24 November, 2006


I finally caught up with the IMAGE DVD of Franco's minimalist monster-rally DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (onscreen title). This no-budget 1972 French Spanish coprodcution is one of Franco's personal favorites and, depending on your critical perspective, a film you'll either love or be sorely disappointed with. Just compare it to his EL CONDE DRACULA and notice the difference in treatment. Of course this isn't Bram Stoker's "Dracula", it's Franco's termite version of Universal's HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), only in color and scope. And that's where this DVD fails both the film and the viewer.

Franco told me that he shot this film in Techniscope for a multiplane perspective, he wanted the right, left and center fields to be of equal importance and to have a flow of action within and across each area. This strategy, along with an agressive use of the telezoom, ONLY works when the film is seen in 2.35:1. Seen fullscreen or partially letterboxed it looks clumsy and compositionally confusing. And it's not. It's one of his most carefully composed and visually experimental works. Once again, comic books panels were a major inspiration while Bruno Nicolai's score (recycled from EL CONDE DRACULA-1970) and the along with use of animal noises (cf Luis Bunuel's THE MILKY WAY-1969) are used as much as possible to replace exposity dialogue with a completely stylized sound environment.

There have been a number of video and disc releases: the old fullscreen WIZARD VIDEO which looks wretched; a close to 2.35:1 transfer from a Japanese source which unfortuately contains non Franco footage of Dr. Seward's diary and an annoying, largely spurious English language track By Richard McNamara and David Mills which interferes with his original silent-movie aesthetic; 2 more recent R2 PAL discs from Spain and the UK, which are both in the incorrect 1.85:1 ratio, among others. The one from the Japanese source offers the richest colors and since ratio along with color are crucial to Franco's neo-expressionist strategem this remains possibly the best alternative to seeing, if not hearing, it the way it was intended by its maker. This used to be available on VHS from Bill Knight's MIDNIGHT VIDEO and I'm holding onto mine for the time being.

This IMAGE disc has been out for several months so I decided to pick it up at a reduced rate. The credits are presented in something closer to 2.35:1, perhaps 2.0, but the remainder of the feature is in 1.85:1. It's the Spanish language DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN with new English subtitles, which are a welcome addition. It looks like a slightly improved transfer from the same source as the 2003 DIVISA DVD from Spain. I can't comprehend why IMAGE went to the trouble to create three different menu graphics, 3-D style images of Fernando Bilbao's Frankenstein monster with bats flying around him (shouldn't they be flying around Dracula?!), a head shot of Howard Vernon's unique Dracula, and a long shot of the film's castle on a mountaintop setting, but didn't bother to provide chapter stops and scene selections. These menus are fun and in the spirit of the film itself, but chapter stops are a crucial extra for someone like myself who want to be able to flexible nagivation options.

The color here is at times washed out and weak but prone to suddenly bursting into the attractive, bold patterns which Franco intended only to become murky again moments later. There are also a number of vertical scratches visible through most the image and a tendency for the right side of the image to evidence some deterioration. The bottom matte is obviously thicker than the top one and is not really flush with it, making the already cropped framing looked further unbalanced. More about this presentation and the film itsef soon...


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