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Plot: four comely women and their chaperon strand in the Carpathians 

In The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971) Barbara Capell's Genevieve Bennett jokingly mused, “Perhaps Count Dracula will appear and he will invite us to spend the night in his castle.” Two years later and with a fresh batch of willing and able Eurobabes the Spanish Lon Chaney, Jr. Paul Naschy did indeed made good on that promise. Shot back-to-back with The Hunchback of the Rue Morgue and using many of the same talent in front, and behind, the camera Count Dracula’s Great Love is a throwback to the costume period horror pieces from Britain’s horror factory Hammer Film. With little in the way of innovation and an abundance of heaving bosoms, Count Dracula’s Great Love is a glacially paced exercise with enough idiosyncrasies of its own to keep it interesting for the gothic horror fanatic.

1973 proved a fertile year for the gothic horror throwback following the success of Hammer Film's Karnstein trilogy of Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust For A Vampire (1971), and Twins Of Evil (1971) as well as Jesús Franco's Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Jean Rollin's The Nude Vampire (1970), and features like The Night Of the Damned (1971). Among others that year saw the release of The Devil's Wedding Night (with Rosalba Neri), The Dracula Saga (with Helga Liné and Narciso Ibáñez Menta), Black Magic Rites (with Rita Calderoni), and Female Vampire (with Lina Romay). Nude For Satan (1974) and Vampyres (1974) arrived early enough to benefit from the wave. The granddaddy of them all was, of course, Emilio Vieyra's blood-and-boobs spectacular Blood Of the Virgins (1967) (with Susana Beltrán). With interest in erotic gothic horror and vampires at an all-time high Paul Naschy couldn’t possibly stay behind. He penned his own peculiar take on the Dracula legend with assistance from director Javier Aguirre, and Alberto S. Insúa. Almost two decades after Lamberto Bava’s I, Vampiri (1954) Paul Naschy embodied a sullen King of Vampires in what can be considered an unicum in his filmography.

En route from Biarritz to the Carpathians via the Borgo Pass Imre Polvi (Víctor Barrera, as Vic Winner) and his four comely lady friends Senta (Rosanna Yanni, as Rossana Yanny), Karen (Haydée Politoff), Elke (Mirta Miller), and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo) discuss the significance of the Carpathians, its relation to the Dracula legend, and its roots in the historical accounts of Vlad Tepes, the warlord of Wallachia. Accounts that they, for all intents and purposes, couldn’t possibly be aware of considering it is only 1870. When their carriage loses a wheel, and their coachman is critically injured in the process, they are forced to seek refuge in the isolated residence of Dr. Wendell Marlowe (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy), who lives in a opulent castle, a renovated sanitarium of one Dr. Kargos, a portmanteau of famous Dracula actors Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi. Their gracious host is delighted by the company of the delectable aristocrat ladies and welcomes them into his abode. From there on out the ladies and their chaperon soon discover that Marlowe is not quite who he pretends to be.

Upon settling in their rooms for the night the five travellers are soon witness to the strange going-ons in and around the castle. Shadowy figures stalk the darkened hallways, and Dr. Marlowe’s nocturnal behavior soon reveals that he is actually the Prince of Darkness himself, the fabled Count Dracula. In quick succession the bra-busting Senta, Elke (who everybody calls “elle-key”), and Marlene fall victim to the Count’s diabolical charms and are turned into his Brides. To the virginal Karen, with whom Dracula is smitten from the moment she sets foot in his castle, he entrusts that he seeks a woman of pure blood that loves him, as a means to resurrect his daughter Rahdna. "The Prince of Darkness will not acquire the true potential of his bewitching power until he encounters a true virgin that will fall in love with the vampire in a natural way... giving herself to him without the need of his diabolical powers", as he puts it himself. Alternately, Dracula sees Karen as his true love, and as the ideal sacrifice to facilitate the resurrection of his long-dormant daughter. The plotpoint is quickly discarded in favor of a tragically romantic subplot as Count Dracula wants to spent eternity with Karen, an idea she isn’t very comfortable with. It is then that the dejected Dracula commits suicide by pushing a stake through his own heart.

What little there is of actual plot and character development is compensated by the ladies’ lovely costumes. The second act is awash with several scenes of blood drinking, whipping, torture, and lesbian groping. To their credit Yanni, Miller and Garbo (in one of her last roles) all have extended nude scenes in the international market versions. In an interesting twist of convention Imre Polvi, the chaperon to the four aristocratic ladies, is victimised by one of the castle-dwelling grave diggers from the prolog that were turned by Dracula. Imre in turn vampirizes half of the ladies before Dracula sinks his teeth into the remaining few. Senta, Elke, and Marlene become the Brides of Dracula, while the virginal Karen wards off her exanimate companions. In an unexpected twist of chivalry, an undead Imre defends Karen from the clutches of Dracula in the second act. The tragic love story would make a return in Francis Ford Coppola’s big-budget retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, and Winona Ryder.

Director Javier Aguirre had just directed The Hunchback of the Rue Morgue, another classic movie monster project by the prolific Paul Naschy with Rosanna Yanni and Víctor Barrera in the principal cast. French actress Haydée Politoff debuted in the Éric Rohmer film La Collectionneuse (1967) but from 1970 became an erotic exploitation - and horror cinema regular. She retired from acting after her last film in 1981. Rosanna Yanni had worked earlier with Paul Naschy in The Mark of the Wolfman (1968), and played one the barmaids in Amando de Ossorio’s Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), for which she also acted as producer. Next to playing in Count Dracula’s Great Love in 1973 Yanni also appeared in The Amazons by former Bond director Terence Young. Naschy before, and after, would return to his lycanthrope nobleman Waldemar Daninsky in the years after. Interestingly, Count Dracula’s Great Love was the only time that Paul Naschy would portray the immortally condemned Count Dracula.

Even for 1970 standards Count Dracula’s Great Love is charmingly stuffy. The lush costumes, the interiors full of shadowy corridors, and torchlit mausoleums, and fog-filled exteriors are all the work of production designer José Luis Galicia. The rustic cinematography by Raúl Pérez Cubero and majestic score by Carmelo A. Bernaola greatly add to the atmosphere of a land frozen in time. All are testament to the fact that Count Dracula’s Great Love has it roots in Dracula adaptations of the 1950/60s. Naschy’s Dracula isn’t a hulking mortal threat that wields inconceivable power and commands arcane forces far beyond the ken of man. In Count Dracula’s Great Love the Count rather is a mousy character not that different from his mortal house guests, consumed by the very same frailties and weaknesses. It is this what makes Count Dracula’s Great Love interesting beyond the appeal of its more obvious exploitation elements such as rampant nudity and bloodletting.

Plot: French students unwittingly awaken age-old Countess from slumber

The box office success of The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) had abundantly proven that there was a legitimate domestic market for horror. Within the year a follow-up was produced with the Universal Monster/science fiction mash-up Assignment Terror (1969) with an aging Michael Rennie as the lead. The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) was eventually released after a deeply troubled production period. For the fourth chapter in his El Hombre Lobo saga Naschy, the Spanish Lon Chaney, surrounded himself with professionals. The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman was produced to profit from the gothic horror revival of the early seventies and was written accordingly. In other words there’s plenty of skin and blood to satisfy anybody’s craving. A dashing leading lady and a swathe of ravishing supporting actresses ensured that The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman would become the highest grossing Waldemar Daninsky episode up to that point. Helmed by former Argentinian dentist Léon Klimovsky The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman made horror into an industry in Spain – and as a throwback to the Universal Horror of the 1930s it is an highly atmospheric genre piece with more than plenty dream-like surrealism to draw in fanatics of the French fantastique.

When we catch up with Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) he is lying on a medical slab awaiting to be autopsied somewhere in France by Dr. Hartwig (Julio Peña) and his assistent Muller (Barta Barri). Muller reminds Hartwig to be cautious as Daninsky is rumored to be a werewolf. “It’s a werewolf, right?" Hartwig sarcastically remarks, “According to the legend, if the bullet that killed him is extracted from his heart, he should come back to life.” Hartwig’s skepticism is immediately rewarded with a gash to the throat and Muller doesn’t fare any better despite heeding old folklore. Before the titlecard the wolven Daninsky has slashed a hapless traveling maiden (María Luisa Tovar), but not without ripping her shirt open first – because it’s that sort of production.

Meanwhile in a Parisian nightclub archeology student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) fills her boyfriend inspector Marcel (Andrés Resino) in on the details on an excursion into the French countryside she and her friend and fellow student Genevieve Bennett (Barbara Capell, as Bárbara Capell) are embarking on in order to do research for their final thesis. As convention would have it the intrepid duo’s BMC ADO16 Sedan breaks down in the middle of nowhere in the rural French countryside. “Perhaps Count Dracula will appear,” Genevieve remarks jokingly in a line that foreshadows Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), “and he will invite us to spend the night in his castle.” Mere moments later Waldemar Daninsky invites the stranded intrepid student duo to the comforts of his opulent mansion where he’s studying the history and architecture of gothic churches and has been grimly brooding over the lycanthropic affliction that seizes him whenever the moon is full. Over dinner the two girls inform Waldemar of the reason of their excursion into the farther regions of the French countryside. That night Elvira is assaulted and almost injured by Daninsky’s live-in mentally unstable sister Elisabeth (Yelena Samarina).

Elvira and Genevieve are searching for the tomb of 18th century aristocrat Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy, who is patterned after Hungarian countess Erzsébet Bathory, in the French coutryside. Daninsky spents the next day exploring the region with Elvira, scouting the location where he believes the tomb of the Countess is to be found. According to the girls the Countess is from the 11th century, even though the etchings on her gravestone put her in the 15th century. In a scene recreated wholesale from Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) Genevieve cuts herself while removing the lid from the unearthed sarcophagus, dripping copious amounts of blood on the Countess’ skeletal remains. Before long the maiden’s blood has resurrected Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard, as Paty Shepard). Soon Genevieve is seduced and vampirized by Wandesa and Waldemar struggles to protect Elvira from the Countess and Genevieve’s sanguine predilections as well as his own wolven inclinations. It wasn’t the first time the two had met. Daninsky crossed paths with Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy earlier in The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) when she called herself Wandessa Mikhelov and was played by Aurora de Alba. With the spate of murders that the Countess leaves in her wake it isn’t long before inspector Marcel hurries to rural France to rescue Elvira from two very different but equally grave threats…

Greenville, South Carolina actress Patty Shepard - one of the two daughters of retired United States Air Force general Leland C. Shepard Jr., who was stationed air force base in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain at the time – was tipped as the new Barbara Steele, but she quickly faded into obscurity once interest in Spanish horror started to wane in the mid 1970s. At age 18 she moved to Spain to work as a model. Her modeling work led to her being cast in continental European exploitation movies. In a career that spanned two decades Shepard appeared in over fifty Spanish, Italian and French films from the 1960s to the 1980s. Shepard debuted in Jess Franco’s Dan Leyton Eurocrime caper Residence For Spies (1966) and soon moved up the industry ladder with the gialli My Dear Killer (1972) and The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1976). Among her more enduring efforts were the Bud Spencer-Terence Hill actioner Watch Out, We’re Mad (1974) and Slugs (1988) from Spanish pulpmeister Juan Piquer Simón at the tall end of her career. After retiring from acting Shepard had a boutique in the Plaza de España (whether in Sevilla or Madrid is unclear) that also went out of business eventually.

Barbara Capell was a German import that had been a fixture in raunchy domestic comedies and dramas from Franz Jozef Gottlieb and directors of similar ilk in the late 1960s. Gaby Fuchs was brought in from Austria and like Capell she too had done her share of sex comedies early in her career. Firmly establishing her name were the soft erotic Grimm retelling The New Adventures of Snow White (1969), the British-German Inquisition classic Mark Of the Devil (1970), and Around the World with Fanny Hill (1970) that had Christina Lindberg in a supporting role. Betsabé Ruiz was a few years away from a memorable bit part in Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1973), which made better use of her considerable talents, and Andrés Resino was yet to drive glorious Gloria Guida to the end of her wits in Monika (1974). María Luisa Tovar would encounter more vampires in Léon Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973), and Curse Of the Vampire (1974) as well as making an uncredited appearance in The Loreley’s Grasp (1973). Hungarian actor Barta Barri on the other hand was an experienced veteran having starred in diverse offerings as Ignacio F. Iquino’s Brigada Criminal (1950), Eugenio Martín’s swashbuckling epic Conqueror of Maracaibo (1961), the Jess Franco spy spoof Kiss Me, Monster (1969), and was yet to star in the highly atmospheric Horror Express (1972) and The Strange Love of the Vampires (1975).

As every Naschy production worth its salt The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman doesn’t shy away from blood, nudity and sapphic love. Moreso than The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) and The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970), The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman has Fuchs finding herself inexplicably drawn to the diminuitive Daninsky, while suggesting that Capell and Fuchs were lovers at one point or another during their university studies. The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman pushes Capell towards Shepard once Fuchs couples with Naschy and wastes absolutely no time whatsoever in getting to the point by having María Luisa Tovar getting her dress torn open when she is savaged by the wolven Daninsky. Later Capell gets her blouse ripped open by Daninsky’s deranged sister, and Fuchs appears topless in the obligatory love scene. Betsabé Ruiz on the other hand is terribly, and unforgivably, wasted on what amounts to nothing more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. She would be put to greater use in The Loreley’s Grasp (1972) and The Dracula Saga (1973). To add to the sleaze factor Daninsky’s creepy handyman Pierre (José Marco), who has a predilection towards kidnapping and raping attractive female tourists that come to town, is violently killed and mutilated during one of Daninsky’s multiple lycanthropic episodes, but only after he has sufficiently threatened life and limb of Gaby Fuchs’ Elvira. At least in the international English language version, whereas in the Spanish original he offhandedly fills Elvira in on some historical peculiarities of their surroundings.

Helmed by transplanted Argentinian Léon Klimovsky and assistant director Carlos Aured The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman makes full use of the mist-shrouded locales and foggy, candlelit interiors. The slow-motion vampire scenes greatly add to the unearthly, almost surreal atmosphere. As before the werewolf make-up was styled after Lon Chaney, Jr. and the entire production bathes in Boris Karloff stylings. The delightfully creaky score by Antón García Abril is in line with much of the earlier El Hombre Lobo installments, and Carlos Aured would helm his own feature with Curse Of the Devil (1972). One scene in particular probably served as an inspiration to Amando de Ossorio to write Tombs of the Blind Dead, which was made just a few months later in 1971. While at the ruined chapel where the Countess is buried, Elvira is accosted by a hooded zombified monk. The decomposed cleric bears more than a passing resemblance to de Ossorio’s own famous Templar Knights from the famed Blind Dead franchise. The English-language cut as Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman truncates several scenes, omitting some of the more gratuitous gore and excising a least part of the rampant nudity as well as having a different score and opening montage. In all it trims 8 minutes of footage compared from the original Spanish language version.