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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: the Ibéricas make a splash, but not for their athletic ability. Hilarity ensues!

There’s a lot of things you can say about Las Ibéricas F.C.. It’s probably one of Spain’s most famous ensemble comedies of the 1970s. Ensemble comedies either work, or they don’t. Las Ibéricas F.C. obviously works, but nothing of it has anything to do with the screenplay. Not only is Las Ibéricas F.C. an ensemble comedy, it is an ensemble sports comedy – which means that there’s plenty of slapstick to be had and since there’s plenty of beautiful women about, some of the humor will be derived from a dire lack of fabric. The cast comprised of some of Spain biggest stars and young talent. It had a catchy yé-yé theme song that remains popular to this day and it pushes a strong women’s lib message as many of continental European productions did in the early 1970s. However, Las Ibéricas F.C.’s reputation as some of the worst Spanish comedy isn’t unfounded…

Las Ibéricas F.C. tells, if not the true story, at least a story of the first Spanish all-women soccer team. The real Las Ibéricas F.C. was RCD Espanyol Femenino, a national all-woman team formed by Rafael Muga around 1970. The team was not recognized in official capacity as soccer was considered an unsuitable sport for women by the Royal Spanish Football Federation and the National Movement’s Women’s Section. In 1971 RFEF (Real Federación Española de Fútbol) president José Luis Pérez-Paya stated, “I’m not against women’s football, but I don’t like it either. I don’t think it’s feminine from an esthetic point of view. Women are not favored by wearing shirt and trousers. Any regional dress would fit them better echoing the patriarchal norms of the day. Contact sports were forbidden in Spain during the nearly 40-year fascist regime of Francisco Franco (from 1939 to 1975). They required a strength that was deemed masculine and thus clashed with the fragility of the feminine ideal as envisioned by government sanctioned National Catholicism. Practitioners of the sport were condemned as sinners and it was disapproved of by Franco’s Youth Front. The sports were considered inappropriate for women as under the National Catholicism guidelines their roles were strictly traditional, confined to those of child-rearing, family care, and motherhood. In other words, Iberian women’s right to self-determination were anything but common in 1970.

Pedro Masó was a Spanish director, screenwriter and producer who initially got his start as an actor in Sáenz de Heredias' El Escándalo/The Scandal (1943). He parlayed that into working behind the scenes in minor capacities through 1953. He started writing scripts and was soon promoted to production manager. In 1958 he wrote the screenplay for the Rafael J. Salvia comedy Las chicas de la Cruz Roja/Red Cross Girls which provided him with the opportunity to produce more domestic comedies for different companies. Having amassed the necessary experience Masó found his own production company Pedro Masó P.C. in 1961. Masó specialized in comedies most of which were directed by Pedro Lazaga and found great commercial success in the years that followed. One of Masó’s protégées was Javier Aguirre and he was responsible for discovering a young actor by the name of Javier Bardem. It wasn’t until the seventies that Masó sat in the directorial chair for Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971). Las Ibéricas F.C. is indeed memorable but mostly for all the wrong reasons. In the 1980s Masó’s cinematic output came to a crawl as he focused his energies on his lucrative career in television.

Ensemble casts are almost as old as Hollywood itself. An emsemble comedy will be broadly appealing to the masses, but it still is only as strong as its screenplay. Las Ibéricas F.C. is legendary. Legendary for all the wrong reasons, but legendary all the same. Where else are you going to see Rosanna Yanni, Ingrid Garbo, Claudia Gravy, Tina Sáinz, Puri Villa, María Kosty, Colette Giacobine, as well as José Sacristán, Antonio Ferrandis, and Luis Induni in the same movie? The cast is absolutely stellar and Las Ibéricas F.C. would have been a lot better had the screenplay been tighter. Whether Las Ibéricas F.C. is supposed to be protest against the patriarchal norms of the day, or a mere reflection of them, is never really clear through out. What is evident is that its legend as one of the worst Spanish comedies is not unfounded. For the most part Las Ibéricas F.C. is but a flimsy excuse for Masó to extensively shoot all of the lovely women’s legs, derriéres, and bellybuttons as its star players run and bounce around in short shorts and tight-fitting soccer shirts. The humour is seldom genuinely funny and it never aspires to anything but lowest common denominator chicanery. In its defense Las Ibéricas F.C. made Ingrid Garbo into a national sex symbol overnight. The theme song “Once Corazones” sung by Rosalía Garrido, one of the more popular yé-yé girls of the day together with Massiel and Karina, remains a staple in Spanish soccer to this day, and it was a fitting finale to a celebrated and loved yé-yé girl at her fin de carrière.

Don Gregorio (Antonio Ferrandis), a wealthy entrepreneur, has seen the lucrative potential of underground women soccer clubs that start to spring up across the country. Prescient of what the sport-loving citizenry wants he decides to put together his own all-women soccer team, Las Ibéricas F.C.. In order to give his newly-minted team the best chances of winning he hires trainer Bernardino (Manolo Gómez Bur, as Manuel Gómez Bur), masseur Bonilla (José Sacristán) and arbiter Agustín Miranda (Adriano Domínguez). After some selections the team consists of Chelo (Rosanna Yanni), Luisa (Ingrid Garbo), Menchu (Claudia Gravy), Julia (Puri Villa), Loli (Tina Sáinz), Piluca (Encarnación Peña Gómez, as La Contrahecha), Tere (María Kosty, as María Kosti) and unnamed supporting extras played by Colette Giacobine, Carmen León, Isabel Titilola García, and Luisa Hernán. Before long the Las Ibéricas are becoming a national sensation, and many of the girls find themselves becoming celebrities in the process. How will they deal with the success? Will they be able to overcome the patriarchal prejudices of their old fashioned parents - and will they marry the men they love? Las Ibéricas F.C. has all the answers, but none of it is particularly interesting.

In other words, Las Ibéricas F.C. features everybody that was somebody (and a few nobodies) in Spanish cinema. Rosanna Yanni was in The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) (that also featured Ingrid Garbo) and The Amazons (1973). Claudia Gravy was in Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969), Adios Cjamango! (1972), The Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973) and Kilma, Queen Of the Amazon (1976). Tina Sáinz was in The Dracula Saga (1973) (as was María Kosty), as well as Colette Giacobine from Jess Franco's Nightmares Come at Night (1972). Apropos of nothing there's also Encarnación Peña Gómez (or La Contrahecha, as she’s popularly known), one of the country’s most famous bailaoras or flamenco dancers. It's a question for the ages why Silvia Tortosa, Betsabé Ruiz and Barbara Capell weren’t given a part in this.

The humour? So juvenile and daft that it would probably make Jing Wong happy. At the first try-out game the girls find out that the shorts are really, really short and that the tops barely cover their wealthy bosoms. Chelo, the designated matriarch of the team by no choice of her own, loves smoking cigars, and is continually and relentlessly chased by press mosquitos Emiliano (Luis Sánchez Polack, as Tip) and Antolín (José Luis Coll, as Coll). Luisa always attracts attention everywhere she goes, even if she’s pretty average as a soccer player. Her mother (Carmen Martínez Sierra) doesn’t like her playing soccer, and Luisa’s seeing a psychiatrist (Pedro Osinaga) to deal with her frustrations. Menchu, the queen bee of the team, is always adjusting her make-up. Loli, the youngest of the group and something of a tomboy, loves eating candy – and her mom faints each and every time she scores a goal. Luis (Simón Andreu) takes a liking to Loli. Piluca dances (and when she dances she goes and goes). Of course her old-fashioned father (Valentín Tornos) disapproves of her new hobby. The men universally and uniformly are either horndogs and/or idiots, exactly as you’d expect them to be in a lowbrow comedy like this. Two construction workers will stop at nothing to spy on the girls’ dressing room (unsuccesfully). Arbiter Agustín Miranda will whistle at the most minor of infractions, or regardless of actual faults. Meanwhile team masseur Bonilla is always looking for any and all excuses to feel up the girls. The supposed humor is offset by a far darker, and somewhat cynical tone reflecting the societal expectations of women at the time. The girls are constantly derided, ridiculed, and castigated for their hobby by anybody and everybody, be they authority figures or members of their own family. It’s exactly as groan-inducing, tedious and terribly unfunny as it sounds.

To its credit Las Ibéricas F.C. was clear proof that Rosanna Yanni, Claudia Gravy and Ingrid Garbo were indeed leading ladies that were capable of carrying entire productions. Of the supporting cast Tina Sáinz and María Kosty are the most recognizable as they would share the screen two years later on The Dracula Saga (1973). Sáinz, apparently forever the tomboy, has her own romantic subplot with Simón Andreu and judging from her performance here it’s no wonder she was eventually given the occasional lead part. Forever exploited for her innocence and tomboyish looks Sáinz’ Loli is an endearing character in what is probably the only plot worth following besides the Las Ibéricas F.C. rise to fame and fortune. Yanni and Gravy were experienced veterans by this point and their role as team matriarchs played up to their strengths. It was obviously aimed at the broadest audience possible as the inclusion of La Contrahecha evinces. Las Ibéricas F.C. is lowest common denominator comedy swill that not even an all-star cast like this could save from the terribly unfunny humor the screenplay revels in. Las Ibéricas F.C. is unfortunately maligned for all the right reasons. Claudia Gravy, Ingrid Garbo, María Kosty and Tina Sáinz all look good in soccer uniforms – but to base an entire feature around just that perhaps wasn’t the wisest decision after all. Every one of them had had starred in far better movies before turning up here.