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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein Blu-ray Review


Severin Films

Blu-ray Release: March 26, 2024

Video: 2.50:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono; Spanish, Italian, and German Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Run Time: 83:16

Director: Jess Franco


Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) revives an assassinated Dracula (Howard Vernon) and enlists the Count against his will in a battle against John Seward (Alberto Dalbés), a Romani sorceress (Paca Gabaldón), and a werewolf, alongside Frankenstein’s own monster (Fernando Bilbao) and an unnamed female vampire (Carmen Yazalde).


Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco directed more than 200 movies over his more than five decade-long career. With those kinds of numbers, it can be daunting for new viewers to find an entry point. The good news is that Franco’s filmography can be broken down into a number of phases, each with their own advantages. If you’re interested in Franco’s early pop cinema, check out The Diabolical Dr. Z (Spanish: Miss Muerte, 1966). If you’re looking for the enigmatic arthouse Franco, check out Vampyros Lesbos (1971). If you want Franco at his most opulent and working with a decent budget, check out Marquis de Sade’s Justine (Italian: Justine ovvero le disavventure della virtùre, 1969). If you want to watch a talented man just doing his best to entertain a broad audience, Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (Spanish: Drácula contra Frankenstein; aka: Dracula vs. Frankenstein, 1972) is a good place to start – especially for uninitiated viewers who might not be acclimated to his brand of weirdo Eurocult.



Franco led the charge with his earliest Spanish films, but often found himself playing a sort of catch-up for a lot of his post-’60s genre work. If interviews are to be believed, this had more to do with a lack of interest on his part than any attempt to remain relevant. That disinterest definitely got worse as the years went by, leading to some bafflingly incompetent horror films during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Fortunately, the mega-prolific director seems to have enjoyed making Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (he refers to the first half hour as some of his best work during an interview for Carlos Aguilar’s Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco El Sexo del Horror [Glittering Images, no copyright date]). It sees him in transition between his Harry Alan Towers and arthouse period, playing crowd pleaser with his first (and only?) monster mash – a newly popularized subgenre in Spain, thanks to the efforts of León Klimovsky’s The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (Spanish: La Noche de Walpurgis, 1970) and one that always sold well on the American drive-in circuits.


Despite Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein’s basis in monster-mashing, a (mostly) invested Franco can’t help but be himself in finding uniquely lyrical imagery within the confines of a patently silly Saturday matinee concept. There are some truly haunting sequences here, colored by long stretches without dialogue, kaleidoscopically edited montages, and, of course, a dizzying litany of crash zooms and extreme close-ups, all set beneath a din of bafflingly incessant sound design. In particular, the opening section (the part the director was so proud of) and follow-up scenes of Howard Vernon snacking on nubile necks work as a sort of standalone short feature that tells the story of Dracula with more stylistic confidence than Franco’s actual Dracula adaptation, 1970’s Count Dracula (German: Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht). The ways in which such genuine artistry clashes with the dysfunctional schlock that is the Frankenstein and wolfman mayhem – spiked with the cheesecake delight of a can-can musical sequence – captures the very essence of a “good” Jess Franco horror experience.



Note that Franco’s film is easily confused with Paul Naschy’s 1970 film Assignment Terror (Spanish: Los monstruos del terror; aka: Dracula vs. Frankenstein, directed by Tulio Demicheli, Hugo Fregonese, Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi, and Eberhard Meichsner) and Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein, released a year prior in 1971. The proximity of these films might explain why the English title was changed as to not be yet another Dracula vs. Frankenstein.


Bibliography:

  • Bizarre Sinema: Jess Franco El Sexo del Horror by Carlos Aguilar (Glittering Images, no copyright date)



Video

It doesn’t appear that Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein was ever officially released on US VHS under any of its alternate titles. The only US DVD option was a non-anamorphic, 1.85:1 barebones disc from Image and, while fans could import an anamorphic PAL disc from Tartan in the UK, it was also misframed at 1.85:1. The best option until Severin’s 2024 BD was a region-free German disc from Colosseo Film, though even this disc seems to have been slightly misframed. As a multi-country production, there were also multiple cuts available, though all of the alternate nude scenes seem to have been lost. This 1080p release is presented in a mega-wide 2.50:1 aspect ratio and features new 4K scans of footage culled from Spanish, French, and German release prints. These were cobbled together to create the longest and most comprehensive version to date.


Based on that complicated history, the final product looks better than expected. The three sources are somewhat apparent, though I’m not sure which artifacts pertain to which print and the overall effect is reasonably homogenous, thanks to nice clean-up and grading. Basically, some sequences are particularly cool and desaturated, others are pinkish, and others still have issues with high contrast. Detail and grain levels are pretty similar throughout, perhaps due to print sources not being as textured or sharp. Of course, the simple fact that there were multiple versions of scenes shot for multiple cuts might explain the inconsistency. Either way, I believe (without having previously seen this particular film) that Franco and cinematographer José Climent’s hazy, dreamy, and occasionally goofy artistic choices are all well represented. Do note that, while there is considerable print damage at some points, the scratchy opening credits aren't indicative of the entire film.



Audio

Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein is presented with DTS-HD Master Audio mono English and lossy Dolby Digital mono Spanish, German, Italian, and French audio options. The German BD did include lossless versions of the German, Spanish, and Italian dubs, but zero English options. As a reminder, this was a Spanish-French-Liechtensteinian-Portuguese co-production with actors from England, Switzerland, Argentina, and Spain, and likely filmed without synced sound, so there isn’t really an official language track. Lip sync is all over the place, but I think a lot of the cast is speaking English on set, so the English dub is the way to go. Besides, as a stylistic choice, there is not a lot of dialogue in the film, outside of Frankenstein’s narration. The aggressive sound design bounces between abstract noise and stark silences, and the lack of compression helps stave off the ensuing distortion effects.


The score was provided by Italian composer and Morricone orchestrator Bruno Nicolai and Franco favorite Daniel White. It does a lot of heavy lifting and there are a couple patently Nicolai-esque moments, especially the use of dulcimer, bells, and electric guitar, which harkens back to his extensive spaghetti western work. 



Extras

  • Prisoner of Franco-Stein (42:12, HD) – Critic, Franco historian, and author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco (Strange Attractor Press, 2015) Stephen Thrower discusses the making of Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, Franco’s falling out with Harry Alan Towers, the overlap with A Virgin Among the Living Dead (French: La nuit des étoiles filantes, finished by Jean Rollin, 1973), the film’s historical anachronisms and mixed on-screen language, the cast (many of whom had multiple collaborations with Franco), locations, and the unique challenges of enjoying Franco’s slapdash surrealism.

  • In the Land of Franco, Part 10 (18:26, HD) – In this ongoing series, Thrower and actor Alain Petit take us on a tour of locations from this and other Franco films.

  • Spanish opening credit sequence (2:10, HD)

  • Deleted scene from English language version (1:12, SD)

  • Trailer



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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