonathan Seward (Alberto Dalbťs). Needless to say the doc doesnít take too kindly to this and heads on up to Draculaís castle and stakes him through the heart with what is essentially a stick and a tiny hammer.
Normally this would spell certain death for the Count until the sequel, but thereís a new visitor to the village, and he goes by the name of Doctor Frankenstein (Dennis Price). Along with his Ygor-like hunchback assistant, they find their way to Castle Dracula, which is the perfect place for Frankenstein to perform his evil work. He sends his Monster out on a little hunt, which takes the newly alive fiend to the local burlesque house where he steals a showgirl and takes her back to the castle. Her blood is transferred from her body to a container housing the Count who had been in the form of a dead bat since his demise at the hands of Seward. The bat drinks the blood and in moments Count Dracula is revived and ready to try his hand at creating a new generation of bloodsuckers to terrorize the gypsies of the village. The lead gypsy figures the evil that lies in the castle will all turn on one another and with the aid of a werewolf, Dr. Seward should be able to end Dr. Frankensteinís diabolical scheme. Can she foresee the future, or is she leading the heroic Dr. Steward to certain death?
That is about as far as I will go with the story of Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein because the film has so little dialogue that if I was to say anything else about the plot itíd virtually ruin the movie for any interested party. Without exaggeration, there are maybe ten words of dialogue spoken throughout the first twenty minutes of the film and other than a few short monologues by Dr. Frankenstein and one scene involving a gypsy leader and Dr. Seward, the film is absolutely devoid of any communication between the characters. In one of his monologues, Dr. Frankenstein speaks of his plan for evil to infiltrate the world with his Monster, Dracula and his ďArmy of Shadows being an unstoppable team. Thereís really no reason behind his motive, but that is the basis of the entire movie right there. The gypsyís dialogue is near the end and basically informs Steward of what is going to happen when he goes to hunt Dracula for the second time. Thatís really all the dialogue the film features and itís a real shame.
Because of the lack of dialogue, there is really no characterization whatsoever, most characters donít even have names and furthermore youíre not really certain what theyíre doing and you have even less idea why they are doing it. Itís pretty much the only Dracula movie that I can think of where the Count doesnít open his mouth one single time. Hell, his sexy vampire brides do most of the bloodsucking as well, so the eternal demon isnít even good for that. Normally these traits equal a recipe for a shit pie, but somehow Jess Franco pulls out a movie that is enough fun to watch and make it through without getting bored. The predominant reason behind this is the gothic atmosphere of the film, itís absolutely stunning in that cheap Euro-horror kind of way and the music that accompanies it is perfect for the material at hand. Although Howard Vernonís Dracula is very different and pretty cheesy looking (Frankensteinís Monster is even worse with stitches basically drawn onto cakey makeup), the movie has a charm to it that I respect because Franco did such a good job with the locale the film is shot at. Nearly every shot is a gothic treat to look at.
Thereís no short of vampire and Frankensteinís Monster attacks and that helps the pacing and dealing with the lack of dialogue out tremendously and thereís great music in every scene. Franco puts in a few cool touches of his own, such as Draculaís eyes dripping blood when he feeds on a victim and shooting scenes where vampires arise from their coffins in such a way that theyíre silhouettes in the dank darkness of the castle. The dialogue that is present is smile inducing and always exaggerated and hammy, which I enjoyed a lot while it lasts. As I said before, itís a shame that thereís not more dialogue and reasons explaining why things that happen are happening because the music and atmosphere is there in droves. The werewolf and Frankensteinís Monster have what could be most effectively described as a wrestling match, the Monster even hams it up after getting the upper hand on wolfy at one point and he looks like a demented Hulk Hogan in doing so, as though he was playing it up to an imaginary crowd.
Dracula and Frankensteinís Monster never really duke it out as you would hope, which is sure to make you shake your head and what does happen at the end will have you shaking your head even more, but I didnít hate the film. It is different in many respects and for some reason Count Dracula isnít harmed by sunlight, but the rich setting makes up for everything. Itís just hard to watch this and think of what the film could have been with a more expanded story and some characters you could actually get to know. Francoís usual nudity isnít present here besides a split second nipple flash, but his trademark zooms come in full force. Image brings this barely known movie to DVD without a single special feature or even a list of chapters, but they do give us a decent 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (it was shot in scope, though) that is somewhat grainy and dark, and while the colors are a bit on the drab side, it is miles ahead of what a film like this is likely to get. The film is presented in Spanish with English subtitles and the mono track is clear and sounds just fine. Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein is no Freddy vs. Jason or Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, but it is a decent crossover film overall and although it wonít work its way into your regular horror cycle, it is definitely worth a shot should you be willing to overlook its faults and focus on what it does right. Rent it!
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