Thursday, March 29, 2012

Terror of Dracula – review

Director: Anthony D.P. Mann

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

An indie (and budget constrained) version of Dracula, can be problematic, it really can. If we remember Alucard or (in a related subject matter) Dracula’s Guest, we remember films that, kindly, were more ambitious than talent or money would allow for.

Anthony D P Mann has created his version of Dracula and his inspiration are the Euro-horrors that are, certainly for me, a staple of the genre. The film even goes as far as having a legend at the head of the feature suggesting that this is a lost film of the golden euro-horror era. By tackling Dracula, by playing with the story, by aspiring to Hammer, Amicus, Franco and the raft of other classic 60s/70s euro-horror, Mann has set himself a very tall order. But… just look at the movie poster… such sensibilities can go a long way… and they do. Is it perfect, no. Is it a valiant effort? Very much so.

As in most versions of Dracula the order and characters are moved around. Rather than concentrate on the story as such, I will concentrate on the differences and trust that you know the story in its original form. It begins with Jonathon Harker (Matt Davis) in a wood, he hears the voice of Mina (Denise Wedge). It is a day for night shot that uses filters but such a technique fits in with the euro-horror sensibility. He finds her and holds her but she is cold to touch. We see fangs and Jonathon bolts awake in hospital.

triggering Harker's memories
He is in hospital in Bucharest and this is the first time he has awoken compos mentis. Matron Agatha (Andrea Hiltz) explains where he is, that he has a brain fever and that he has suffered from nightmares. He had a letter in his pocket and as he reads it, and we discover it is the letter from Dracula welcoming him to the Carpathians, he remembers what has befallen him.

Renfield becomes a plot device
Meanwhile, in Fisher’s Sanatorium in Whitby we meet Renfield (Barry Yuen). The film fleshes him out somewhat, in respect of back story and profession, but then sidelines him as little more than a plot device. In this Renfield was a doctor who, in a moment of psychosis, murdered and butchered his landlord. The courts handed him over to his colleague John Seward (Dick Miller) for care. The idea that he would end up in a sanatorium is, frankly, quite ropey but the idea that Seward runs a sanatorium makes more sense than a psychiatrist making GP house calls in the original novel. Renfield talks about his master – a simile is drawn between Dracula and a spider, which is a feature of the film.

Quincy and Lucy
Mina is staying with her friends Lucy (Angela Scott) and Quincy Morris (Ilke Hinger). Quincy is still American, has business dealings over there but has married Lucy and they live in Whitby (the Arthur character has fallen by the way side). Lucy is ill and Quincy has called for a family friend, Professor Van Helsing (Terry Wade). When the Professor does arrive he notes what the problem is and tries to save Lucy. Seward only comes into contact with these characters as a physician called when Lucy has died. Renfield by that point is dead – killed for saying too much about his master – and this leads to a comparison of the two deaths.

Brides attack
Jonathon, in Bucharest, tells his story. There are familiar moments, such as being given a cross in the carriage but, in this version, he surreptitiously throws it from the transport into the mud. There are also moments that are changed. When he meets the brides (Noelle Piche, Angela Faulkner & Vikki Jin) he is saved by Dracula (Anthony D.P. Mann) – this man is mine – who gives the brides a baby to snack on but then, seeing that the legal papers were drawn up, Dracula strikes Harker in the throat. The brutal (near) dispatching of Harker was interesting (he does not know how he managed to get away but realises they must have left him for dead). However the saving him from the brides seems almost redundant.

ending the bloofer lady
What was a nice change was the fact that the brides track Harker back to Bucharest, adding a new aspect to the story that might well have been expanded on further. Back in Whitby, whilst London is cut from the equation, the bloofer lady moments are kept in place. Mr Swales (Rick Cairns) still features but he is met by Mina and Van Helsing and relates the story of the Demeter after Lucy has died and then her vampiric form has been dealt with.

Dracula with dark hair
This is clearly a film on a budget, but I was impressed with how the filmmakers took that into account. The chosen locations/sets worked well. I was never thrown out of my suspension of belief due to poor location. Some of the photography appears to have been stylistically curtailed, however, as they ensured the more judicious angles (to make the locations work) were maintained. The film feels much more like a drama than a horror but I think the decision to not show much (that other films might have tried to mash together an effect for) and hint was the correct choice, there was one poor jet of blood that looked probably cgi but it was a blip. Of course there are other complaints, for instance, whilst I liked the idea that Dracula's facial hair went from grey to dark, the dark hair looked poor. However positives outweigh, considerably, any negatives.

Terry Wade as Van Helsing
Let me also talk accents, there were many well done accents in the film and, frankly, some really rather impressive performances. I want to single out Terry Wade who managed to pull off an accented Van Helsing that did not sound ridiculous at all and thus managed to greatly impress. I was less impressed with Dick Miller’s Seward. I just didn’t feel he had the strength as an actor to pull the character off. I think the unfortunate bit was that this would have been less noticeable if Wade’s performance hadn’t been so strong.

Okay, the film is not perfect but I was impressed. It has faults – definitely – and not all of the story changes worked for me. But for the budget ($15,000 according to IMDb) they did remarkable things and made a film that I found very watchable. 6 out of 10.

The IMDb page is here and the homepage is here.


Clark49 said...

is Dick Miller the same one from the Joe Dante stable (Gremlins etc)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Honestly, I don't know