Thursday, May 03, 2007

(Bram Stoker’s) Dracula’s Curse – review


Directed by: Leigh Scott

Release Date: 2006

Contains spoilers

Okay, let us get the pet hate out of the way first. I detest it when films put the name Bram Stoker with vampire movies that have precious little to do with the storyline of the original novel or simply changes the story willy-nilly. It’s not big and it’s not clever – in fact it is just plain wrong. Even, as in this case, if the film has story by the bucket-load, the name Bram Stoker should not be used as a catch-all to help sell DVDs. Don’t get me wrong, Dracula, the character, has become a genre standard in its own right and changing the story is more the norm than portraying the actual story, just don’t attach Bram’s name. Rant over.

As I say, this film has story by the bucket-load and, you know what, it is a pretty darn good story. The film itself is low budget, and that does show through the cracks, but story is a big part of any film. So let us get to it.

Now, normally, I would start by going through the film scene by scene (up to a point) but this deserves a different approach and so I jump forward in the film but to the beginning of the story proper if you like. Drakulya (note the name was pronounced and spelt like that through the film and yet the standard spelling was used in the film title, strange that) was a pious warlord fighting the Ottoman Empire. Such was his piety that an angel visited upon him and blessed him, but he used the powers that the blessing bestowed without mercy and became bloodthirsty in his expansionism.

Drakulya's true formThe Angel returned and cursed him never to know Heaven or Hell. Indeed he transformed into a demonic, cloven hoofed beastie that gained dominion over the evil things of the world. He only ever turned four vampires, the three brides and Countess Bathorly (Christina Rosenberg, and I know Báthory’s name is spelt wrong) but soon ruled a vast number of vampires, who come in various forms.

The vampires were hunted but a treaty was entered into with Abraham Van Helsing. The details of the treaty are a little patchy in the film but essentially they drew up a set of rules of the game for both the vampires and the hunters. Drakulya then vanished.

Orlock is stakedAs the film starts we see a group of vampire slayers led by Rufus King (Thomas Downey) on the hunt. Eventually they take down one of the High Council named Orlock (I’m not sure of the actor’s name). They are met by Rafe (Jeff Denton) one of the vampires’ stalkers – almost like the vampires’ enforcers - who tells them that the High Council wishes to negotiate. All of this is recorded by Jacob Van Helsing (Rhett Giles, who plays a Van Helsing for the second time, the first being in the awful Way of the Vampire).

the huntersThe vampires offer a new pact; they will stop hunting and killing humans if the slayers stop killing vampires. Rufus agrees to the pact. The one concern centres on the rogue vampires who are not part of the High Council, the key one being Bathorly – though she is believed to be dead. The Council believe that they can control their rogue elements.

Christina Rosenberg as BathorlyFive years on, and Bathorly surfaces, kidnapping purebloods. Purebloods are the human descendants of Drakulya and his brides. Their blood is that of Drakulya and therefore a source of power for vampires. The Stalkers primary role was to kill or turn the purebloods to stop a vampire clan taking their power, something they have been unable to do due to the pact. Bathorly wishes to destroy the Council and bring a reign of terror onto humanity and the slayers have to come back together to stop her.

Eliza Swanson as GracieThere is much more story than this. We get the tale of reluctant, semi-alcoholic, slayer Gracie (Eliza Swanson) and her sister, both purebloods. We get the tale of Jacob Van Helsing and his love for a vampire (Sarah Lieving). We get the story of Rick (Tom Nagel) whose pureblood girlfriend is kidnapped by Bathorly and who becomes the newest member of the hunter team.

hello prettyWe get small insights into various clans, unfortunately with varying degrees of makeup success. To be honest, the vampire that was red-skinned and horned was a little too much and was too reminiscent of a creature that appeared in Angel – that said the Almost Human team made the Lord Drakulya monster, so one suspects had an influence on other effects, and they did the effects for Buffy and Angel.

There is a lot of story in there, perhaps a little too much at times – the film was slightly over-long and could have been pared down with no loss of quality. They split the film into chapters, which actually works very well.

fear the crossThe vampire lore is fairly standard. Sunlight, decapitation and staking are used to kill – guns are used to slow them down. It is mentioned that the most powerful vampires can shape shift. There is a neat trick called thoughtwalking, but it is basically telepathy via physical contact. Crosses work and this is explained in terms of Drakulya being cursed by God. Vampires bleed green, something lifted from From Dusk till Dawn.

Leigh Scott as the Old OneThe clans, as I said, are varied and we certainly hear of the Nosferata (yes, I know it’s another name spelt wrong). We meet certain vampire elders including the Old One played by director Leigh Scott but there is no real explanation as to whether they have varying powers. Bathorly does seem to have magical abilities, but she was also a witch. We discover that living on animal blood weakens their powers.

All in all it is a rich tapestry but all is not perfect. The effects are good for the budget but some of the makeup effects (as I mentioned) look a little hokey. The lighting is a little over dark in certain sections – possibly a DVD transfer issue. Thomas Downey as Rufus KingThe acting isn’t bad for a film of the budget, though not all of it is good and none would win an Oscar. What tends to happen is that the actors become overtly melodramatic, but somehow it really works and offers a relief level of (good) campness. There is some casting that perhaps didn’t work too well but I thought Downey was good as King and Giles was great as Van Helsing – certainly better than he was in Way of the Vampire.

Some of the dialogue is bad, however. The two prime examples are when the phrase “Beware for the dead move quickly,” is uttered. If you are going to quote Stoker, get the quote right. The other that springs to mind was when one character said, “It’s quiet.” I sat and thought ‘don’t say it’ but the obvious response was given. I do not think this was self-effacing either; the actress who replied looked thoroughly embarrassed as she delivered the line. There is also the annoying misspelling and, therefore, pronunciation of certain genre standard names. That said there were some nice bits as well. In a turn around, the “I do not drink… wine” line is delivered by a human and becomes “I do not drink… blood” when offered refreshment by a vampire.

staked vampireThe story itself has a twist that is easily spotted. However this is because the film leaves generous hints to the twist during its course and, to be honest, it was probably more satisfying that way. If it had just been thrust upon the viewer at the film’s conclusion then I, for one, probably wouldn’t have bought it. Having seen it coming it was more comfortable.

The negative issues aside, what has been done with what they had is astounding and the story aspects (despite derivative moments) carry this through. I really enjoyed this, in a low budget sort of way, and I had feared the worst. The film also has a certain something, an element above and beyond story that makes it entirely viewable, 6.5 out of 10.

A trailer can be viewed here.

The imdb page is here.


Kennedy said...

Taliesin - long time reader, first timer commenter.
I agree about Dracula's Curse - I thought it was a lot of fun and an improvement on Way of the Vampire. It has that Pulp fiction multiple storyline thing going on which is pretty rare for a vampflick.
Love the blog - more power to you!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Kennedy - many thanks for the comment and glad you're a long time reader.

I have to thank my wonderous other half for Dracula's Curse as it was one of several flicks she got me for my birthday!

Anthony Hogg said...

I enjoyed the music by The Divine Madness, too.

Kind've like Evanescence Lite.

Anthony Hogg said...

Oops. Wrong link. Here's the right one: The Divine Madness.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

anthony, I have their CD - absolutely excellent

fenris said...

In addition to the sequel Wolvesbayne, there seems to be another movie in the Dracula's Curse series. Directed by Leigh Scott, The Lost Girls stars Eliza Swenson as 'Gracie' (the name of the character she played in Dracula's Curse), leader of an all-female trio of vampire hunters. However, there's currently not much information on-line about the film. According to it's entry on the IMDB, it was completed in 2014, but it never seems to have been released. Presumably it's stuck in post-production/distribution limbo. Here's the trailer;

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Fenris - yes, I assume it is in post-production limbo