Though it drops a few characters (no Renfield) and plot threads (Lucy has just one suitor) to fit the sprawling plot into a tight, trim 76 minutes, this Czechoslovakian television production is among the most faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel (certainly covering far more of the text than the roughly contemporary Jesus Franco version Count Dracula). It also has the distinction of being the first Dracula directed by a woman, Anna Prochazkova (who co-scripted, with Oldrich Zelezny).
As often, the castle-set opening and closing sequences are more exciting than the drawing-room central section – an effect underlined by the use of impressive, snowbound locations for the shadowy Castle Dracula and overlit studio sets for Victorian England. Jonathan Harker (Jan Schanilec), who sports impressive sideburns, arrives at the castle and is greeted by a stocky, bearded Drakula (Ilja Racek), who looks a lot like Michel Lonsdale in Moonraker and adds giallo murderer-like black gloves to the traditional vampire ensemble.
Racek was later in one of the few other Czechoslovakian vampire movies, the killer car picture Upir z Feratu/Ferat Vampire. The influence of Hammer Films is detectable in the fang-baring and a few action moments, but the vampires here are less physical beings – they fade in and out of existence through simple superimpositions, and the elaborately-dressed, tittering brides of Dracula flit through like ghosts. Hrabe Drakula includes a few key moments from the book unused or played down in earlier adaptations – the Count (and later Jonathan) climbing down the castle walls, the brides torn off their chosen victim but pacified with a squealing baby (offscreen), the role of the Count’s gypsy minions, the death of Lucy’s mother (Marie Brozova) by her daughter’s bedside.
In England, with no distinction between Whitby and London, dark and slightly mannish Mina Harkerova (Klara Jernekova) embroiders a lot while the pompous Van Helsing (Ota Sklencka) and Dr Seward (Jiri Zahajsky) treat bitten blonde Lucy (Hana Maciuchova) but comes into her own when leading the vampire slayers in pursuit of the Count back to his Romanian bolt-hole. Jonathan, recovering from traumatic amnesia, gets to despatch the king vampire by throwing a knife into his heart, whereupon he turns into a pile of ash.
It’s not as impressive a sketch of Dracula as the similarly-scaled version done on the British Mystery and Imagination TV series, but it does show how widely-travelled this particular oft-told tale has been.