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Plot: estranged sibling returns to the old family seat, finds eccentric relatives.

León Klimovsky’s La saga de los Drácula (The Dracula Saga internationally) has retroactively attained cinematic immortality not only because it was a direct competitor to Paul Naschy’s own Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) but because American audiences have unconsciously known it for years as footage of it featured in the Edward Furlong thriller Brainscan (1994) some twenty years later. It elevated derivation into an artform and made a star out of unlikely leading lady Tina Sáinz (in an ironic twist of fate this would become the most remembered title in her repertoire) and Narciso Ibáñez Menta’s portrayal of Dracula as a world-weary homebody is as memorable as the portentous, decaying Hammer-on-a-budget atmosphere that The Dracula Saga prides itself on. Who better suited to direct something like this than Argentinian transplant León Klimovsky? He had directed the Paul Naschy El Hombre Lobo features The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971) and Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman (1973) as well as The Vampires Night Orgy (1973) after all. Highly atmospheric in its predilection towards aristrocratic decadence and brimming with both macabre playfulness and sweltering Mediterranean eroticism The Dracula Saga is the zenith of Spanish vampire horror – and not to be missed for that reason alone.

With Klimovsky at the helm it’s no wonder that The Dracula Saga is pervaded with that Argentine weirdness. The spirit of Emilio Vieyra is alive and well here. There would no The Dracula Saga without The Blood Of the Virgins (1967). Neither would there be José Ramón Larraz’ Vampyres (1974) for that matter. In the five years between 1970 and 1975 there was incredible surge of gothic horror throwbacks after Jean Rollin arguably single-handedly started the French horror industry with The Rape Of the Vampire (1968) and The Nude Vampire (1970). However it was Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971) that really codified the subgenre, put Spain on the international cult map, and kicked off the vampire craze in continental Europe. Following the box office successes of Rollin’s early vampire works and Franco’s delirious exercise in psychotronic sleaze the rest of Europe couldn’t stay behind. Before long there was The Wolfman Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), and Daughters Of Darkness (1971). Even America contributed their sole classic to the subgenre with The Velvet Vampire (1971) (with Celeste Yarnall). 1973 was an absolute banner year with the likes of Black Magic Rites (1973), Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), The Vampires Night Orgy (1973), The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), Joe Sarno’s Vampire Ecstasy (1973), and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973). Vampyres (1974) and Nude For Satan (1974) arrived a year later but were no less important. The Dracula Saga echoes The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) just as much as it does A Woman Posssessed (1968) (with Libertad Leblanc).

Narciso Ibáñez Menta was the member of an important family of theatrical artists. He was a pillar in Argentine and Spanish horror and terror, on both the big - and small screen. In the sixties he and his son Narciso "Chicho" Ibáñez Serrador were the creative forces behind several successful series for Argentine and Spanish television. Menta had played the role of Dracula earlier in the Argentine mini-series Otra vez Drácula (1970). In 1973 he returned to the big screen with The Dracula Saga (1973) from director León Klimovsky, with whom he had worked two decades before on the series Three Appointments With The Destination (1953). Helga Liné was a beloved gothic horror icon thanks to roles in The Blancheville Monster (1963), Nightmare Castle (1965) (with Barbare Steele) and Horror Express (1972) (with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Silvia Tortosa). Betsabé Ruiz was a fixture in Spanish horror with appearances in The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), The Loreleys Grasp (1973) and Return of the Blind Dead (1973). Tina Sáinz on the other hand came from the soccer comedy Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971) and has since gone on record saying that The Dracula Saga is her sole claim to international fame. More recently Sáinz had a 15-episode recurring role in the series Cable Girls (2017-2020) where she could be seen alongside Blanca Suárez from The Bar (2017). María Kosty has since built a career in television while Cristina Suriani remains a humble unknown.

Summoned back to her ancestral homestead in Bistriţa in the Carpathian mountains after an unspecified stay in London, England 5 months pregnant Berta (Tina Sáinz, as Tina Sainz) and her husband Hans (Tony Isbert) find themselves stranded as their carriage is forced to make an unforeseen stop as the horses are spooked and refuse to go any further into the Borgho Pass. On their way through the woods the young couple come across an injured young maiden (María Luisa Tovar) who just regains consciousness. Passing out from her incurred blood loss the half-naked maiden collapses once again, leaving it to Hans to see to it that she gets to the village. Sufficiently startled by the bloody sight and the howling of wolves the two make it to the inn. There they are greeted by a superstitious, long-haired, hunchbacked local who warns them about the tolling funeral bell from the nearby cemetery. "The cemetery of Vlad Tepes," he ominously intones, "is inhabited only by the dead!" With the maiden laid out on a table a helpful villager tears open her shirt to clarify that she has biting marks on her neck as well as on her chest. Crutch-bound town physician Dr. Karl (Heinrich Starhemberg, as Henry Gregor) infers that it must be another animal attack, something they have been experiencing lately. One-Eye (Ramón Centenero, as Ramon Centenero) meanwhile jokes about the situation as the priest (Luis Ciges) insists that the maiden "provoked wickedness" and that “there on the table you see LUST stretched out!" all while getting a good eyeful himself. The constable (José Riesgo, as Pepe Riesgo) meanwhile is all too enthusiastic to cast blame on a band of gypsies which allegedly (but not really) have been a scourge of the region for some time.

In the inn providing lodging the two make their acquaintance with iron-fisted matriarch Sra. Mamá Petrescu (Mimí Muñoz, as Mimi Muñoz) and the grumpy Sergei (Fernando Villena). Hans quickly catches the eye of the innkeeper’s nubile daughter Stilla (Betsabé Ruiz, as Betsabe Ruiz) as Berta and himself settle into their temporary accomodation. Stilla wantonly throws herself a the virile Hans, but he kindly rejects her all too obvious advances. Stilla then retreats back to her room where she’s overtaken by a mysterious blackcloaked figure. The following morning Berta and Hans are having breakfast when they are greeted by the patrician Gabor (J.J. Paladino), the Count’s administrator, who will bring them to Castle Dracula in his horse and carriage. Once at the castle Berta insists on seeing the graves of her forefathers and she notices the coffins of her grandfather and cousins in the family crypt, despite the fact that they are supposedly all waiting to meet her. The couple are left to enjoy lunch alone at their palatial abode with none of their hosts making an appearance. None of this helps improve Berta’s mood, fatigued from her pregnant state and worn from the journey. In one of the rooms Hans is spellbound by the portrait of a regal, beautiful woman that Berta is unable to identify. Once the sun has set Gabor informs the couple that the family is ready to meet them now and they’re invited to join them at the dinner table.

Here we are introduced to Count Dracula (Narciso Ibáñez Menta as Narciso Ibañez Menta), his dazzling second and much younger wife Munia (Helga Liné), his hot-to-trot stepdaughters Xenia (María Kosty, as Maria Kosti) and Irina (Cristina Suriani) as well as maid Sra. Gastrop (Elsa Zabala) and butler Gert (Javier de Rivera). Denied affection by his very pregnant Berta, Hans first falls headlong into the hungry embrace of the noble Munia, who quite matter-of-factly drops her gown for him, and then later Hans is seduced by a willing Irina and Xenia in an adjacent chamber. Some time later the Count explains the history of the Dracula lineage to his granddaughter, that they are descendants of Vlad Tepes, the warlord of Wallachia, and that Berta’s child will ensure the survival of the nearly-extinct bloodline. The Count also entrusts Berta that the family suffers from a peculiar affliction that makes their skin ashen and pale and makes them unable to withstand sunlight. There’s an heir, hidden somewhere within the attic and periodically it’ll be fed a villager or undesirable, but he’s "the result of the excesses and degradations of my ancestors!" and unfit on many fronts.

One night the Count lets himself into Berta’s room as she’s fast asleep but can’t bring himself to vampirize his granddaughter. Instead they will let nature run its course. The clan has locked Berta into the castle. There she slowly descends into madness, is prone to hallucinations and spells of chewing her hair – all while experiencing severe abdominal pains that the Count finds easily explainable. "Don't you understand?" he barks at one point, "She's being eaten from the inside!" Meanwhile Xenia and Irina defile the priest in the woods. One day Berta is wandering the hallways when she runs into a couple of gypsies in the process of breaking-and-entering. She pushes the man (Manuel Barrera) falling to his death in the spiral staircase and the woman (Ingrid Rabel) is fed to Valerio - a role so important that it wasn’t even credited - the ravenous Cyclops, dwarfish, hunchbacked, web-fingered abomination that the Count occassionally whips into subservience. In the following weeks Berta does give birth to a son, but when she comes about she finds him dead in her arms. The apparent loss of her newborn son fetters the last tenuous vestiges of what remains of her sanity. Grabbing an axe from a wall she steps into the family crypt, and coldly murders her relatives one by one. After all that bloodshed and carnage she retreats back to her room where she succumbs to the bloodloss from childbirth as blood of her relatives drips on her newborn son. As the closing narration informs the Dracula bloodline lived on for many centuries of solitude.

Plotwise The Dracula Saga steals from the best. It has the stranded couple experiencing vehicular trouble and the strange people at the village inn mumbling cryptic warnings about ancient evil in the remote castle from The Kiss Of the Vampire (1963). Like in Necrophagus (1971) Berta’s relatives envelop themselves in secrecy about their true nature until facts, and a heap of exsanguinated cadavers, force them to come clean. Just like Amalia Fuentes in Blood Of the Vampires (1966) and Anita Ekberg in Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) it has a young maiden realizing that the eccentricity of her estranged relatives is borne from the fact that they’re actually vampires. Since no horror movie is complete without an obligatory monster, a plot point liberally borrowed from The Blancheville Monster (1963), The Dracula Saga not only has the abomination Valerio, but also Berta’s unborn son, who is a spawn of evil just like in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The Dracula Saga is one of those great patchworks that through the supreme art of derivation is one of those unique recombinants. It never quite becomes a saga the way it promises but it’s certainly epic enough considering the limited budget.

The most unique creation of The Dracula Saga is Valerio, the monocled, dwarfen, webfingered, hunchbacked abomination with a most carnivorous appetite. Apparently the product of years’ worth of inbreeding. In the tradition of The Blancheville Monster (1963) the diminutive monster is locked away deep in the bowels of Castle Dracula and his cries (that of a sobbing woman) emit through the walls. When Berta comes eye to eye with the horror she’s already so far in shock that the little monster doesn’t even register. Valerio has no menionworthy function besides being a convenient excuse to dispose of various extraneous characters without much in need of an explanation. The innkeeper’s daughter played by Betsabé Ruiz and the gypsy woman portrayed by Ingrid Rabel both meet their ends after being locked into a room with Valerio. As Berta turns into an axe-murderer and slaughters her vampire relatives Valerio comes out as one of the survivors. The screenplay, of course, makes nothing of it – and Valerio is forgotten about as soon as he's introduced. It’s a wonderful piece of prosthetics and practical effects for a movie with a budget as modest as this one.

The Dracula Saga is ripe with that thick, decaying Mediterranean atmosphere of mildew, cobwebs and candlelabras that defined the best of Italian, Spanish, Mexican and Filipino gothic horror. Ricardo Muñoz Suay and José Antonio Pérez Giner succeed in providing a regional take on that very stylish almost Hammer-like atmosphere with the usage of good period costumes, vivid use of colors and a hypnotizing harpsichord and organ score by Antonio Ramírez Ángel and Daniel White with public domain music from Johann Sebastian Bach. Filming took place at La Coracera Castle in San Martín de Valdeiglesia in Madrid, one of Spain’s great horror castles. The castle had earlier featured in The Blancheville Monster (1963), The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), Assignment Terror (1970), The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and Necrophagus (1971), among others. Francisco Sánchez photographs the suitably sarcophagal location with its shadowy bowels, ornate hallways, candlelit interiors with age-old dusty tomes, time-worn candelabras, and cobwebbed dungeon basement beautifully.

As with any Hammer inspired production there’s no shortage of absolutely ravishing women everywhere you look. Betsabé Ruiz and María Luisa Tovar were never shy about taking their tops off and The Dracula Saga takes full advantage of that. Helga Liné even has a brief full-frontal scene whereas the pregnant Tina Sáinz remains clothed at all times. Sáinz’ tomboyish charm was already one of her biggest assets in Pedro Masó’s Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971). In no other Spanish vampire movie are the undead so dried out, parchment skinned, ashen-looking as they do here. The contrast of the pallid complexion of the vampires and the rosy skintones of the living is perhaps one of Klimovsky’s greatest achievements.

As the scion of kitschy gothic horror pulp as The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) and The Blancheville Monster (1963) That the last happened to feature Helga Liné in her first major role only adds to the authenticity. The Dracula Saga is derivative in exactly the right ways. It never becomes quite as oneiric as Gerardo de Leon’s Blood Of the Vampires (1966), as impossible to follow as Renato Polselli’s unsurpassed exercise in psychotronic excess Black Magic Rites (1973) or Luigi Batzella’s Nude For Satan (1974) a year later. Tina Sáinz certainly is no Amalia Fuentes, Soledad Miranda, or Rita Calderoni.

That doesn’t take away that The Dracula Saga is as delirious as some of Italy’s finest offerings. Spanish horror was always atmospherically richer and thicker in the macabre sense than its Italian counterpart and The Dracula Saga has plenty on offer. Klimovsky makes good use of the mist-shrouded locales and foggy, candlelit interiors and the bevy of bosomy belles ready to drop top whenever required. It had worked so wonderfully well for him some two years prior with Paul Naschy’s El Hombre Lobo The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971). No. In those times before Vampyres (1974) this is a monumental achievement rightly remembered as a well-deserved high zenith of early 1970s Iberian gothic horror throwbacks. Helga Liné had made a decent living starring in stuff like this, for young Tina Sáinz it is, was, and remains an anomaly in an otherwise respectable and long career. No wonder everyone remembers her for this.

Plot: experimental treatment turns disgraced doctor into homicidal maniac.

Intensive Care is the stuff of legend in the history of Dutch cinema, horror and otherwise. Conceived by the dynamic duo of director Dorna X. De Rouveroy - daughter of Robert Rouveroy, who did uncredited special effects work on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) – and producer Ruud den Dryver as the Dutch-Belgian alternative to Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Announced with big fanfare and extensive media coverage, both televised and in print, Intensive Care failed to do much of anything. Allegedly a hit in Russian cineplexes and sold to 50 countries worldwide Intensive Care bombed spectacularly at home. Only 20 copies were produced for multiplexes, it played only for a week in Dutch cinemas (attracting a mere 5,000 spectators), and never was officially released in Belgium. In Nederhorror circles there were simply plain better alternatives such as Amsterdamned (1988) and De Johnsons (1992) and as such it remains an item of deserved obscurity and infamy and a quaint curiosity.

With an estimated budget of somewhere between 1,8 and 2 million gulden, in part funded by the Dutch Film Fund and private investors, and filmed at the Slotervaartziekenhuis general hospital in Amsterdam with additional location shooting in Belgium and France this was meant to launch a franchise. Since the international market was always the aim it was shot in Dutch and English simultaneously and even the prerequisite faded American star was cast. That star was George Kennedy, winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and nominee for the corresponding Golden Globe for Cool Hand Luke (1967). He of The Dirty Dozen (1967), Airport (1970), and Earthquake (1974). This wasn’t even Kennedy’s first foray into independent horror as before his career revival with the Naked Gun (1988-1994) he was in Just Before Dawn (1981). Allegedly Kennedy filmed his scenes, totaling in some 8 or so minutes of actual screentime, in a single day taking most of the budget with him.

As for the Dutch and Belgian talent there was Nada van Nie, famous around these parts for her turn in the racy comedy Honneponnetje (1988). Nada put on a few pounds in the three years in between, but they look good on her. Intensive Care pretty much buried her career. From 1999 to 2002 she was regular on Dutch television just the way she was prior to Honneponnetje (1988). Nada has not acted in any theatrical releases since 2004 and 2008 and it appears family life has taken precedence. Koen Wauters was the up-and-coming Belgian teen idol of the day as the charismatic frontman of Belgian pop-rock band Clouseau. Wauters was the subject of a portrait by documentary maker Paul Jambers which elevated his profile considerably. Intensive Care was intended to be his star-making turn and it heavily capitalized on his popularity with the teen set. The movie was marketed in all the usual tabloid and teen rags. Wauters had previously acted in the drama My Blue Heaven (1990). He has since become a veritable media institution in the Flemish television landscape reinventing himself as a host, quizmaster, and general devil-do-all. His band Clouseau has become an implacable monument of contemporary pop, an evergreen, and remains incredibly popular to this day.

Dr. Bruckner (George Kennedy) is a brilliant surgeon on the verge of a scientific – and medical breakthrough that will revolutionize treatments within his field of expertise. After mishandling a standard operating procedure Bruckner sees all funding for his research summarily pulled on grounds of its questionable ethic – and moral implications, plus he's terminated with immediate effect by his direct superior, the benevolent Dr. Horvath (Jules Croiset). Angrily Bruckner storms off and moments later he’s caught in a fiery road collision. The disgraced doctor sustains third-degree burns on at least 90 percent of his body and falls into a seven-year coma. On New Years’ Eve the heavily disfigured Dr. Bruckner (Martin Hofstra) comes to life and decides to enact his homicidal retribution starting with the resident hospital staff before fleeing into the night. In a nearby neighborhood Amy (Nada van Nie) is babysitting her precocious little brother Bobby (Michiel Hess) while trying to ward off the advances from off-duty nurse Peter (Koen Wauters) and leather jacket wearing bad boy Ted (Dick van den Toorn). As the bodies start to pile and Bruckner singles Amy out for extermination Inspector Fox (Fred Van Kuyk) is put on the case. Will anybody be able to stop the blade-wielding murderous surgeon?

What is there possibly to be said about a movie having the gall to call itself Intensive Care, and then place the majority of the action outside of a hospital? The screenplay - a collaborative effort between Dorna X. De Rouveroy and Ruud Den Dryver with input from Leon de Winter - was based on an original script by Hans Heijnen is a series of unfortunate events that abides by most of the subgenre’s 1980s rules while also surprisingly foreshadowing the more sanitized approach of the dawning decade. In what is perhaps its greatest error of judgement the international English-language version tries to pass off the Dutch and Belgian locales as America, Washington state to be exact. The choice of victims is completely arbitrary and random that it gives no insight into the means, motivation, and opportunity of the perpetrator. Horvath never becomes a target despite slasher logic would brand him a prime candidate. Ted and the police officers have nothing to do with Bruckner’s case, yet are sliced for no reason. The special effects – and make-up work from Harry Wiessenhaan, Sjoerd Didden and Floris Schuller, respectively, are often lambasted and ragged upon. Wrongly so, in our opinion. They may be a bit uneventful and colorless in the grand scheme of things and they in no way are a match for, say, Bloody Moon (1981) or Pieces (1982) – but, then again, Nada van Nie was no Olivia Pascal either – but, damn, if they’re not budget-efficient. By 1988 underground directors as Wim Vink were doing far more interesting things on non-existing budgets. Above all else, Intensive Care was a wasted opportunity. This could’ve been grand.

Where else are going to see something as utterly deranged the following: when Peter sustains multiple stabwounds and a beating by Bruckner, Amy runs to his rescue sobbing and panicky, spouting the Dutch line that single-handedly ensured Intensive Care’s elevation into cinematic immortality and enshrining into the De Nacht van Wansmaak Hall of Fame, “do you want me to get some band-aid? Gollygosh!Intensive Care had the gall to make everybody speak English even though the great majority of them either weren’t native speakers or had to learn their lines phonetically. George Kennedy knew what a turkey this was turning out to be, and hammed it up gloriously. Jules Croiset, the serious Dutch actor, is visibly uncomfortable through out – and Nada van Nie is passively resigned to the fact that, yes, her top has to come off again. Not to put too much of a fine point on it, but the budget that went into the ridiculously overblown piece of pyrotechnics for the car accident was better spent on hiring Ted Rusoff and his usual drunk dubbers. If the Italians could hire him for a plate of spaghetti, what’s the excuse here? Even Rabid Grannies (1988) was able to overcome the language problem better or at least was consistently funny in doing so. We’ll defend Johan Vandewoestijne (or James Desert) over this any day of the week. In those days before Calvaire (2004) and Sint (2010) Nederhorror wasn’t what it is today.

To the surprise of absolutely no one Intensive Care was torn to shreds by the Belgian and Dutch press. As legend has it the director’s cut ran 90 minutes, but the theatrical print that saw very limited release only ran for 74. In the thirty years since it has seen very limited, almost collectible-level, select release on various home media here and there. As is tradition it has been shown annually (or closest to it) as part of the traveling De Nacht van de Wansmaak (Night Of Bad Taste) festival across Belgium and the Netherlands. A sequel was briefly talked about, starring Belgian goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, but understandably never materialized.

So what happened to Dorna X. De Rouveroy? She returned some eight years later with the thriller An Amsterdam Tale (1999) and got an even worse reception. Since then she has wisely turned to television where she has cornered a niche in directing documentaries pertaining military history and the two World Wars. Producer Ruud Den Dryver redeemed himself in the eyes of the press and detractors with the Willem Elsschot adaptation Lijmen/Het Been (2000) (or The Publishers, internationally) from director Robbe de Hert and remains active to this day. Koen Wauters refuses to acknowledge Intensive Care exists. Nada van Nie probably likes to pretend it never happened, and is content living as a retiree/housewife. Will Intensive Care ever be restored to its mythical 90-minute original? Three decades’ worth of hindsight have not dulled the fascinating mystery behind Intensive Care, how it fumbled the slasher so gloriously, and its subsequent unceremonious burial. Did Wauters and van Nie use their collective clout to have and keep it buried? It’s not outside of the realm of possibility – and would explain Intensive Care’s scarcity on any format or streaming service. If you do find it somewhere, pick it up – and be amazed.