John Lennon opened the caustic and cleansing “Plastic Ono Band” with the library sound effect of a solitary church bell. The early minutes of Jess Franco’s Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein utilize the exact same cue. Jess Franco is no John Lennon. As luck would have it, he doesn’t need to be.
With a few dozen lines of dialogue, mounds of greasepaint, and a wall-of-sound approach to all things spooky, Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein does something special. In essence, it clears out the pores, sticking to its guns no matter what. The film makes a stand for slapdash eccentricity, swabbing illusory “take it or leave it” brashness in the face of anyone who wishes to peek behind the velvet curtain. Placing the film in context within Franco’s own sprawling, international filmography is a waste of time. You don’t need to do that. Just like the previous decade’s The Diabolical Dr. Z, this movie stands alone and fearless.
Castles are crumbling. Wind never stops whipping. Women are constantly writhing. This is where Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) lives. And works. The doc has a big plan. It involves a “new and unusual army”. Thanks to the resurrection of his Monster, that army soon consists of a top-hatted, hypnotized Dracula (Franco right-hander Howard Vernon) and a few vampiras (including Britt Nichols, a Franco regular from 1972-74). They’re about to take over the world when Dr. Seward and his guardian gypsy disagree. Is that a full moon I see?
Dracula’s gaunt plot-line reads like it was pieced together by an eleven-year-old. Most European monster-rallies tend to leave that impression. However, something more seeps from the splinters of Dracula‘s cheap-yet-creepy frame. Something naturally surreal. Here’s where Jess Franco cleans house — just by being himself.
The camera constantly probes, zooms, and searches. We don’t know why. Scenes unfold at random. Compositions, whether intentional or not, are never less than captivating. There’s no method to how the film moves, yet that undetermined wandering becomes the method. It’s like a pristine concept album delivered in a made-up language — hooks without function. Thankfully, even with all of the dauntless screwing around, the film never loses sight of what’s important: A Brillo-pad werewolf. Bubbling sex that never boils over. Four-star, no budget vampire attacks. The expected Jess Franco Nightclub Sequence. A strange focus on frantic bats (both rubber and real). Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein is, quite literally, a pleasant dream. Upon regaining your wits, you’re left half-asleep, yet ready to conquer the world. Or, at the very least, your insomnia.
Maybe John Lennon and Jess Franco had more in common in their 1970s creativity than a coincidental sound effect. Maybe not. Either way, they both had good instincts.