Color, 1973, 83m.
Directed by Javier Aguirre
Starring Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Haydée Politoff, Mirta Miller, Víctor Alcázar, Ingrid Garbo
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Eclectic, Shout Factory (US R0 NTSC)

Count Dracula's Great LoveCount Dracula's Great LoveThe period from 1972 to 1973 was an incredibly busy year for Spain’s greatest horror movie star, Paul Naschy, who had made his name with a series of films about the tragic werewolf Waldemar Daninsky. By this point Naschy was branching out into other characters, including some quasi-gialli, but this was the period where he really went for it with numerous titles like Hunchback of the Morgue, Curse of the Devil, Horror Rises from the Tomb, and Vengeance of the Zombies. One of the crown jewels from this year (and Naschy’s career in general) was Count Dracula’s Great Love, which finally gave Naschy the chance to tackle the world’s most famous vampire – with a lovelorn twist.

After a bloody prologue in which a couple of coffin delivery men are butchered in an abandoned sanitarium, the same location serves as a refuge for a quartet of nubile traveling women (Yanni, Politoff, Miller, and Garbo) and their guide (Alcázar, aka Vic Winner), whose carriage has lost a wheel and gone out of commission. They’re greeted by Dr. Marlow (Naschy),   who offers to let them stay the night. At first the women are so overjoyed they stick around for the next day for some topless swimming and sunbathing, but it soon becomes obvious that something predatory is lurking within the walls and bent on turning them into creatures of the night, one by one… and no bonus points for guessing Marlow’s true identity or why he has his sights set on one of the women, Karen, in particular. Count Dracula's Great Love

It shouldn’t be surprising that Naschy injects a lot of angst and pathos into his role, an obvious holdover from his string of Waldermar outings as well as a nice throwback to some of the more sympathetic Hollywood vampires like Lon Chaney Count Dracula's Great LoveJr.’s underrated turn in Son of Dracula. Of course, horror is still the name of the game here, and on that front this one delivers right out of the gate with a jolting axe murder that became the film’s most widely circulated still (with its aftermath repeated over and over and over for the main titles).

Like several other Spanish horror films of the period under the Franco regime, this film was shot with different versions in mind for the domestic and international markets. Topless nude scenes with the entire main female cast were replaced with clothed takes for Spain, which means different versions have cropped up over the years on home video. A full-strength version didn’t turn up on American VHS until Sinister Cinema turned up a U.S. print that was more complete than the tame one on Gorgon Video, and this was later recycled for a terrible DVD from Eclectic that’s best avoided at all costs. The uncut version was later used for part of Shout Factory’s Elvira’s Movie Macabre line (much more graphic than the version seen during her original hosting gig) and a BCI double feature under the title Cemetery Girls, paired up with Vampire Hookers. The film was slated to be issued as a special edition as part of BCI and Deimos’ ongoing and financially ill-fated line of spectacular Spanish horror releases, but those plans cratered when the label wound up going under.

Count Dracula's Great LoveA remnant of what was intended for that release can be found on the very welcome Vinegar Syndrome dual-format release containing Blu-ray and DVD discs with identical extras. An audio commentary with director Javier Aguirre and the late Count Dracula's Great LoveNaschy (in Spanish with optional English subtitles) is a great walk through the making of the film, focusing on their approach to adapting this quintessential monster for the Spanish market and tailoring the role to Naschy's strengths. They also talk about transitioning away from the strict werewolf cinema diet at the time and touch on Hunchback, which they made together back to back with this project. Also included is an 8-minute interview with actress Mirta Miller, which functions just as much as a career retrospective as she recalls being cast in the film and having fun getting to play a sexy monster, despite being cold while wandering around in lingerie most of the time. Also included is the usual English international trailer and an insert booklet with liner notes by longtime Naschy enthusiast Mirek Lipenski of Latarnia, who offers an impressive amount of detail about the film including the shooting locations and a tantalizing mention of some perverse footage (up to 15 mins.!) removed from the final cuts.

As for the film itself, it looks pretty spectacular with a fresh HD scan from the interpositive in possession of the American rights holder, representing the unclothed cut with all of the bare breasts and bloodshed intact. Apart from the opening credits (which involve opticals on top of opticals), the quality is excellent and a huge step up from any past release, looking pin sharp except for scenes where the cameraman seems to have slight focus issues. The English audio is default option (with English SDH subtitles provided), and it sounds superb with great dynamic range and much more healthy bass than past versions would have indicated. The Spanish audio is also included from the only available source (a prior home video release) with significantly lesser quality, but it's great to have; optional subtitles directly translated from the Spanish dialogue are provided. It's a toss up as to which version is more effective; both are dubbed, with most of the actors speaking Spanish (some with their real voices) but a few, most notably Politoff, clearly speaking English with the voice actor matching her lip movements. Neither one sounds terribly organic given how the audio was produced, so try 'em both and see which one you prefer. Either way, it's an absolutely vital release for any self-respecting Euro horror fan.

Reviewed on September 26, 2016.