When it comes to European horror films, I’ll admit I’m a very late convert. I would catch the occasional dubbed flick on late-night television in the 70s and 80s, with a discovery like Castle of the Living Dead (1964) always catching my eye. But then I’d struggle my way through countless others and never completely got engaged or interested enough in seeking out more. Flash forward to 2021 and I am now hungry for new discoveries. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a true giallo fan but living in an age where good prints of films are being released with their original language and English subtitles intact, I can honestly say that I am now more than interested in some Euro horror archive discoveries.
Prior to my recent viewing of Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972), I had only seen three other Jess Franco films. Count Dracula (1970) is definitely a film I need to revisit with a new eye while The Bloody Judge (1970) and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1972), both recent viewings, just didn’t convert me, especially the latter film. His two Fu Manchu films are definitely on the horizon, due mostly in part to Christopher Lee. I understand that Franco is an acquired taste and that Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein may not necessarily be his best work, but it was ultimately satisfying, for both its unique style and outright craziness at times.
The plot is relatively simple as Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) captures Count Dracula (Howard Vernon) after the legendary vampire was laid to rest courtesy of Dr. Seward (Alberto Dalbes). Of course, the good doctor has a hunchback assistant, named Morpho (Luis Barboo), and he revives the monster (Fernando Bilbao) in the first steps of his plan to control Dracula and create an army that can do his bidding.
The movie definitely has atmosphere courtesy of monsters, castles and the ever-present gypsy villagers. In fact, it is the atmosphere that’s needed to keep the film moving along because there is very little plot and even less dialogue. Nobody even speaks until nearly 17 minutes into the film, giving it an odd and surreal appearance that actually works in its favor. Even then, you never really get a complete understanding of what’s going on and where the film might be headed but everything looks cool along the way.
Unfortunately, where the film shines in imagery, it lacks in basic special effects and overall common sense. Dracula’s fangs aren’t the most convincing and the monster’s makeup is only okay from a distance. The closer you get, the more you realize it could fall off the actor’s face at any given turn of the head. The limited dialogue comes into play even more so for Dr. Frankenstein as Price was not in good health and his thoughts are presented through an off-screen narrator. Price would reprise this role in the aforementioned Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, and starred in several other film roles before his death in 1975 at the age of 58 of heart failure. And I should mention the random werewolf (played by an actor known only as “Brandy”) that suddenly appears after being apparently summoned by a gypsy. We do get a somewhat cool mash-up between the monster and the werewolf, but the whole sequence seems as if it was randomly thrown in to extend the running time. And I feel the need to point out that, unlike other Jess Franco films, the usual bevy of nude vixens is missing from this film. There are some lovely vampires, but that’s about the extent of it for this film.
Despite a long list of odd choices and inadequacies, I have to admit that I still enjoyed Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. I’ve certainly seen worse films and the fact that this one is a little hard-to-find has obviously increased my overall enjoyment. I found a Blu-ray release on Etsy that appears to be a bootleg from a possible Italian home media release. The film quality was quite good and with subtitles, which is always my preference. It may still be a little pricy at $25 but considering the rarity of the film and the number of interested Jess Franco fans out there, it’s not that bad of a deal at all. I definitely recommend this oddity for anyone who loves Euro horror or is still discovering its dark corners like me. I have to admit, it’s made me what to go back and give The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein another shot. But I may need a palate cleanser or two before diving back into that one.