Friday, January 02, 2009

Vlad – review

Directed by: Michael D Sellers

Release date: 2003

Contains spoilers

Whilst, as we will see, there are aspects to this film that are confusing or even senseless, at its core this is quite a clever little movie that just needed some tightening. It takes the Vlad Ţepeş history and merges it in with vampiric lore in a way that has nothing to do with Stoker’s Dracula other than a recognition that the work exists, which in its own way is refreshing. In many respects, in this, it seems that the fact that Stoker used the personae of Vlad and the fact that Vlad is a vampire are nothing but coincidence.

Which leads me to a rant for a moment. If you look at the user comments on imdb there are several comments suggesting that the film brings the vampire home to Vlad Ţepeş, who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker. It does not as he was not. Stoker, from what I can gather, came across the name in a footnote, liked it and added the footnote into his novel as dialogue. Vlad was a neat little conceit that Stoker borrowed, mainly for his name and towards the end of the novel writing process. Rant over.

What the film does is take some historical facts (and takes some license with them to be fair, but nothing too drastic) and weaves them into a vampire story that also involves time travel… we’ll get to that. Things begin, however, with scenes of a medieval battlefield and then we hit a history (narrated by John Rhys-Davis). The battle is in 1447 and Vlad Drakul (Claudio Bleont) has been betrayed by his boyars and captured by Iancu de Hunedoara (Adrian Pintea). He and his elder son are to be executed by being buried alive, watched by Vlad (played younger by Catalin Ritaru) and youngest son Radu (Cristian Popa). Vlad II throws Vlad III a medallion offering rulership of their lands.

Cut to the present day and the Order Drakulis still exists but the medallion, thought buried with Vlad (Francesco Quinn), is long missing. The dean of the (Bukarest, I assume) University, Radescu (an unfortunately wasted in the film, Brad Dourif), has arranged for four exchange students to come over and explore the Carpathians in order to feed that experience into their respective thesis. He and his assistant Adrian (Billy Zane) are members of the Order and know that one of the students, Linsey (Monica Davidescu), has the medallion – how they know this isn’t revealed – but will wait to see what she intends to do with it.

Lindsey is a Romanian by family but lives in Paris. The other exchange students are Jeff (Paul Popowich) and his sister Alexa (Kam Heskin) – both from the US – and Justin (Nicholas Irons), a Brit who is clearly the arse of the group (and as such will make good later). They get to know each other over drinks – during which Lindsey recites the verse by Mihai Eminescu from his poem Satire III, which is a cry against the corrupt ruling class but invokes the name of Ţepeş, with a call for swift and severe punishment against said corruption. Through this the filmmakers aim to point out that Vlad is still a Romanian national hero.

However, all is not well within the Order Drakulis as some have taken it upon themselves to steal the pendant and one of their agents raids Lindsey’s room – dressed as a black clad ninja! Her fellow students do not twig when she doesn’t want the authorities involved. The pendant is also giving Lindsey visions of the past. Soon, however, they are in the forest around the Carpathians on a two day hike with Mircea (Emil Hostina), whilst Adrian returns to the city for some pointless moments of being chased by the baddies.

Lindsey confides about the visions she is having (but not the cause) to Jeff and he confirms the historical accuracy of what she describes. She puts the pendant in Jeff’s pack – as you do – and he finds it. She admits she wanted him to see what she has seen and so he wears it. In the past a woman, Illona (Iva Hasperger), is near Vlad. For reasons that are confused he throws his sword before her and then rides at her. She slashes with a dagger cutting him and, when he rides at her again, she vanishes and appears (with Vlad's sword) quite solidly, in the future, before a remarkably unfazed Jeff.

Here is where I started to lose patience. The girl appears, wearing medieval garb and holding a dagger and broadsword. She seems somewhat compliant with regards the students, who all seem bizarrely unfazed by the events. She cannot speak any language they try but then, when she speaks, Justin recognises her words. She is speaking in Middle English and he has a classical education. It seems her father was a crusader who fought at Constantinople, he died, she was found by Vlad, they were attacked by Turks… which wasn’t quite what we saw. Her reason for being there… well it gets Vlad’s attention, I guess, as she is from his time, travelling with people who have his pendant and carrying his sword.

Yes Vlad Drakula cometh, and he is a vampire now. He can turn into a wolf, move like the wind and has great strength. Lindsey’s grandfather had found his tomb whilst fighting with the resistance against the Nazis. He took the pendant and that awoke him from his slumbers. What he wants… Well it isn’t too clear. He seems to want the women folk, Alexa and then Illona… never Lindsey for some reason.

The order Drakulis want him to rule, they want him to make Romania powerful again. A holy man, Ilie (Guy Snider), warns them through one of their agents, Mircea, that Vlad is no longer a man, but a creature and thus their agenda will not be his. Mircea learns the hard way when he is impaled, the only person to be impaled in the movie, it has to be said.

Vlad can be defeated by taking the pendant to the tomb, immersing it in a spring in the tomb and then placing it back on its pedestal. All well and good but we are having movie issues at this point. The performances have not been bad, the effects are quite good and the Romanian wilds are, quite frankly, breathtaking. However time travelling maidens, people reincarnated or transplanted back in time (Justin dies and then we see him as a 15th century crusader, Paul Popowich not only plays Jeff but also plays a husband – presumably the one we saw dead on a battlefield at the very head of the film) for no reason, and with no real motivation for Vlad... Well it all gets a little lost.

The film, from what I can gather from Romanian imdb commentator Danelush, misunderstands some Romanian traditions also. There is a marriage of the dead – a Romanian unmarried maiden, who has died, is in a wedding dress and being married to a young man before burial. Actually in certain areas a maiden who died unmarried might be buried in a wedding gown, but as a sign of purity, there wouldn’t be a wedding as such. I do stand to be corrected. {Edit: and I am always glad to be corrected. The documentary Across the Forest includes authenticated details of symbolic marriage during the funerals of young persons who died unmarried.}

The film had promise, it looks nice and has a storyline that at least tried for intelligent and unusual. It would have been but unfortunately gets lost on route and reveals a script in dire need of tightening before shooting. Slightly below average as a result, 4.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


Bill Dan Courtney said...

Happy New to you mate... and best wishes and many, many postings.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Bill