Saturday, April 28, 2012

Draghoula – review

Director: Bashar Shbib

Release date: 1995

Contains spoilers

Oh dear… One supposes that this was designed to be an off-kilter comedy. It failed. Simply put... it just wasn’t that funny – except in the basest ways and even then it barely raised a titter.

This was a Canadian offering (for a genuinely funny Canadian vampire comedy, see Karmina, which was produced just one year later) and one can only wonder at the production pitch. It’s about a guy infected with vampirism that makes him…

We’ll get to that…

The film starts with a wolf howl and we see a cloaked figure, Armadona (Robyn Rosenfeld), we also see a woman head for her car. The car won’t start and she pops the lid. Armadona approaches and asks what is wrong. She strokes the length of the woman’s body before biting her.

Chriss Lee as Harry
Harry Silverman (Chriss Lee) is a scientist searching for the guilt gene (there might have been an entire discourse about Harry’s repressed desires and guilt that never happened). The board from the company he works for have decided he is costing too much, using too many rats and is taking too long. He is told to cut down on rats and cut his budget. He is also told to work with Sabrina (Stephanie Seidle), a fellow scientist who will help with his research and manage his curtailed budget.

Stephanie Seidle as Sabrina
Harry is less than happy. However, Sabrina eventually asks him out on a date to see a Polish film, which subsequently causes an argument; her seeing it as filth, he as artisitc. This doesn’t go down well with his (stereotypically) overbearing Jewish mother, Ida (Victoria Barkoff, Vampire High), as it is Shabbat. In the meantime Harry has also contacted a rat seller (Kathy Slamen) but her rats are too small. She has put him in touch with her boss, Armadona, who has supplied him with Transylvanian rats.

Armadona inspect the rat bite
One of these rats bites Harry and he becomes feverish. He is then taken by Armadona and initiated into vampirism as she is looking for the Dracula. However, his vampirism causes him to shave his body hair, don women’s clothes and put on make-up; the drag of Draghoula. Why? It might be a comment on androgyny – but I doubt it, he is trying to emulate woman not become gender-neutral (though one definition of androgyny is to fluidly move between genders). In many respects I think it was for a cheap laugh, given the film didn’t explore why in any way.

putting the drag into Draghoula
Anyway, Sabrina notices the change and tries to save him. His mother, at first, blames Sabrina but then hires an Arabic vampire scholar, Laila Zresbos (Bobo Vian, the Hunger: Fly by Night) to help cure him of the Desmodantia Transylvanus (or vampirism to me and you). Much could have been made of the cooperation between Jew and Arab – but wasn’t. Their actions does lead into the lore, which was in equal parts interesting and frustrating.

Armadona and Harry
The main lore we get (other than Sabrina isolating the vampire gene and developing a cure) is about religion. Armadona wears a cross to hide her by limiting her power (but then bleats about becoming weak and needing a strong Dracula) – a device that would later become central to the anime Rosario + Vampire. Laila declares that the effect of a religious artefact is dependent upon the religion of the vampire. They confront a sleeping Harry with artefacts and neither the cross or the Koran affect him. Jewish artefacts cause him to growl in his sleep.

consulting the expert
I said it was frustrating also and that is because, when awake, the artefacts do not seem to work. It is later revealed that this is because Harry is an atheist (and went along with Jewish traditions for his mother). Fair enough, then why growl? Perhaps because deep down he is still Jewish, then surely that should have manifested in sleep and awake (they could have played with guilt issues here but didn’t). However the religious aspect of the film was interesting, if under-explored.

But the film itself, not so. Any wry look at issues that might have been are not actually contained in the film. The comedy wasn’t funny and the climax was sub-Benny Hill. Had this been played straight, then it might have been accidentally funny, as it was played for laughs it was not and some of the performances are simply excruciating. Poor all round but the interesting look at faith, and the iconography surrounding the various religions, boosts it to 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

Amazon link for the VHS tape.

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