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.
There have been so many different approaches to Bram Stoker’s vampire story that anything fresh ought to earn at least the token marks students get for writing their names at the top of exam papers. Not to be confused with Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula (2000), this does try for something relatively fresh. Its origin for Dracula is derivative of the Coppola film, and trace elements from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula 2000 and even the hardly well-liked Van Helsing are stirred in, but essentially Dracula The Dark Prince retells the old, old plot in a new-ish genre – making it into a Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy quest adventure.
Animated credits inadvisably reminiscent of the Jonah Hex film segue into a narrated origin story which mangles history and lore with clumsy storytelling. In 15th century Wallachia, Christian prince Dracula (Luke Roberts, with long blond hair) is upset when he comes home to his castle to find some of his lieutenants have murdered the wife (Kelly Wenham) he left to look after the throne while he was battling the infidels.
He renounces God and that turns him into a vampire. One hundred years later (ie: still in nebulous middle ages), his castle is full of hoydenish vampire concubines, a sneaky Grand Vizier-type assistant Renfield (Stephen Hogan) and a warrior knight champion Wrath (Vasilescu Valentin) who boasts impressively silly horned armour. Sisters Alina (Wenham again) and Esme (Holly Earl) are part of an order of tee-total slayers who have vowed to off Dracula, and are carrying a sealed casket of mcguffin through the woods. This is one of many vampire movies shot in Romania for budgetary reasons as much as to take advantage of the scenery and the mythic associations, though it could have been Wales for all the use made of the place.
Swashbuckling, would-be charming thief Lucian (Ben Robson) comes along to steal the slayers’ precious cargo, the Lightbringer. Though he’s disappointed it’s just a big stick, it’s actually a Swiss army staff with hidden compass and blade attachments which (get this!) turns out to be the weapon Cain used to slay his brother. It is most effective if wielded by a descendant of Cain (logically, that should be well over half humanity) against descendants of Abel (who were made princes by God as a compensation prize for their ancestor’s murder, so Dracula is one).
Wrath and his raiders kill the non-speaking bandits and Lucian falls for the stereotypically feisty Alina, but has to be convinced by Leonardo Van Helsing (Jon Voight with a tricorn hat, a droopy tache and false nose) to join the trek to Dracula’s invisible castle (the magic compass helps) to defeat the monster after he has kidnapped the girl. Alina, of course, is the reincarnation of Dracula’s murdered wife and starts warming up to the handsome prince, which ticks off some of his hench-folk (remember the lesson of Arabian Nights films – never trust a Grand Vizier) and gives him trouble keeping them in line. With a Brummie-accented norseman who has a Greek character name, Andros (Richard Ashton), Van Helsing’s party of slayers scale a Carpathian mountain and break into the castle to confront the monster.
It has some biting, one or two naked set dressing slave girls and cheapo CGI disintegrations, but plays more as low-rent fantasy action than horror. It also strains to be romantic as the heroine chooses between two frankly unlikeable men. Supposedly set in a real historical 16th century, it goes with costumes from several eras – the women mostly model leather cutaway britches – and even the character names, taken from Stoker, history and a World of Warcraft manual, don’t make sense.
British actor Roberts, a veteran of 217 episodes of Holby City who had a bit part in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, is one of the screen’s less imposing Draculas, and falls into that pretty-boy rut that too many who’ve taken the role in the 21st Century have inhabited: it’s possible to sell a Dracula who’s a tortured, romantic soul (though, frankly, that Barnabas-Blacula-Anne Rice stuff got old in the 1970s) but it’s difficult to get by with well-mannered weediness, especially when the plot makes Dracula an idiot who repeatedly trusts the obvious wrong ‘un in his inner circle and gets shafted for it. Written by producer Steven Paul (of the Baby Geniuses franchise) and director Pearry Teo (Necromentia, Witchville).