Jesus Franco has become so syn­ony­mous with the psy­che­delic sex-hor­ror weird­ness rep­re­sent­ed by Vampyros Lesbos that it’s easy to for­get that there was a time when mak­ing that kind of film was a side-ven­ture for him. He spent a lot of time in the lat­ter part of the ‘60s work­ing as a gun-for-hire with pro­duc­er Harry Alan Towers, doing every­thing from De Sade adap­ta­tions for the sex­ploita­tion mar­ket to Fu Manchu movies. Franco’s col­lab­o­ra­tion to Towers came to a close with his con­tro­ver­sial Count Dracula, which found him strik­ing an uncom­fort­able mid­dle ground between tra­di­tion­al goth­ic hor­ror and his own brand of weird­ness.

CounDrac-posCount Dracula was pro­mot­ed as a faith­ful adap­ta­tion of the Bram Stoker nov­el that would fol­low the nar­ra­tive in a way that pre­vi­ous ver­sions nev­er did. It lives up to its word by mak­ing Dracula (Christopher Lee) a fig­ure who only appears on screen near the begin­ning and end, with much of the plot devot­ed to the tra­vails of Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams), who nar­row­ly escapes death at Dracula’s hands to team up with Quincey (Jack Taylor) and Dr. Van Helsing (Herbert Lom) to stop Dracula’s inva­sion of the main­land. Caught in the mid­dle are the love­ly Mina (Maria Rohm) and Lucy (Soledad Miranda), both of whom Dracula wants to add to his vam­pire harem.

The result­ing film is a curi­ous mix­ture of bat­tling impuls­es. On the plus side, Lee gives an inspired per­for­mance in the title role and real­ly digs into the extra dia­logue he is given. The film fur­ther ben­e­fits from a rich score by Bruno Nicolai, spooky Spanish locales that cre­ate a dreamy nether­world for the sto­ry to unfurl in and a good back­ing cast of Eurocult types with Lom and Miranda stand­ing out. It’s also worth not­ing that Klaus Kinski appears briefly and gives one of the more unusu­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Renfield.

On the down side, Franco directs the film in an offhand, some­times care­less style that gets the atmos­phere right but bun­gles things like spe­cial effects. He’s com­fort­able with the erotic, seduc­tive side of Dracula’s deeds but tends to rush through the scare set­pieces in a care­less man­ner. His devel­op­ing psy­che­delic style clash­es with the goth­ic hor­ror, par­tic­u­lar­ly his trade­mark use of the zoom lens, and being nailed down to a slow, ensem­ble-dri­ven sto­ry­line works again­st his impro­vi­sa­tion­al, exper­i­men­tal strengths.

As a result, Count Dracula is a noble attempt at doing a fresh Dracula adap­ta­tion but its between-two-approach­es style will make it hard to like for many hor­ror fans.