I thought long and hard about the next movie I wanted to cover in this series of Dracula adaptation reviews – there’s so many post-Hammer ones to consider, from Blacula to Christopher Lee’s sequels to Andy Warhol’s take on the classic, but there’s one in particular I wanted to take a look at: Count Dracula’s Great Love. And that’s because it’s not just an adaptation of Dracula – it acts as a sort-of sequel to the book, and gives me a chance to talk about Paul Naschy (star and co-writer of this movie, with Javier Aguirre as director) and his part in monster movie history.
What really stands out to me about Count Dracula’s Great Love (El Gran Amor de Conde Dracula in the original Spanish, also released as Cemetary Girls) is how focused it is on Dracula post the original Dracula narrative. The Count we get in this version of the story is sequestered up in a Carpathian mansion, his powers greatly diminished and his hunger for flesh and blood apparently under some semblance of control; he’s a Dracula not defined by his brutality or his lust, but rather, by the implied defeat that he suffered at the hands of Van Helsing years before (in the original Dracula story). When a bunch of hapless young women roll up at his lavish castle looking for a place to stay, he welcomes them in, seemingly starved for affectionate company. If not for blood, after the way he took out the unfortunate movers who stacked him and his coffin up to his hidden home.
And this version of Dracula fits beautifully with the rest of Naschy’s career; a die-hard Universal monsters fan, he was one of Europe’s most prolific monster actors over the years, often helping to write his characters as well as perform them, and so many of his movies revolve around a tragic reading of classic horror villains. He’s best known for his Wolfman series, which he was performing in up until 2004, where his version of the iconic werewolf was mostly looking for a way to clear his conscience, escape his fate, and, uh, bone a lot of virgins.
Well, maybe that’s not quite right. Naschy’s monsters often relied on the love of a virginal woman for some kind of redemption, and (unfortunate implications about women’s sexual experience tying in to their redemptive ability aside) that carries over into his version of Dracula, too. Count Dracula’s Great Love draws its main point of conflict from his growing feelings for the pure-of-heart Karen (Haydee Politoff), and the neccessity of her death to carry out his ultimate plans. There’s less savagery and more Byronic tragedy to this version of Dracula (though he does end up turning a bunch of her less fortunate and probably less virginal friends in these erotically-charged sequences dripping with blood and zooming in on heaving cleavage), much like the rest of Naschy monster catalogue. We’ve had sexy Dracula, but this is more sweeping romance and internal conflict than it is ripping throats out and banging Mina.
Great Love is just that: a great love story, driven by the inherent tragedy of the Count’s inability to truly love a human because of his vampiric affliction. Dracula is still, undoubtedly, the villain here, but he’s also the victim of his own condition. The ending, as he kills himself to spare his human love the torment of living life as a vampire, makes for a genuinely subversive reading of the character; he’s seen the loss and destruction and harm being a vampire will wreak on a life, and so, he saves the person he loves most from suffering the same fate. It might seem cheesy by today’s standards (and trust me, this whole film has elements of camp and ridiculousness that occasionally defy belief), but it really works.
Much like the rest of Naschy’s monster movie career, this version of Dracula is at least a somewhat sympathetic approach to Dracula. A true troubled romantic hero, he’s depicted as much a victim of his circumstances as the villain in other people’s stories, too. While it’s a movie of traditional seventies softcore camp, it still commits to a fascinating re-interpretation of the story, and makes for an interesting take on Conde Dracula himself.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Blu-Ray.com)