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Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein
cast: Howard Vernon, Denis Price, Fernando Bilbao, Alberto Dalbés, and Geneviève Robert

director: Jesus Franco

82 minutes (18) 1972
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan Grindhouse DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Lucinda Ireson
Spanish director Jesus Franco is nothing if not prolific, with his vast back catalogue including a variety of low-budget horror films. It's therefore of little surprise that the classic characters of the genre have featured in some of Franco's movies, with Count Dracula (1970) and The Curse Of Frankenstein being notable examples. However, Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein has an added appeal: two legendary characters for the price of one.

The film's plot sees vampire hunter Dr Seward (Alberto Dalbés) arriving at Castle Dracula and vanquishing its titular inhabitant (Howard Vernon), only for Dr Frankenstein (Denis Price) to resurrect Dracula and utilise him as a pawn in his own evil plans. As Dracula creates other vampires and continues to wreak havoc on the town, Dr Seward once again decides to put an end to his opponent, with the aid of a gypsy girl who possesses the ability to summon a werewolf. Meanwhile, Dr Frankenstein's vampire slaves also seek to revolt against their master, thus leading to a showdown that few will survive.

The plot may suggest an entertaining monster-mash but, sadly, this film is neither entertaining nor scary. The key problem is the pacing: at first the viewer is inclined to think that the film may be slow starting yet it gradually becomes apparent that it's not going to 'start' at all. Rather, it moves along at an extremely torpid pace due in large part to its repetitive structure - the film seems to consist of a listless string of similar scenes and recycled shots, and contains precious little dialogue. That's not to say that minimal dialogue can't be used effectively, yet it seems to serve no purpose in this case and merely exacerbates the film's sluggish feel.

The performances don't help matters, with Dalbés playing Dr Seward as a permanently unreadable, dead eyed figure. This could have been effective if contextualised - for example, the character could have buried his emotions due to past trauma, perhaps cultivating a deliberate numbness in order to carry out his tasks in a professional manner. The film could therefore have served as an involving character study, probing the reasons for Seward's detachment and witnessing cracks appear in his façade. However, any such possibility is not pursued, which makes Seward hard to empathise with or care about. Still, it's Dracula who fares the worst - this character is typically portrayed as either charismatic or horrifying, yet this film's incarnation wears a fixed hypnotised expression and rigid composure that seem more suited to silent comedy. As such, Dracula stands apart as perhaps the most poorly judged character of the piece.

On the plus side, the film boasts a few decent images: a scene in which a bat is seen drinking from a beaker of blood is visually impressive, and the shots of the fog-cloaked castle and its neighbouring village conjure up the appropriate atmosphere. Likewise, the film's depiction of peasant life carries an authentic feel. For the most part, however, the film's low budget is painfully obvious, with plastic bats and poor makeup effects destroying any tension. This is certainly the case with Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula, neither of whom would be out of place in an episode of The Munsters, yet it's the appearance of the Wolfman that's the most laughable, despite this character clearly being intended as the pièce de résistance. Of course, this would not matter so much if the film were supposed to be comical, yet it's actually an extremely dour affair. Consequently, what could have been an explosive ending to an otherwise dull film instead serves as a big letdown.

Failing to be either scary or fun, Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein squanders the potential of its premise and simply comes across as lifeless, as though the film itself has been drained by one of its vampiric characters (a feeling that the viewer is likely to share). Franco has built up a cult following over the years and those who enjoyed his other Dracula and Frankenstein films may want to check this out, yet the dreary nature of the proceedings means that most viewers are likely to find themselves reaching for the fast-forward button.

DVD extras: a handful of deleted, extended and alternative scenes that, again, will only be of interest to ardent fans.
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