Friday, March 26, 2010

Honourable Mention: Dracula (2009)


This is a 2009 film, directed by George Anton and from the opening shot, of Van Helsing (Gary Miller-Youst) cursing Dracula in a too staged delivery, I was ready to be disappointed with this film. Yet, as I watched I was captured by something within the concept of the film and, whilst it is far from perfect, my feelings twisted, becoming more positive as I realised what George Anton was trying to do. Hell even a couple of the performances began to grow on me, when they perhaps shouldn’t have.

However, let me take you on the journey I went on to reach that point and it might also explain why I have written this as an honourable mention rather than a review. The credits were accompanied by a rousing orchestral score and, when finished, we see two men – Dracula (Juan R. Caraccioli) and Rienfield (Collin Sutton), and, no, I don’t see the point in changing Renfield’s name – approach a hooker. Reinfield explains that he likes to watch and Dracula grabs her and bites her. We don’t see much of the bite. The scene cuts to a man, Vinnie (Ivan Crasci) returning home and beating his significant other, Dana (Melissa LeSang) – this scene wasn’t immediately convincing.

Juan R. Caraccioli as DraculaWe then see Jonathon Harker (Derek Baker) on a countryside path. Cut to a man, Matt (Dan Martino), who is in a police car arrested for paying unpaid traffic fines. He is a screenwriter, or so he claims, and the cop (Greg Williams) suggests that perhaps he should live in the real world, but loosens the cuffs. We cut and see the cuffs going on again. Lucy Westenra (Ginger Pullman, Vampire Killers) is making a TV show about male models. Matt pulls up at an office to deliver food. He is late. We see Detective Seward (Patrick Kaiser) with an i-phone, the picture of a man on the display is labelled vampire. Men deliver a bodybag to Rienfield, he eats bugs and reveals that the Master is inside.

Derek Baker is the ProducerI could carry on but you see the problem, or what appeared to be a problem at least. There is no apparent narrative structure. Soon we will see Matt speak to a producer – played by the same actor who plays Jonathon – who tells him to add a vampire twist to his script as vampires are all the rage. Matt claims to have a Transylvanian heritage and then we see that his father and Van Helsing are one and the same. Van Helsing wears a crucifix that appears cut from a magazine and… Well I started to wonder, not only about the cheap crucifix prop but that surely these almost random scenes would create a narrative at some point? We can’t keep jumping between chronological reference points? The film began to resemble something created by the cut-up technique and, in truth, it was.

Matt screenwritingYou see, then I had it… the realisation sank in that Van Helsing and Matt’s father were not one and the same. All the vampire references, all the moments that seemed based upon Dracula were moments of script created by Matt that we were seeing as he dreamt them up. In his mind he based Van Helsing on his father and Harker on the producer. It was, almost, genius. Anton had taken another film he had been involved in, Pop’s Piece, and cut in the vampire references – almost as per the in-film request of the producer. It was cut-up, in some respects it was recycling, but it desperately needed a visual or auditory clue earlier in the film to indicate this was happening. However, with the realisation suddenly, the random blur of story based upon an all too familiar tale made sense despite the film continuing along a path of chaotic narrative. It is because we get snippets of the Dracula story, intermingled within a tale of Matt and his father and also Matt and his infidelity with his friend Vinnie’s wife, that I have gone down an honourable mention route.

Garry Miller-Youst as Van HelsingAs well as the missing visual or auditory clue the film perhaps had other problems. The acting was far from perfect and some performances were outright poor. Garry Miller-Youst and Colin Sutton need pulling for special mention however. Both, at first, seemed too over the top. Sutton’s Reinfield was almost a cartoon version of Renfield and yet, as I realised that this was not a character in his own right but a character within Matt’s mind, the over-the-top delivery suddenly seemed right. Likewise, Miller-Youst offered a level of histrionic delivery to his characters that felt, at first, detrimental to the film. However, as the film went on, his performance kind of got under your skin. Perhaps it was a tad too much as Matt’s father (from the Pop’s Piece footage) but as Van Helsing, well… for the most part it worked in a strange way.

Matt arrestedCoupled with this was dialogue that, beyond delivery, occasionally seemed unnatural. An example of this was the scene where the cop gave advice to Matt. The dialogue seemed unwieldy and not the sort of thing a cop would say but what we don’t know is if he actually said it. That scene is played out with the cuffs loosened and Matt going to jail in Pop’s Piece but then, in this, we also see the cop taking him down an alley to have his wicked way with him. What was real and what was in Matt’s head? I do know that, with the Pop’s Piece footage there were moments that ended up being improvised and this probably exacerbated the feling that some of the dialogue was unwieldy.

Melissa LeSang as DanaThere were moments that just did not work – Harker being chased by something unseen was one such thing, the screechy noise accompanying it felt cheap. Perhaps it was designed so but it was a step too far. The affair that Matt has with Dana seemed odd – there wasn’t enough building of a relationship or chemistry to make it feel anything other than a device. All in all, however, this felt more like a deliberate experiment in filmmaking and recycling then perhaps the cut and paste exploitations we are familiar with through some of Al Adamson’s films. It just suffered in execution – and I would hazard a guess that it was due to budget as much as anything.

Patrick Kaiser as Detective SewardWe got very little in the way of lore but we did hear that Dracula was a spirit – almost an idea of him possessing others was perhaps glimmering between the lines. I would have liked to have heard more of this, but remember it was only within Matt’s script. Seward as a detective was a good idea, even if the accompanying performance felt, perhaps, a little lost.

There are going to be some horrified folk who pick this up expecting a straight Dracula themed vampire film and find themselves faced with a different beast all together. This is an experiment, a look at a piece about an artist and his relationship with his father given a surrealistic vampiric twist. The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

I really liked the visual effects of the castle . Van Helsing, and Jonathan Harker added a great moment to the movie when Harker says, " Dracula is a spirit".

Anonymous said...

Just from the screencaps this looks like a bad one! I still need to rent and see Dracula with Marc Warren. I saw a bit of it a few years ago, and it had some interesting changes/twists. Plus I love David Suchet!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anon: yes - I liked the idea that Dracula was a spirit.

Nicole, whilst it isn't perfect I'd say not so much bad as experimental and not all of the esperiment worked. Some bits of the experiment, however, did.

Christine said...

Yikes! This sounds - and indeed looks - awful!
About Marc Warren Dracula - I think it was rather anemic. Can you make Dracula boring? They managed to do it.

Anonymous said...

I just watched this movie. As my spouse picked it on Netflix. At first, I was confused as shit! But then as it keep going I realized this is "Dracula" within Matt's head. And this made it interesting as it was a lesson in humanity between a torn relationship between a father & son. The ending with Father and Matt brought goose bumps to me as I can relate to this. Overall this is not the Blood & Gore flick I was expecting. However, Kudos goes to Mr. George Anton(Director) as he pulled it off w/ as I can tell a limited budget & time. I look forward to more releases from Anton Pictues.

Johny D.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Johny D, exatly why I wrote the article the way I did. Like you I was confused - as I said, it needed a visual or audio clue - but then the penny drops.

George Anton has concented to do an interview for the blog, keep an eye out for it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

George Anton has contacted me to let me know about the facebook page for Dracula

There are the premiere photos and the behind the scenes photos.

George Anton said...

The Principal Photography for the sequel of George Anton's Dracula begins today.
Stay tuned with our ANTON PICTURES youtube channel:

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for that George

George Anton said...

Seems like the movie hit: 200,000 views and slowly is gaining a cult following. I'm sure your article helped a lot. 3000 views / day, about 2 views every minute, if my math is correct. Thank You for offering me the interview in the past. I hope you will give me the chance for another one after the release of the sequel: DRACULA: The Birth FILMING NOW!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

George, I'm sure we can arrange something - glad its doing well for you.