26 February, 2024

DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN (Jess Franco 1972) Severin Films Blu-ray Review.

DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is 100 proof Jess Franco. It unfolds at a rapid clip thrusting the viewer into a magical dimension of Franco's creation, somewhere between a fumetti and a Gothic cartoon. The plo,t is a highly compressed fantasia of the Universal Pictures horror classics DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, only shot in lurid color on a dollar store budget. Filmed in 1971, along with at least 5 other films, it attempts to cram as many classic monsters as possible into a hectic mise-en-scene. The paucity of dialoge (there isn't any for the film's first quarter hour), the rumbling Bruno Nicholai score imported from Franco's previous EL CONDE DRACULA and JUSTINE, the proliferation of zoom shots from the very first image onward, all combine to creater an overwhelmingly onieric atmosphere. Dr. Seward (Alberto Dalbes) stakes the sleeping Dracula (Sartana in the German version) turning the Count into a dead bat. Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) appears with his assistant Morpho (Spaghetti Western regular Luis Barboo), revives Dracula to his original form, and also recharges the dormant Frankenstein monster. There's also a vampire woman (Britt Nichols) and a werewolf (Brandy, who would stunt double for Paul Naschy's werewolf character in THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI) who join in the final monster bash. Dr. Seward races to Castle Dracula to stop Dr. Frankenstein's mad plan of world domination via classic monsters. The final fight between the Frankenstein monster and the wolfman owes a lot to Universal's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN. Part of the magic of Franco's treatment of these cine-mythologies is that he adds such surreal touches as having his 19th Century villains drive around in 1970 model hearses and sedans, something that the Universal and Hammer studios would never allow. Howard Vernon's Dracula may be a long way from the the Bela Lugosi and Christoper Lee incarnations of the character and would return in the more conventional follow up, LA FILLE DE DRACULA (1972). DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is purely Jess Franco's unapologetic take on the iconic characters. Fernando Bilbao's silver skinned Frankenstein monster would return in the outrageous 1972 EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN.
The 2006 IMAGE DVD of Franco's minimalist monster-rally DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (onscreen title) was a disappointment. This no-budget 1972 French Spanish coprodcution was one of Franco's personal favorites and, depending on your critical perspective, a film you'll either embrace or be sorely disappointed with. Just compare it to his EL CONDE DRACULA, made for Harry Alan Towers with Christopher Lee in the title role, and notice the difference in treatment. Of course this isn't at adapting 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. The image is consistently soft throughout, the colors murky and it's all misframed at 1.85:1. The PAL 2003 Divisa DVD is also misframed with similar color and sharpness issues. One advantage of the Divisa release is that it's the only home video release so far to include an opening text, credited to "David Klunne" (another Franco beard), which recontextualizes the monster tale into Franco's own arcane personal dimension. Franco told me when I interviewed him in 2005* that he shot this film in Techniscope to achieve 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 its correct 2.35:1 Techniscope ratio. 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 book panels were a major inspiration while Bruno Nicolai's score (recycled from EL CONDE DRACULA-1970) 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. Franco's comments were very specific, "for some films, like DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN, I preferred Techniscope. I liked it because it literally gave you more 'scope', you can show more of the castles, the landscapes. It can be beautiful and gives a mysterious look to everything. You can show more on the sides of the [main] action. But shooting in scope can be more expensive because of the anamorphic lenses. It's more expensive to shoot and edit in scope."
The previous Blu-ray of this title, DIE NACHT DER OFFENEN SARGE from Germany's Colosseo Film, was correctly frame at 2.35:1 but had a dark, unsharp image quality with damp, desaturated colors. Severin's new 4K scan from Spanish, French and German release prints finally restores the film to what Franco intended. The 2.35:1 compositions are sharp, detailed and as color saturated as possible given the low budgeted production on Portuguese, Spanish and French locations. It's also the first disc release to allow the extended end music to fully play out rather than abruptly cut off. Special features include an interview with Franco author Stephen Thrower, Part 10 of In The Land of Franco, with Alain Petit and Thrower, the alternate Spanish opening credit sequence with the aforementioned "David Klunne" text and a deleted scene from the English language version which features a reading from Dr. Frankenstein's diary post produced by English language dubber Richard McDonald and written by David Mills. This post-production insert goes all the way back to the fullscreen WIZARD VIDEO VHS release, THE SCREAMING DEAD. A 3 minute 20 second trailer, "Master of Black Horror", is also included. *"Truth Will Out: A Final Audience With One of Cinema's Greatest Visionaries, Jess Franco." By Robert Monell ART DECADES magazine: December 2017, Issue # 13. Thanks to Kit Gavin for arranging the interview with Jess Franco. (C) Robert Monell, 2024

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