CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, WHAT SPOILERS THEY MAKE
Over the years, countless actors have essayed the role of Dracula and we all have our favourites: despite fierce competition from Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and Peter Butterworth, mine's easily Sir Christopher Lee, and the first Hammer Dracula is absolutely terrific on every level. The sequels certainly less so, admittedly, but Lee is always an imposing and striking figure in any movie and it's hard to think of any other Drac of his stature. The man is a legend. His Hammer Dracula was noble, authoritative and aristocratic, so it's strange to see him playing the same part in the same story (more or less) with a completely different characterisation than expected: he first appears as a sad, white-haired old man in an empty, near-derelict castle. Stranger than that, this is one of Jess Franco's better films, at least of the ones I've seen from his impossible filmography.
Franco's Count Dracula (aka Les Nuits De Dracula) is billed as the most faithful to Stoker's original; certainly it hits many of the same beats as the more familiar film versions though it also pulls a few Eh? moments. Lawyer in training Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to arrange the Count's purchase of land in England; discovering the three female vampires, he leaps from the window in terror but just survives. Back in England, he's treated by Dr Seward at his asylum but Dracula has arrived at the house next door - Harker's beloved Mina and her best friend Lucy the Count's next targets, and only Professor Van Helsing can stop it....
The aged Dracula is initially unthreatening and almost sympathetic, but gets younger, more attractive and more sinister with each kill and infusion of blood, which is a nice touch I don't recall seeing in other adaptations. The film's major coup is a terrific cast which includes Franco regulars Paul Muller, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, and Maria Rohm at her loveliest, plus Klaus Kinski (his name misspelled in the credits) as Renfield and Herbert Lom as Van Helsing - plus Franco himself unbilled as a servant! In the end it doesn't come close to the Hammer film: it lacks the visual richness and the excitement, and the climax, in which Dracula is staked in his coffin and pushed down a ravine in flames, is just no match for the thrilling face-off with Peter Cushing. Interesting to watch, and certainly one of Jess Franco's less horrendously awful films, but not a great Dracula.