Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dracula, Lord of the Damned – review

Directors: Ian Case, Brian Clement & Theodore Trout

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

This is a tough one to review as it is a film with a very low budget, lots of ideas and, clearly, it is a labour of love. That said, when negative about it I will try and be constructive, as for everything negative there was a counter-balance of a brilliant idea.

The film is a remake of Dracula and so is ambitious from the get-go. I have read that this is one of the few that retained all the central characters – not true, Arthur Holmwood is expunged from the cast and aspects of the story are changed but then again there has been no make of Dracula that stuck to the story.

Harker arrives
As the film opens we see that it has been shot with a purplish filter and made to look grainy. Of course this helps hide some of the excesses but also it summons up the phantom of films long gone, especially Nosferatu. It is 1872 and the opening is narrated by Jonathon Harker (David McPherson). The Nosferatu aspect is mirrored in the fact that Harker is a realtor rather than a lawyer and from the firm Renfields no less. The music is quite lovely and rather evocative, whilst the digital rain overlay is rubbish and detracts. As Harker arrives by boat one questions the sense of this overlay, given that the rain seems to cause nary a ripple in the waters. A small point but one to bear in mind.

Theodore Trout as Dracula
The credits jarred, not because of the illustrations, however, which were stylistic pen and ink and suggested a Vlad Ţepeş identity for Dracula (Theodore Trout, Exhumed) but because of the rock song that came in on the back of the excellent instrumental strains just before (later use of Toccata and Fugue in D minor maybe should have been avoided also). The castle looked excellent (I am sure that parts of it were Whitby abbey) and then Dracula appeared. Like Orlock, he appears from a womb like doorway but rather than emerge he stands behind the threshold. He is armoured, as a warlord should be, but his welcome, and the delivery thereof, initially sounded odd. As the film progresses, however, Trout’s idiosyncratic delivery actually grew on me, taking his vampire in different directions to previous performances. I was not as struck with David McPherson’s performance unfortunately.

wall crawl animation
Whilst in conversation we discover the origins of this Dracula's vampirism; that he was killed in battle and then rose again three days later. If this sounds quasi-Christian we get more of an insight when Harker mentions the name Jesus and it throws Dracula into a rage. We discover, as the film progresses, that Dracula does not see himself as a vampire but as a saviour on a divine mission. This could be said to be delusion on his part, indeed he has forgotten exactly what he is, and perhaps we could suggest that he is antichrist. Other moments should be mentioned around the castle sequence. We see Dracula wall crawl but it is combination of animation and Claymation. This could jar but the overlay of effects that sit above the film, rather than sew seamlessly in, are so deliberately used that they become part of the style.

rotted form
We see the brides, but they are numbered more than three and the sequence of them with the baby is brutal. The peasant woman (Alexandra Steinmetz) seeking her stolen infant is kept in but, rather than be set upon by wolves, she is hung and left to dangle before Harker’s window. There is a scene where Harker searches for a means to escape and finds Dracula’s coffin. His initial appearance as a corpse was interesting (we will return to this), as was the fact that he also took a form like Orlock in Nosferatu, but the traipse through the castle itself was overly convoluted and could have done with some judicial trimming in its length and the pacing does sometimes become a little slow through the whole film.

Lucy and Mina
Turning to the England sequence and Lucy (Denise Brown) is a woman of means and her maid is Mina (Amanda Lisman). There are only two suitors, Dr John Seward (Ian Case) and Quincy Morris (Randall Carnell) and Lucy accepts Seward’s proposal. However the script goes to lengths to draw Lucy as a wanton hussy. Both men gain entry to her bedroom, whilst she is only wearing a robe, much to the shock of a housemaid – as an aside, why Quincy needed to deliver a note for Seward, who was standing next to him, was beyond me and seemed only to give Morris some dialogue – and she admits that she will have an affair with the Texan after marriage. This misses the truth of Lucy in the novel, to my way of thinking, who was innocent but perceived as wanton within the Victiorian patriarchal perspective of men like Van Helsing (Mike Grimshaw).

The Renfield (Hal Hewett) in this retelling is a homicidal madman, we are told that he has a desire to ingest life so as to live forever and this means eating things whilst they live. However, as we meet him, he has not just eaten flies and spiders but has cannibalised humans (eating them alive too). More might have been done with Renfield in the film but, also, one couldn’t help but think he would more likely have been hung for his crimes rather than hospitalised.

Nosferatu form
Interestingly Quincy suggests that the vampire is known in his country as the wendigo – this is a generally unused folkloric overlap and we must remember that the US had imported the standard vampire myth from Europe, had its own “vampire panic” and so would probably not have conflated the myths. Wikipedia gives a quote from Basil Johnson that suggests that the creature, from Algonquian folklore, was “gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Weendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody [....] Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Weendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption”. This description might offer a suggestion of the walking dead but versions of the myth have men turning into wendigo after indulging in cannibalism or being possessed by a cannibalistic spirit, rather than being the restless dead per se. Even so – given the extra atrocities attributed to Renfield in this film – an opportunity to expand on the wendigo aspect via that character was lost.

Lucy returns
The vampire Lucy section was interesting. I liked the fact that the sense of giving her a blood transfusion was questioned as she might reject the transfusion (blood type is not mentioned, it hadn’t been discovered). Van Helsing, we are later informed, was in the country to investigate a plague of influenza – though he realised it was vampirism early on – and so he suggests that, at the stage (of vampirism) that Lucy is at, anyone’s blood would do. After her death, the vampire Lucy appears nightmarishly to Seward in his bedroom, holding a baby, lucid, bloody and yet glowing (to covert him to one of the righteous of the rapture). The subsequent dramatic staking scene is perhaps lessened slightly by the comedic sound effect of a shovel bopping her on the head.

taking Mina
It was interesting that in the subsequent attack on Mina we see the vampire in "Dracula mode" holding her, in an almost romantic pose, but then he is seen as Nosferatu taking her from behind in an animalistic rape. Again the scene is undone with a comedy sound effect, this time a chewing noise as Dracula takes a bite out of a bible flung at him. At the conclusion he is shown a mirror, Van Helsing says he does not reflect but Dracula sees himself as a Nosferatu. Later the brides are shown themselves and are dead, mummified things and the truth leads them to beg for release.

hanging the peasant
The fact that I have looked at the film in rather a lot of depth underlines the fact that despite some unfortunate sound effects, perhaps less than A grade acting on some parts and some ropey visual effects, this has a lot to interest those who know Bram Stoker’s tale and that it is filled with innovative and interesting ideas. How many versions of Dracula actually show Renfield’s trepanning? It is far from perfect but has much to offer and my score will balance the innovation against the less positive and cheesy aspects. 5 out of 10 seems fair, though one must enter expecting a unique vision.

The imdb page is here.


James Lyon said...

where does one find this film?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi James, the amazon link above or https://www.createspace.com/369180

TGTR0660 said...

Though this is definitely far from a perfect movie, the low budget shows, and the acting (especially van Helsing... oh my) leaves a bit to be desired, I can't agree with the score. It's too low. This is evidently a labor of a true Dracula fan, a true Dracula lover who understands a lot of what makes it so special for some of us. And, for example, the whole first act when Harker goes to castle Dracula and right until he leaves it, it's full of a magical atmosphere that few other movies understand.

I would say the movie suffers more where the scenes are more "normal", that is, not with vampires at hand.

One thing I agree though: the 70's rock-metal song in the intro (and the outro) is completely out of place and brings the perfect atmosphere down for a second.

Fantastic effort. I'd love to see what these people can do with a budget.

This blog is awesome by the way.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi TGTR06660 - I thought the score fair - though the great thing about films is we all have our own opinions :) - it took account of the stronger aspects but there were some weak moments. I do recognise the film as something from a true fan, however.

Like you I'd love to see what could be done with a budget.

Many thanks for the kind words re the blog.