Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hrabě Drakula – review

Director: Anna Procházková

Release date: 1971

Contains spoilers

One of the great things about the vampire genre is that no matter how many vehicles you’ve watched, something can still appear out of nowhere. I was therefore excited when someone posted some stills from Hrabĕ Drakula on Facebook (the post very quickly disappeared, unfortunately, and I don’t know why but I am grateful to the poster). I expected the research to be long and drawn out and within minutes found the 1971 made for TV film at the Internet Archive, in the original Czech with English subtitles.

I understand that Hrabě Drakula translates as Count Dracula – it’s that simple – and it is another retelling of the Bram Stoker novel due to this there will be spoilers aplenty and I’ll be looking at what they left out as well as what they left in and changed.

Jan Schánilec as Harker
A voice over begins – it is the voice of Jonathan Harker (Jan Schánilec) – who is in a carriage heading towards the Borgo Pass at the pass he’ll meet another carriage sent to him by Count Drakula (Ilja Racek). He explains this to the man and woman in the carriage and he is informed that it is All Souls Day – the change from the novel’s Eve of St George’s Day moving the timeline from May to November. When it is clear that he will not change his travel plans the woman in the carriage gives him a crucifix.

The carriage comes to a halt and the driver says that there is no one to meet him and thus he should go on with them and return in the morning. Just then the horses spook and a black carriage approaches. The driver keeps his face hidden and takes Harker’s bags motioning him to his new vehicle. I made a note here that I found the music chosen for the film odd, it felt like it had been borrowed from an older film and whilst there were some ominous phrases others were almost flippant – a shame as some of the photography, the carriage with the castle in the background for instance, was rather atmospheric. Wolves chase the carriage but the driver stops and waves them away – they obey.

Ilja Racek as the Count
At the castle Harker is met by the Count who takes his luggage but Harker cannot shake an unpleasant feeling and describes the “castle awakening from a centuries old dream”, which was a lovely turn of phrase. Harker has brought details of a property his company has found for the Count – Carfax – and wants to have the papers signed by the time he leaves in two days but the Count insists he must stay longer. A couple of things to note here. If mentioned at all, most Dracula vehicles do no more than allude to the idea that the Count takes on the domestic chores, normally via Harker – in this it is explicit as Harker spies through a keyhole and watches the Count clear the plates from his meal. Also, I have to say that I struggled buying Ilja Racek as the Count, he just didn’t have the presence for me.

the brides
In voiceover we discover that the Count has a prodigious grip, icy cold hands and rank breath. We get the shaving mirror scene – though the lack of reflection is drawn through Harker’s reactions more than anything. We then move forward to the brides’ scene. The brides look quite good (and have rank, one is called a Marquise and another Countess and the first to “kiss” Harker is their leader), however the intervention by Drakula lacked the passion the scene deserves and the atmosphere of the scene was stilted. Indeed the whole film suffered from a very stagey feeling.

in coffin
Harker is told to write three letters home – one to Hawkins (who becomes a Doctor for some reason), one to Doctor Seward and another to his wife. The letter to Seward was from left field and one change here is that Jonathan and Mina are already married. We get the distraught mother and wolves scene and Harker wishing to leave, however he is not shown to the door but just told he can’t (as a carriage is booked for him on a forward date). Having failed to get the gypsy workmen’s attentions during the day he climbs through to Drakula’s apartment and finds the brides and Drakula in their coffins. He decides to try and escape down the castle wall and falls…

Ota Sklencka as Van Helsing
Cutting to a drawing room in London and present are Arthur and his fiancée Lucy (Hana Maciuchová), Dr Seward, Mina and Jonathan. Jonathan survived his fall but has amnesia. Despite this he has refused to read his journal and Mina (who hasn’t read it either) has taken it upon herself to hide it. Lucy wants to read it and, when refused, has a turn. It transpires that she has been ill, has marks on her neck and Seward has called for Van Helsing (Ota Sklencka). However it should be apparent that we are missing an important character – whether conflated with the Harker character or a character in his own right the Renfield character is absolutely essential, serving as a psychic weathervane for the vampire. Leaving Quincy (or even more) of the suitors out is one thing but the lack of Renfield leaves a dramatic hole in the production.

Drakula with Lucy
Van Helsing arrives and is on the case straight off. He gets garlic flowers put around and gives Lucy a transfusion from Arthur. He has her mother (Marie Brozová) sit with her through the night but a visitation from Drakula causes her to pull the wreath of garlic flowers from Lucy’s neck to throw at him (and leave Lucy defenceless) before falling backwards (having, we assume, had a heart attack). In the morning Van Helsing recommends two funerals, even though Lucy is still alive. Lucy asks for a kiss, shows fangs and then collapses into death.

Bloody Lady
At the funeral Harker sees Drakula and has regained his memory. Now let us talk sunlight. The funeral is in the daytime and whilst Harker could have hallucinated Drakula’s presence I don’t think so. However Van Helsing will tell them that Drakula lives only at night. There is an implication that he is vulnerable only through the day (this has been done with other vehicles) but later we are told he can only be killed between sunset and sunrise (ie night) – it is all a bit confused. We get the blooferlady aspect but in this Lucy is called the Bloody Lady and then they go to destroy her but the scene is anti-climactic. During all this Mina starts acting odd and denies that Jonathan ever had a journal.

fangs on show
Van Helsing gives us more of the rules and some are out of Stoker and others not. He names him the voivode Drakula (but doesn’t say which one) and suggests he has the strength of twenty men. He suggests that a bullet won’t hurt him (given it is a Czech production the idea of shooting the vampire – at least with a sacred bullet – might have held, but clearly didn’t) and he comes on the rays of the moon (which is pure Stoker - "He come on moonlight rays as elemental dust"). He must sleep on his “home soil”. After mentioning this they go to Carfax and we cut immediately to the last box of earth being purified with hosts. Drakula comes in, there is a tussle during which he drops gold coins and stops to retrieve them before escaping. Harker realises that he’s left Mina alone.

a bat
Drakula is seeing to Mina, as it were, and opens his shirt to reveal a pre-made set of raked marks on his chest; she drinks his blood. He gets away again and Van Helsing tries to break the curse on her with a cross and burns her forehead. Realising that it is significant that the Count stopped to retrieve his gold Van Helsing puts two and two together and deduces that Drakula will be escaping home. After working the fastest hypnosis ever, he has Mina confirm this. So it is off to Transylvania.

staking a bride
They get there before the Count (as they took the railway) and all of them go into the castle. Mina suddenly becomes like a thing possessed, lighting lamps with a gesture and running around giggling maniacally. She also seems to have gotten horny. The brides come for her but garlic flowers keep them at bay and the next day the men kill them (they crumble immediately to dust). Now if vampires can be killed during the day only this works, but is at odds with the next scene. If the dialogue that suggested the other way round is correct then this undermines the rules communicated.

The gypsies arrive and put the coffin in the crypt – they show no desire to defend the Count. The men go to kill him but night has fallen and he’s up and around. At one point he threatens Harker, telling him to hand over his weapon or Mina will jump from the castle window – Harker goes to save her. There is a chase through the castle and eventually, with Mina running arms wide open to him, Drakula is killed as a dagger is tossed at him and hits the heart. Mina collapses as he does and he turns to dust. When she looks up the burn on her forehead has gone. In this we get, through voiceover, the novel's coda seven years on, at least in part.

lopsided fangs
So there we have it. There are some good concepts in this and some of the scenes are atmospheric (such as the carriage and castle as mentioned) however it is awfully stagey and jumps into scenes without build up. Ilja Racek just doesn’t have the necessary presence for Drakula and the lore needed tightening. The last thing to mention – and I have deliberately left them to now – are the fangs. Absolutely rubbish, false looking things – Lucy’s lopsided ones being the worst offender. All in all, it’s a shame but it is interesting nonetheless. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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