Count Dracula is a 1970 film adaptation of the classic novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was directed by Jess Franco, and starred Christopher Lee (Dracula), Herbert Lom (Van Helsing), and Klaus Kinski (Renfield). This adaptation is known as one of the more "faithful" adaptations, it's plotline matching up with the original text quite closely.
Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) travels from England to Transylvania to settle some London real estate documents with a Count Dracula, but is warned away from Dracula's castle because of the evil that lurks there. Harker continues his journey anyway. After he arrives at the castle, he is shown to his room and quickly discovers that he is, in fact, a prisoner. After falling asleep, Harker finds himself being approached by three beautiful women who seduce, but they are interrupted by Dracula who tells them that Harker belongs to him. When Harker wakes up again in his bedroom, he tries to escape, but encounters Dracula in his coffin looking younger with pointed teeth blood trickling from his mouth. Shocked, he jumps out of a window. He is admitted to an asylum under the care of Dr. Van Helsing (Lom) where he is visited by his fiancee Mina and her friend Lucy. As Mina takes care of Harker, Lucy falls suddenly ill. Dracula had been sneaking into her room at night to feed on her blood to grow younger. Her fiance, Quincy Morris, arrives to help care for her via blood transfusions. A patient named Renfield (Kinski) becomes of more interest. He eats bugs, thinking he's gaining their lives, and cries when Dracula is near. When Lucy died, Van Helsing's suspicions of her becoming "undead" were deemed correct when he finds she killed a child. The men find her tomb and destroy her via stake and decapitation, then decide to find Dracula's body to do the same. They follow him back to Transylvania and destroy him by stake and fire.
The original storyline carries this inherent theme, but having been released in 1970, the timing of this film says a lot about society's view of sexuality at the time. There are many relationships in the film with sexual undertones, such as the scene with the three vampiresses and Harker, but the one that is most blatant is between Dracula and Lucy.
Dracula visits Lucy every night to feed, requiring his teeth to penetrate her neck. When he is feeding, the camera often zooms in on Lucy's face, and each time he begins, she shows no sign of pain or discontent. Just an open-mouthed awe. Since she is in his thrall, she even invites him to her, reaching out for him when she is too week to get up on her own.
This kind of relationship and the sexual characteristics of it illustrate society's newfound openness to sexuality, but it also says something about the dangers of relationships like that. Lucy may not have been fully willing to enter the role, but she did, and she ended up dying from it because Dracula literally sucked the life out of her. So, yes, the undertones are acceptable in society at this time, but Lucy's role may have also served as a warning to those who do not resist temptation.
Although there is a strong current of sexuality that flows more traditionally, there are also a few scenes that demonstrate a switching of gender roles, both sexual and non-sexual. The scene in which the three women approach Harker strongly suggests an attempted "gang rape." Typically, these attack scenes will be man to helpless woman, but, in this case, it's three women to one helpless man. Many might say that Harker was willing, but the fact that he had no tools of resistance (not to mention his unwillingness to die) makes a clear illustration of the fact that they were attempting to "penetrate" him against his will.
The women, however, were thwarted by Dracula himself before they were able to do anything to Harker. But, not only does he shoo them away, he also tells them that Harker belongs to him. Although Dracula certainly plays more traditional sexual roles in other scenes, these words of ownership imply homosexuality as well, providing yet another alteration in gender roles. When Harker wakes up in his bed after this scene, he finds that he's sporting bite marks on his neck. This shows us that, while Harker was unconscious, he was molested by Dracula.
Although the switching of gender roles mostly relates to sex, both the three vampire women and Lucy's character make that switch in a different way. Once Lucy dies, she becomes a vampire. We see her catch the eye of a child and beckon her over. Even though she seems motherly at first, we know that she means to prey on the child. Also, when Dracula doesn't permit the women to feed on Harker, he gives them a child for them to eat, and they accept the gift happily. Traditionally, women are thought to protect children, but these female characters reverse this role. Instead of the woman feeding the child, children provide nourishment for the women.
Enthrallment (Dracula's control over Lucy, Renfield, and Mina) is an obvious example of possession in the film, but Renfield creates a very interesting view on the idea of possession.
When we are first introduced to Renfield, he seems like any other lunatic in the asylum, throwing his food against the wall and playing with it, but then he pulls a small box from his toilet that contains dead bugs. One by one, he eats them like they're a sort of delicacy, gaining so much enjoyment from it that he's afraid people will take it away from him. Bugs seem to be the only thing he interacts with anymore. This is parallel to a vampire's need to possess his victim. He needs to be in complete control so that, when he does need something from the possessed, he has almost instant access to it at all times. Renfield hides his bug box like Dracula hides the fact that he's a vampire at all because, as soon as people find out, bad things will happen. But, without the ability to own something, to control it, survival is impossible for them. Unfortunately for the possessed, they mostly all seem to die in the process, including Renfield himself.
Similarities to Original Text
This film does follow the original text quite closely. Franco kept many details that other adaptations chose to omit. One such detail is in one of the last scenes in which Harker and Quincey find Dracula's coffin being carried and guarded by a band of commoners. Many other adaptations don't bother to include this detail, but Franco found it important enough to keep. One reason for this might be that he wanted to show just how much power and influence Dracula held over the people of his country, especially those of the lower classes. Harker and Quincey overtake the commoners and kill Dracula by staking him and setting him on fire.
Differences from Original Text
Although the 1970 film adaptation is seen as being among the most faithful to the original text, there were some marked differences. One major difference is that, in the book, Harker spent a couple of months imprisoned in Dracula's castle, but, in the film, he seems to only be there for a couple of days. This was probably done in order to let the plotline advance quicker. Franco must not have seen any importance in Harker residing in the castle for a long period of time. He focused more on Harker's time in the asylum.
Another important difference is that Van Helsing falls ill in the film and is unable to be of much help when it comes to finding and destroying Dracula, whereas, in the novel, he is an extremely integral part of the process, both intellectually and physically. Van Helsing was supposed to travel with hypnotized Mina, who was connected to Dracula, but he is unable to even travel with Harker and Quincey to Transylvania. This may have also been done to make the ending less complicated. Instead of many people travelling in different ways for the same goal, Franco decided to simply let the two men take care of Dracula.