"For this Gothic tale," writes Paul Naschy, "I transformed the terrifying Transylvanian Count into a Romantic vampire who destroys himself for the love of a beautiful woman." (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy [hereinafter, MW], translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 111) Naschy writes that El gran amor del conde Drácula (Count Dracula's Great Love) (1972) is "[a] claustrophobic film where, for the first time in the history of cinema, Dracula actually falls in love. His love, which is greater than even his will to survive, ends in his self-destruction. This is the central idea of the film." (from "Filmography," by Paul Naschy, Videooze, No. 6/7, edited by Bob Sargent, Alexandria, VA, Fall 1994, p. 27; hereinafter, VO)
El gran amor del conde Drácula is an unofficial Waledmar Daninsky film. Naschy, who penned the script with director Javier Aguirre and Alberto S. Insúa, transforms his most successful character into the Count. One of the aspects which Naschy found so appealing about the werewolf character (very obvious in La noche de Walpurgis) is the inherent tragedy of his monster's condition: one character with two consciousnesses: one, a normal man attempting to live a normal life, and two, a ravenous and ferocious creature who appears involuntarily, bent upon killing the innocent. While Naschy's characterization is a little clunky in its transition, I have to admit, Naschy successfully makes Dracula a dual character...and a tragic one, as well.
Four ladies are on a coach accompanying Imre Polvi (Víctor Alcázar). The group travels through the Borgo Pass where, as Imre notes to the ladies, Count Dracula, the notorious vampire, was successfully subdued by Dr. Van Helsing. He notes also that there is an abandoned sanatorium, located on a nearby hill. It was recently purchased by Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy). As soon as Imre completes the film's exposition, the coach loses a wheel. Imre and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo) go and look for help. Senta (Rosanna Yanni), Karen (Haydée Politoff), and Elke (Mirta Miller) remain with coach and witness the coachman's death--a horse kick crushes his skull! Imre and the ladies have no other choice but to head to the sanatorium and hope Dr. Marlow is there. He is. SPOILERS ahead.
Naschy doesn't appear as Count Dracula until almost the third act. It's quite obvious when he makes the transformation--he dons the stereotypical Dracula outfit, complete with the slick-backed hair. Naschy writes, "It has been said that my physique wasn't suited to the role of Dracula. But I think what worked against me was merely the stereotypical image of Dracula, because according to legend wasn't Dracula able to convert himself into whatever he wished?" (VO, p. 27) It doesn't appear, however, Naschy did much to fight that stereotype. Nonetheless, for the first two thirds of El gran amor del conde Drácula, Naschy is Dr. Marlow, hospitable host to his guests and hero to the ladies. How is he the hero? Imre and most of the ladies are stalked by a delivery driver, now a vampire, who was attacked by Dracula in the film's opening minutes. He's roaming around the castle and making attacks at night. Naschy as Marlow successfully subdues him on more than one occasion (and saves a female character), eventually he stakes the man. I'm fairly absent-minded when I watch movies, but it is hard to forget who turned this man into a vampire.
Another interesting sequence occurs after Elke is turned into a vampire. In one of the signature slo-mo sequences, Elke floats down the hall and encounters the delivery man-cum-vampire in the catacombs. Elke attacks the man and quickly gives up and runs away. The inclusion of this sequence, besides looking really cool, is to establish the newly-turned vampires as feral creatures, lacking reason. The vampires attack anyone (or anything) that moves. This is important exposition for Naschy's character for when he turns into Count Dracula. Like the werewolf, the viewer needs to know that Dracula is a monster, capable of committing horrible acts upon innocent victims. By the way, the ridiculous English-language voice over hammers this point home. C'est la vie.
Dr. Marlow fully becomes Count Dracula when he finds a virgin who, by her own free will, expresses her love for Dracula and gives her blood to Dracula's daughter, the Countess. Of course, one of the ladies fits the bill and does fall in love with Dr. Marlow. I love this complex ritual, but it's wholly not needed for the plot. It's only needed for Naschy's character. When Dr. Marlow decides to have sex with one of the ladies, the English-language narration reminds the viewer that Dracula needs a virgin to complete the ritual. Brilliant. I don't know why I needed to know this information during this specific scene, but thank you for letting me know.
Besides Naschy being cleverly deceptive with his characterization, El gran amor del conde Drácula is quite the entertaining exploitation film with quite a few flourishes. The third act really lets its vampires go. In one scene, an elderly farmer gets his leg caught in a hunter’s trap. He begs for help only to have Naschy’s Dracula emerge from the shadows to overtake him. (It’s doubly funny, because Dr. Marlow is “an avid hunter” who spends most of the daytime, setting his traps.) The imagery of the female vampires is very sensual. Aguirre exhibits quite a bit of relish with his camera. They look stunning in slow-motion, almost floating towards the frame.
“I look back on the film with melancholy,” writes Naschy. (MW, p. 112) Several accidents and “mishaps” happened on the set of El gran amor del conde Drácula, as well as Naschy not getting along with his leading lady, Haydée Politoff (MW, p. 111) Despite his memories towards the production, Naschy writes that, “El gran amor del conde Drácula is a little gem.” (VO, p.27) I get tremendous joy out of all of Paul Naschy’s cinema, but I especially admire El gran amor del conde Drácula. Instead of making an imitation of one of the more successful Hammer films or simply filming again Bram Stoker’s novel, Naschy wrote and performed in a Dracula film which adapted to him. It’s obvious but it’s important to note: El gran amor del conde Drácula is remembered today as a Paul Naschy film, not simply another vampire film. It’s a perfect introduction to Paul Naschy or as a celebration of the man’s work.