Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (aka Drácula contra Frankenstein, 1972)
Directed by Jesús Franco
Starring Dennis Price, Howard Vernon, Paca Gabaldón, Alberto Dalbés, Britt Nichols, Geneviève Robert, Anne Libert, Luis Barboo, Fernando Bilbao, Josyane Gibert
I know it is hard for some fans to think of Jess Franco as a highly crafted filmmaker, but there are more than a few examples in his filmography to prove that. This, however, is not one of them.
The first time I saw this film was from the Wizard Video VHS tape, under the title The Screaming Dead, which is quite different when comparing it to the DVD of Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. Right away you’ll notice that it is extremely cropped with most of the opening names in the credits being cut off on the sides. The film is sequenced differently as well, having some parts in there that are not in the DVD version! For the sake of sanity, I’m just going to talk about the DVD version from Image Entertainment back in 2006.
In his book Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco, Stephen Thrower mentions that it has “a truly pathological disregard for plausibility”, and that is not only very true, but is one of the things that I love most about it. It really is bat-shit crazy because there are so many things that just make no sense whatsoever. Maybe because this might have been one of those occasions that Franco just wanted to make a movie, had some backing, and just started shooting. Who knows. But what we have is a bunch of famous monsters roaming around in an old gothic castle, with vampires, Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, and even the Wolfman shows up at one point for good measure. Is there a story? Not really sure. But it didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of this movie.
Dennis Price plays the good doctor, who has already created his monster, who has now decided on reviving Count Dracula, so maybe he can rule the world. Franco regular Howard Vernon plays the Count, who seems to only have one grimacing look on his face, mouth open and fangs bared, almost as if he is about to sneeze. But he holds his expression every single time we see him, no matter what he is doing! Not that he moves around too much here, but after finishing feeding on a victim, he almost looks like a drag queen with a poor makeup job!
Alberto Dalbés, who plays Dr. Seward, is no stranger to Franco films. Between 1971 and 1974, he worked on over ten films that Franco directed. That’s right… over ten films in four years, all directed by Franco. What does that tell you of the time Franco would have had for pre-production? Of course, Naschy fans will always remembered Dalbés from his role as the mad doctor who is creating a giant turd-monster in Hunchback of the Morgue (1973). Luis Barboo, who plays the gnarled assistant to Dr. Frankenstein, was also a mainstay in the Spanish horror film industry, and has been in films like Franco’s Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) and Amando de Ossorio’s Loreley’s Grasp (1974) and Return of the Evil Dead (1973).
While there are some interesting things here, from the gothic castle, to Frankenstein’s lab, and more than a few moody atmospheric shots, including many times we get Franco’s super-zooms. But let’s be honest here because this is one of those Franco films where it is more amazing and entertaining for the sheer craziness of it than the actual film or plot itself. Sometimes there is simply no reasoning to what is going on. Somehow, Frankenstein’s monster is able to get into the local cabaret theatre and hide in the women’s dressing room closet to grab her when she comes back to her room, apparently without anybody seeing or hearing him? What about this vampire woman in the coffin off to the side that seems to come and go during the movie, that really doesn’t seem to be in any part of the story?
When the good doctor revives the creature with his electronic equipment, it somehow makes the cover of the metal box containing him just disappear. The creature, played by Fernando Bilbao, is made up to look about as stereotypical as you can get, with the stitches looking like they were drawn on across his forehead. Near the end of movie, the creature is attacked by the Wolfman. Because… why not? Even crazier is that we don’t even see the ending of the battle, but only the bloodied monster when he staggers back to the castle.
If you are new to Franco’s work, then I’m not sure I’d recommend this because it would just come off as laughable and making you think Franco was just a hack, which really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Being a fan of his work, I love watching this, just trying to figure out what the hell he was trying to accomplish, which may have you scratching your head for days. But if you’re looking for a good old fashion monster rally, a story that is about as nonsensical as you can get, with a version of Dracula that you’ll never forget, then come on over to Franco-Land and enjoy your stay!