this is Paul Naschy's most hypnotic horror movie and one of the most dreamlike pictures to be found in the last 60-70 years of the horror genre. Under the direction of Javier Aguirre, who subsequently directed Naschy in the outstanding horror pulp pastiche THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (made the same year), COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE is an excitingly feral, brazenly sexy but none-too-cohesive amalgam of highlights reprised from various Hammer Dracula movies. We get the resurrection of a vampire by slashing the throat of someone suspended above their casketed ashes (DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS), Dracula flogging a victim (SCARS OF DRACULA), Dracula appearing to halt an underling's attack on a reserved blood source (HORROR OF DRACULA), while Naschy's original script attempts to innovate an original story that -- in the English-dubbed version, anyway -- not only doesn't make any sense, but sometimes appears to contradict its own imperatives.
A coach transporting a man (Vic Winner as "Imre Foley") and four women (Rosanna Yanni as "Senta," Marta Miller as "Elke," Ingrid Garbo as "Marlene," and Haydee Politoff -- the star of Eric Rohmer's LA COLLECTIONEUSE -- as "Karen") from Biarritz to Transylvania loses a wheel not far from the former Castle Dracula, which -- according to legends known to Imre -- later became the sanitorium of a Dr. Kargos (note: cute mash-up of Karloff and Lugosi) who was hung by villagers for conducting cruel and unusual experiments. (Now there's a movie still waiting to be made!) The sanitorium was recently acquired by a Dr. Wendell Marlowe (Naschy), who keeps it available for spontaneous hospitality, because he -- like Kargos before him -- is in fact Count Dracula, patiently awaiting the fated arrival of a virgin who will love him enough to offer her blood for the resurrection of his daughter Rodna, Countess Dracula. Or something like that... because, in the dubbing (which extends to the Transylvanian peasantry voices like those of Mel Blanc and Slim Pickens), Biarritz is sometimes pronounced "Beat Street", "Fleet Street" and even "Bistro." Though the much-discussed Rodna is eventually resurrected according to plan, Dracula almost immediately reconsiders and has her body dumped in a nearby lake, coffin and all. He shows a similarly weird ambivalence about his great love Karen, freeing her from her obligations to his "existence of loneliness and horror" in one scene, then urging her to reconsider in the next, before finally suicidally staking himself to save her from making a choice. No properly subtitled version of the Spanish original exists, so it's impossible to tell to what extent the crude dubbing conveys Naschy's original narrative, or if the money ran out during production forcing some quick, unintelligible wrap-up of the proceedings.
One thing's for sure: the English dialogue is a hoot. "You haven't changed since college," Elke taunts Senta for being attracted to Wendell. "The only thing you can think of is men. You'd sleep with a broom if it had pants!" Praised for his scientific acument, Wendell casually replies, "The true man of science rarely confirms anything; I would say he doubts everything." After a romantic moonlight stroll with Wendell, Karen confesses "These have been the most terrible and happiest days of my life!" And as he prepares to revive Rodna, Dracula addresses Karen by saying (in a reverberating voice-over, Naschy's Dracula never speaks aloud): "You once belonged to Dracula and now you've returned to his side for the ceremony that signifies the rebirth of his origin."
Lines like these would stand out painfully in a more prosaic film, but COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (partly filmed in and around the same villa where Mario Bava made LISA AND THE DEVIL) is like a fever dream awash in lush and creepy atmosphere, thanks to cameraman Raul Perez Cubero and a haunting score (sometimes played in reverse) by Carmelo Bernaola. Availing itself of the new freedoms then available to Spanish filmmaking, it revels in delirious, eroticized blood-letting in a manner that few other vampire films permit themselves to do. Its imagery of fog and negligéed vampire women, and its contrasting of blue night filters and brightly flowing blood, suggest Dan Curtis' HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) as one of Aguirre's stylistic influences. But there is nothing else in horror quite like the brilliant main titles sequence, which replays a murdered graverobber's tumble down a flight of stairs over and over, slowed for our savoring with each repetition. (For those of you who follow my fiction -- Yes, the name of my THROAT SPROCKETS character Sadilsa was lifted from the lighting credit on this picture, a name that evoked for me both the divine Marquis and the She-Wolf of the SS.)
This film was represented for many years by incomplete prints censored for television, but the anamorphic version released as CEMETERY GIRLS (one of its US drive-in reissue titles) as part of a BCI Entertainment Exploitation Cinema Double Feature (now OOP) appears to be complete, if assembled from more than one print, resulting in some scenes looking brighter than others. It was a thrill for me to finally see the film intact, even if having the whole picture makes it seem farther than ever from making sense.
Viewed on BCI Entertainment DVD.