Saturday, May 26, 2007

To Die For – review

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Director: Deran Sarafian

Release date: 1988

Contains spoilers

Ahh the eighties, a decade with its own inimitable style. Not that the style was particularly good, by any stretch of the imagination, and this film reeks of the eighties. That doesn’t mean it is a bad film, but you really can tell which decade it was made in.

The film is primarily a tragic love story, with vampires of course, and owes a huge debt to Bram Stoker’s novel. It takes the premise hinted at in the novel that Dracula and Vlad Tepes (Brendan Hughes) were one and the same. It also takes the premise that Stoker only got half the story correct and that Dracula was not slain. Actually, the way they used Dracula as a background worked really nicely in this, which is no bad thing of course.

Steve Bond as TomKate (Sydney Walsh) is at a party on a yacht with nominal boyfriend Martin (Scott Jacoby), as the film progresses we discover that he loves her but she doesn’t really think of him in that way. She has noticed a silent stranger. The stranger, who is Vlad, is accosted by a friend of Martin called Rich (Lloyd Alan) but extracts himself. Kate and Vlad find themselves alone and are soon kissing passionately. He suggests getting out of there and she goes to get her coat, all observed by a sunglasses wearing man whom we later discover to be another vampire called Tom (Steve Bond). When she has her coat Vlad has vanished and, disappointed, she goes home alone.

Out in the marina car park Rich is taking drugs in his car. A monstrous face appears at the windowmonster eyes and the car door is ripped off. The creature seems to have vanished and then launches through the windshield and attacks Rich, only pausing when Kate goes to her car so as not to be discovered. A little note about the monster form of the vampires. The effects are a little rubbery, especially when you see them full on, but in scenes like this a judicial use of close ups, darkness and cuts makes them not to bad in the main. I say in the main because the hands never lose their rubbery, and thus wobbly, nature.

Brendan Hughes as VladKate lives at home with naive roommate Celia (Amanda Wyss), who has just got engaged to bookish student doctor Michael (Micah Grant). Kate is a realtor but longs for love. She is passed a new client who wants to be shown a property (a castle in fact, well it is LA) and of course it is Vlad. Vlad even offers Celia a job as secretary, via Kate.

the bookVlad is torn between the love he feels for Kate and the fact he wants to keep her away. Tom had a mortal love who was killed by Vlad and intends to get revenge by killing Kate. Celia is seduced by Vlad and turned into a psychotic harridan and Michael figures out the truth through a book (Vlad Tepes: Prince of Walachia) that he steals from Vlad – and let us thank eighties fashions for being so baggy that you can hide large hardback books in your suit jacket unseen. There is an inevitable series of showdowns.

Celia in psycho modeA lot of the lore that we are told comes from the book. We get parts read out, which are based on Stoker’s prose and also see extracts that inform us, for example, that a victim only turns if the heart stops for lack of blood. This takes us neatly to Celia, easily the best character. At first she is a bubbly, naïve girl who is bitten by Vlad. This makes her obsessed by Vlad, jealous of Kate and a foul-mouthed psycho all round. It is a fantastic performance – in fact the best in the movie – but she isn’t a vampire. Later, as a punishment, she is brutally injured and then, in hospital, turned and this leads to a cracking slaying scene that I’ll mention momentarily.

what big teeth you haveThe vampires seem unaffected by the cross but must avoid sunlight. They either develop fangs or go into monster mode with brimming maws of teeth. There is certainly telekinesis going on. There is also a loose camaraderie but definite grudges and game playing amongst the vampires.

To kill a vampire the standard methods must be employed and we get two fantastic slayings, the highlight being the second death of Celia. Newly killed, Martin and Michael sneak into her room with Martin quoting Stoker (the killing of Lucy scene). beheading sceneHe gives Michael a stake but the sceptical Doctor is unable to use it and so Martin goes to work cutting her head off. Whilst decapitation is nothing new, and the effects are a little patchy, this is a wonderfully visceral scene. Part way through Celia turns, grabs Martin and Michael has to stake her. This causes her to dissolve into a desiccated corpse state, light up brightly and then vanish entirely. The scene made me sit up and take notice, particularly during the attempted decapitation.

impalement on bedpostThe other scene is in the climax between Vlad and Tom, when Tom is levitated and then dropped onto a spiked bedpost. I have read complaints of death by bedpost but I liked the scene as, as well as a staking, the scene was an impalement scene that tied in well with the Tepes aspects. That said we do get a death by sunlight which looks fairly poor as the scene is lit brightly, thus the joins are easier to see and the unfortunate use of claymation does nothing for the film.

There is a nice referential to Dracula when we see Vlad bite Kate and then feed her from his chest.

Sydney Walsh as KateActing wise I have already mentioned Wyss’ performance as Celia. At first glance Hughes seems wrong for the role, he is too boyish and slight, but there is an inner presence that shines through and he ends up being fantastic in the role. The rest of the cast are functional enough, though I didn’t buy the character of Kate – a problem more with the way the character was written than portrayed.

This is a tragic love story and it drips with melodrama, probably unfortunate as melodrama and yuppie society don’t mix to well and so it does push the melodrama towards soap opera. That said there are some great ideas and individual scenes, let down by budget and effects to a degree but liveable. Wyss’ performance is worth the entrance fee alone. In short you could do a lot worse, 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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