When it comes to misrepresentation of a historical character, the boat sailed for Vlad the Impaler well before Bram Stoker got to him. Apart from anything else, if Stoker ever did more research than skimming an encyclopedia entry before copping Vlad’s nickname, you couldn’t tell it from Dracula. A national hero in Romania, and inspiration for a few epic biopics, he’s conflated with Stoker’s vampire in a clutch of movies, including Dracula (1974), Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula the Dark Prince and Dracula Untold. In Turkey, Vlad is not a national hero, of course – and this ragged, macho, nationalist historical action picture presents him as an all-round bastard, who’s perhaps one of the most fiendish Draculas ever put on screen – though this does feel a bit like a biopic of Sitting Bull endorsed by the George A Custer fan club.
Here, Vlad (Erkan Petekkaya) is a ranting madman, ungrateful for being educated alongside the Turkish Sultan (ie: being a child hostage). He not only slaughters hordes of his own Wallachian people and abuses any handy Ottomans (the old anecdote about nailing an ambassador’s turban to his head is trotted out), but invents biological warfare by breeding an virulent strain of plague inside a particular rat we suspect is supposed to be Rat Zero of the Black Death (surely, the filmmakers can’t have copped this from The Satanic Rites of Dracula?). He even has an evil, cunning dragon lady wife (Gulsah Sahin), set in a coda to continue his evil work after he’s (spoiler!) beheaded. Claiming to be the son of God, Vlad gives a papal envoy a hard time and even threatens God Himself while praying on the eve of battle (dissing Jesus as a wuss) – whereas the Ottoman Empire is depicted as a haven of religious tolerance where Jews, Christians and Moslems alike are treated equally well (a band of Jews do a happy dance to celebrate this).
The focus of the film is on a band of deliler – an actual historical category of shock troop, depicted as Turkish samurai. The warrior good guys are given to swearing oaths before bloodshed, dressing up in peculiar and distinctive clobber, saving village healers from being raped by Vlad’s bad lads, befriending children, winning random fights against boastful musclebound Impaler fanboys, adopting hard bloke nicknames like the Silent One and Nameless (with explanatory backstories), and brooding nobly on their destiny to rid the land of villainy. Gokkurt (Cem Ucan), lead deliler, wears a pair of black Hawkman wings while riding around, and speechifies before going one on one with the Impaler.
The dubbed version available in the UK offers basic dramatics, and director Osman Kaya gives it the feel of a cross between a Magnificent Seven knock-off Western and a 1980s Italian barbarian picture, with broad strokes characterisations, low-rent battle action, and a score that works overtime to ramp up the melodrama.