Full Moon Features: Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972)

Thanks to the efforts of Paul Naschy, Spanish horror cinema of the late ’60s and early ’70s was awash in films pitting horror icons like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man against each other. One of the trend’s bandwagon-hoppers was Jesús Franco, who was in the habit of cranking out eight films a year on average in all kinds of genres and under multiple pseudonyms. Hardly a recipe for quality, but somehow I doubt that was what he was going for.

I realize I’m far from the first person to take Franco to task for his overuse of zooms, but 1972’s Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (also known as Drácula contra Frankenstein) features an overabundance of zooms. I’m tempted to think he used them as a substitute for dialogue (there’s only about six or seven lines spoken in the first half of the film), but that would imply that Franco employs them to convey information visually when the fact of the matter is he leaves things so vague and ambiguous that for the longest time it’s impossible to figure out who many of the characters are or what their motivations could be. Dracula (Franco regular Howard Vernon) attacks a girl in the middle of the day (presumably because they didn’t have the budget for night shooting), and some random guy (Alberto Dalbés, later revealed to be Dr. Seward) is summoned to examine the body, then goes for a long ride in his carriage until he happens upon Dracula’s castle, finds the bloodsucker at rest and stakes him. Through the magic of editing, the undead vampire becomes a dead bat and the doctor’s stake changes its size and shape, after which Seward quits the castle, a job well done. Then, and only then, does Franco give somebody — in this case, gypsy girl Amira (Geneviève Robert) — a line of dialogue, and it is to herald the arrival of the film’s second title character.

Indeed, Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) and his mute servant Morpho (Luis Barboo) move right into the castle without even consulting a real estate agent — and with The Monster (Fernando Bilbao) in tow. (“Here, I shall be able to work and triumph,” Frankenstein declares.) The mad doctor wastes no time installing his equipment, but doesn’t bother with any lights, preferring instead to reactivate his heavy-lidded creature (whose stitches look painted on). The Monster’s first job is to abduct a cabaret singer before she can sing a second number, although anybody could have done because all Frankenstein does is drain her blood, pumping it into a glass bottle and drowning a live bat, which then turns into the revived Dracula. Morpho then gets to engage in a little light necrophilia before stuffing the singer’s body into an oven, after which the still-slumbering Dracula is returned to his coffin for safe keeping.

Meanwhile, two coffins over, a heretofore unseen female vampire (Britt Nichols) emerges and puts the bite on Amira because lesbian vampirism was really big in the early ’70s. Then Frankenstein and Dracula are driven to Seward’s house, where his daughter Maria (Paca Gabaldón) freaks out and has to be given a sedative, thus rendering her helpless when Dracula is sicced on her. Now vampirized, Maria is abducted by The Monster when Seward foolishly takes her out riding, and, now paired up with Dracula, they interrupt an aristocratic couple in the throes of passion, curiously choosing same-sex partners for themselves. The aristocrats are then delivered to Frankenstein, but we don’t find out what his plans are for them because Franco cuts away to Seward being rescued by the gypsies, at which time the well-informed Amira unloads the biggest info dump in the whole picture.

It seems Amira — now a vampire, but apparently not the kind who bites people, unless she does that off-screen — has been spying on Frankenstein and knows all about his plans for world domination. She also believes Seward will be able to set things right and that he won’t have to do it alone. “When the full moon appears and the wind clears the sky, the werewolf will come to help you,” she tells him. “The battle will be bloody, but you will win in the end.” And sure enough, with one reel left to go in the picture, a shaggy-looking Wolf Man (an actor credited only as Brandy) does appear on the night of the full moon to do battle with The Monster for all of one minute. Meanwhile, Frankenstein is menaced by and kills the female vampire and, thoroughly peeved, dispatches Dracula and Maria while his scratched-up Monster watches. (There are no more signs of the Wolf Man, so I guess The Monster killed him off-screen.) He also fries his creation and disappears, thus sparing Franco from having to deliver an actual confrontation between the two men of science when Seward arrives on the scene, too late to actually do anything. Guess Amira was just whistling “Dixie.”