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Film Notes

Dracula (2009) – notes

NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.

This no-budget 2009 Los Angeles-shot feature from writer-director-literally-everything-else George Anton (he’s listed as ‘producer’ in the end credits) would rate as one of the most obscure versions of the much-filmed Bram Stoker novel if it weren’t posted in its entirety on youtube for all the completists out there to access. It’s not as if there haven’t been other dirt-cheap Draculas before – John Johnson’s 2005 Alucard, one of the most faithful adaptations of the text, was made with scarcely more resources than this, and several takes on the material, starting with the Tod Browning film and going as far as the Italian miniseries with Patrick Bergin, have skimped on the costly Victorian settings by resetting the story in the present day. Anton’s version is, however, one of the more oblique, peculiar uses of the Stoker. On one level this is admirable – Anton is clearly aiming higher than, say, Don Glut’s Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood or Seduction Cinema’s Lust for Dracula, though he doesn’t even have the resources available to these softcore skits. However, this is still a strange, hard-to-follow effort, afflicted by budget-enforced blandness, tendency to rant and ramble and sidetracks into what I’d hazard a guess is autobiographical material.

It opens as if it were going to be a straight low-budget vampire film with a demented Van Helsing (Gary Youst) vowing vengeance against the king vampire and Dracula (Juan R. Caraccioli, who is barely in the film) attacking a hooker in contemporary Los Angeles, then it cuts to a hallucinatorily brief, violent domestic dispute which is the first of many barely-connected vignettes of life on the fringes of the city which get tipped in. Our new-to-this-story lead is Matt (Dan Martino, who co-scripted), a struggling screenwriter working as a food delivery guy who gets pulled over by Officer Traxel (Greg Williams) and arrested for unpaid parking fines. In alternate versions of the follow-up to this scene, Matt is raped (inexplicitly) by the cop and has a philosophical chat in a prison cell with a convicted murderer. We see Matt delivering food to a Hollwyood player (Derek Baker) who agrees to look at his script and, after persuading him to rewrite it as a vampire movie, buys it from him, and we get an edgy scene set in New Jersey as Matt visits his parents, and his mother (Kelly C. Ryan) indulges him while his father (Youst) cruelly crushes his dreams of making it in the movie business.

Not only does Youst play Van Helsing and Matt’s father, but Baker turns up as Jonathan Harker and other actors play dual or triple roles … suggesting that the Dracula-related scenes fit in around the story of Matt’s Hollywood struggles are figments of his work-in-progress screenplay. Which is fair enough, only this movie is called Dracula and even youtube clickers idly searching for oddments are likely to feel rooked that they sat down to watch a version of the old, old story and got stuck for 82 minutes with a whiny guy who wants to be a screenwriter and never earned his father’s approval. The flashes of Dracula we get are odd – familiar fragments from the story that recast Harker and ‘Reinfeld’ (Collin Sutton) as LA real estate agents and Lucy Westenra (Ginger Pullman) as a presenter on ‘America’s Hot Models’ who is dating cop John Seward (Patrick Kaiser), short-fused asshole Holmwood (Alex Arleo) and some guy we never meet called Quincy and works with Mina Murray (Lala Hensley). However, key scenes are referred to but not dramatised – we see Harker walking up to Castle Dracula, but not meet the Count or his vampire brides; Van Helsing persuades Holmwood to stake Lucy, but we never see her as a vampire (or even bitten by Dracula); Reinfeld eats flies in a hotel room but vanishes from the plot. In new material, Van Helsing talks to his own dead father at a cenotaph and is told by a possessed Harker that Dracula flits around, and could be anyone – which might even make an interesting new take on the plot, dropping the actual Count completely, if it weren’t for a few tiny scenes with Caraccioli.

The tracking down and destroying of Dracula is omitted, and the climax comes after Matt has sold his screenplay, reconciled with his father and presumably been transformed into a Hollywood monster. A sudden conflict blows up with his former friend Vinnie (Ivan Crasci), one of the hot models, which leads to Matt and Vinnie taking their shirts off in the park and rushing at each other, with Matt flashing plastic fangs. Lucy and Mina get very minor roles and Matt tells his parents about an imaginary girlfriend while the fight with Vinnie is over another woman we never see onscreen who might not exist – all the hot models on Lucy’s show are men, and there are quite a few scenes in which guys (including Dracula) find reasons to go shirtless. Yet this doesn’t seem to be a particularly gay reading of the text – the absence of Dracula as a seducer/monster/threat from most of the picture (that rapist cop, who gets obscurely killed near the end, is a more important character) means that it’s hard to tell exactly what Anton had in mind.

It’s better-made than many an Asylum production, even if its video effects look cheap (a blur to indicate possession, rudimentary split screen/multi-angle) and there’s literally no action. The cast aren’t amateurs (they mostly have real credits, albeit in ‘third cop’-type bit roles) and do what they can with sometimes-awkward dialogue. But it’s an oddity, rather than a real film.

Anton has made other, similar films. Here are his versions of Sherlock Holmes and Robinson Crusoe.

Kim Newman

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About Maura McHugh

I'm a weird writer who lives in Galway, Ireland.

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