Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein / The Curse of Frankenstein Review
Made back to back in 1972 by European horror and erotica specialist Jess Franco, Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein and The Curse of Frankenstein are a pair of Spanish genre quickies with much in common. Though not explicitly related both feature Dennis Price in the title role of Dr. Frankenstein and ape those late period entries in the Universal horror cycle with their multiple-monster plotting. Over the course of these two efforts no only do we get the doctor himself, but also his monster, Dracula, a wolf man, the undead, the possessed (here named the “army of shadows”), a sinister all-powerful hypnotist, Frankenstein’s daughter and, somewhere amongst that mix, the occasional good folk to even out the balance and get involved in various “marauding villager” shenanigans when called upon.
Whether this adds up to enough to make us watch, however, is a moot point. Given Franco’s remarkably prolific nature you often wonder as how big a part the actual stories played in attracting him to project. More often than not it’s the mood which we remember from his films, rarely the narrative, and ultimately it’s where they stand up or fall down. It’s the reason why Vampyros Lesbos, say, is far superior to, for example, Tender and Perverse Emmanuel, although in both it’s the atmosphere which stands out more than any kind of plot, or anything else for that matter. Having waded through much of the director’s output the repeated sensation is that Franco’s efforts don’t lie in the storytelling, but in creating the right feel. It’s as though he’s striving for some kind of artfulness, some kind of weights, whether it be dramatic or even mythological. The intent isn’t avant-garde as such, and yet you do get the sense that Franco would love to be considered alongside the likes of Resnais or Roeg or even Ruiz.
The problem with such ambitions is remarkably simple and comes down to one word: talent. Franco isn’t Resnais or any of the others and never will be. His filmography does include a number of worthy entries – Vampyros Lesbos deserves to lose its kitsch attachments; The Awful Dr Orloff is worth a look, and perhaps even Succubus is too, just the once – but then this may very well be down to sheer numbers. After all, if you’re going to make so many films then surely one or two will work out okay, right? Yet on the whole, Franco’s talent doesn’t match his pretentions. He wishes to be elliptical and to convey meaning, to do the kind of things which a Providence or a Eureka do effortlessly, but the results are all too often just plain ugly. When it comes to the editing, say, or the choice of shots, or the handling of this actors, this is a director with no lightness of touch. Certainly, budgetary considerations have to come into play, and shoddy sets or, as is the case here, SFX don’t help, but the sheer kitschness, the inherently trashy nature of Franco’s output almost always comes through. Of course, it’s abundantly clear that we’re dealing with exploitation here, but then he never feels capable of transcending of such labels in the manner of a number of his fellow European directors so readily could. You don’t feel guilty watching Borowczyk’s The Beast, for example, or even Behind Convent Walls, but you do when you settle down to one a Franco – he makes low-grade trash, all too often with very few redeeming features.
Both Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein and The Curse of Frankenstein fit readily into this category and are thus doomed to almost immediate failure. The bizarre nature of their plotting does bring them to life a little, but ultimately there’s not much else to entice us in. The near-wordless Prisoner of Frankenstein is slightly more evocative – and its score is far superior to the banal noodlings which accompany The Curse – yet both are also so morose than neither is much fun to be around. Indeed, it’s here where we find another problem with the Franco method of filmmaking; for all that is ridiculous and strange in so much of his output, he never seems to take advantage. Look at the melange of horror creations present in these two titles and consider what they could have offered, then weigh up the final, dismal results. Franco, perhaps, is a director who more readily takes away than he ever gives.
A two-disc release from Tartan, this Franco double-bill is that latest on their Grindhouse imprint. Sadly it’s not much of a calling card, though at least some effort has been put into their special features content. In terms of their presentation, the results are pretty much as dismal as the films themselves. There’s little in the way of clarity and sharpness, colours have a tendency to bleed and the original aspect ratios of 2.35:1 have been cropped to 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 respectively. Effectively, the films look no better than they would on video, though at least Tartan have provided them both with anamorphic enhancement.
Interestingly, however, the soundtracks do sound really quite good. In both cases we get the original Spanish mono offerings (even though Prisoner of Frankenstein has Dennis Price “speak” most, if not all, of the dialogue) and their clarity is little short of superb. Background noises are crisp and is the dialogue, whilst the scores in particular are allowed to dominate the mix. Moreover, the attendant English subtitles are optional and come in both standard and hard of hearing formats.
In terms of extras, both titles are treated to a collection of deleted scenes and alternative takes. Here we find the title and credit sequences made for English-language audiences, a handful of excised moments and, in the case of The Curse, material from the more nudity-heavy version. Once again the quality is less than impressive, though no doubt fans of Franco will lap up these additions.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:46:17