Guest writer ALAN HOARE reviews Count Dracula’s Great Love (originally El gran amor del conde Drácula), a 1972 Spanish film directed by Javier Aguirre and starring the great Paul Naschy.
Four women spend the night in an old deserted sanatorium on a mountain. They each in turn fall under the charm of Doctor Wendell Marlow aka Dracula (Paul Naschy). One by one they are bitten by vampires, who roam the castle and they are forced to suck each other’s blood and to whip innocent village virgins so they can lick the oozing cuts clean.
Count Dracula’s Great Love opens outside a creepy old sanitarium in the Carpathian Mountains as two delivery men arrive with a large, heavy man-shaped crate. Realizing that these rich castle-owning types have money and jewels just lying around, they decide to wander about and see if there is anything they can steal. However, they are apprehended in a violet manner – one is struck in the head with an axe and thrown down the stairs, and the other gets his throat ripped out by a man in a black cape with velvet lining
Meanwhile, a stagecoach loaded with four colourfully dressed young women – Karen (Kaydee Politoff), Senta (Rosanna Yanni), Marlene (Ingrid Garbo), and Elke (Mirta Miller) and Imre Polvi (Vic Winner) – loses a carriage wheel in the infamous Borgo Pass. When the stagecoach driver is killed in a freak accident, the five passengers seek shelter from an oncoming storm in the nearby sanitarium, where they are welcomed by the owner Doctor Marlowe. Their host invites them into his home as long as they need, willingly providing shelter and food.
The girls are all drawn to Marlowe, who in fact is really Count Dracula. It is not before long that the new guests are bitten one by one, rounding out Dracula’s new army of the undead – save for the virginal Karen.
Marlowe is absent during the day as he goes around releasing the animals caught in traps. Dracula is played very much as a hero; indeed for much of the film we do not see him drink blood, and he protects the girls from the ever increasing roaming vampires.
Dracula seeks the rebirth of his daughter Radna, and in order to bring about that resurrection, Dracula must complete a blood ritual using all the vampirised girls and convince Karen to voluntarily join him as his immortal bride forever in eternal darkness.
To complete the ritual he seduces all of the girls, but when he seduces Karen, he knows he has found his true love. He decides not to complete the ritual and Radna’s coffin is thrown in the river and then chains the vampire women in his dungeon to be killed by the imminent sunrise.
Dracula tells Karen that he loves her and she must choose to be like him, when Karen refuses he tells her he can’t live without her and stakes himself and before he dies utters: “Karen…”.
Once again, the setting and costumes look amazing. The forest setting and real castle help immensely in setting the right tone and atmosphere of the film. Once again Hammer’s influence can be seen in the costumes and settings. It is novel to see Dracula portrayed as a love lorn man for most of the film, but when he turns nasty we see him drink blood for the first time in a very effective negative shoot, making the blood look blue.
The film is also known as Cemetery Girls (American reissue title), Dracula’s Great Love (American promotional title), Dracula’s Virgin Lovers (UK and Canadian theatrical title) and The Great Love of Count Dracula (International English title).