Released in 1973, Jesus Franco’s version of COUNT DRACULA or IL CONTE DRACULA is in my opinion very underrated. I love the way in which the director stays with the original storyline as created by Bram Stoker, and although there are a number of mistakes or short fallings within the production, these in no way spoil the overall impact of the picture, this for me anyway outstrips any of the Hammer Dracula movies and to a degree is even more entertaining than Coppola’s high budget version of the story. Christopher Lee is excellent as the infamous Count and has to be congratulated for portraying the character in a completely different way to what he had done in previous productions from the Hammer studio. This version of the story not only adheres to the original novel but also has about it a greater atmospheric quality than any production before or after its release, in some scenes I was reminded of the Mario Bava approach to horror movies, dark, eerie and no dialogue, but affecting. Lee appears exactly how Dracula is described in the novel complete with moustache and as the movie or story progress’s and he preys on more victims he turns from an old man into a handsome younger version of himself (an idea explored in Hammers COUNTESS DRACULA). Klaus Kinsky is deserving of a special mention for his role as the manic and raving Reinfield, this is an accomplished performance that had me convinced. Herbert Lom also makes an appearance as Professor Van Helsing and there are a number of Franco’s usual cast members in the form of Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda and Jack Taylor, the director also appears as a servant of Van Helsing. The highly original sounding soundtrack by composer Bruno Nicolai too adds a greater atmosphere and impact to the movie, the composer utilising cimbalom and eerie sounding woodwind underlined with strings to create a sense of foreboding and a mood that is somewhat apprehensive and oppressive in a number of cues, but saying this Nicolai also utilises a grand lush sounding waltz motive which first makes a brief entrance in the opening credits music or PROCESSO on the compact disc release. Track two is in the first instance rather low key and gloomy but this is short lived as the composer introduces a secondary theme performed by strings that is strikingly lush and lavish, but this too melts away as the piece returns to the cimbalom led theme that opened the score. Track number three PENOMBRE is I have to say fairly typical of Nicolai, again strings take the lions share of the performance punctuated by jagged near frantic sounding trills from woods creating a sense of urgency and fear. He also makes effective use of brass for the scenes which are more action orientated and muted brass combined with woods and deliberately placed bass and piano are also highly effective.
This is I think one of Nicolai’s most accomplished scores for film, it bares no resemblance to his western soundtracks whatsoever and more to the point there are no traces of any influences from Morricone, IL CONTE DRACULA is an inspired work that is Nicolai through and through, in fact thinking about it I can only recall one other score that might be slightly similar to this and that is THRONE OF FIRE by the composer which is another movie directed by Franco and starring Christopher Lee. If this is a soundtrack that you have for some reason missed then it is time to rectify your obvious mistake.