Spoiler warning …
The film takes a while to reveal something that’s given away by some of the poster designs and most of the publicity. And, inevitably, in these notes – which is why there was a warning above. By coincidence, the second episode of the BBC’s recent Dracula series uses the same title – which is a hint of a spoiler.
Director Justin Dix, who also co-wrote with Jordan Prosser, is best known as an effects tech on things like the Star Wars prequels and The Babadook, and delivers excellent batfaced monsters when they pop out of ornately decorated coffins. Making use of a WWII ship preserved in Australia as a museum, the film has a nicely expansive feel that belies a low budget. It teases a little with an opening that evokes the non-classic-but-kind-of-fun Death Ship, raising the possibilities of Nazi mad experiments or a haunting, before it turns out that among the art treasures a German ship in the North Atlantic has been smuggling out of the collapsing fatherland in 1945 are the coffins of a ‘familia’ of strigoi, who have already run through most of the crew before seven Allied survivors of a naval attack board the drifting vessel and find out what’s going on.
The multi-national lifeboat gang include Yanks, an Australian, a Russian and Brits, and don’t really get along, with thumbnail sketches of their mostly tragic backstories. Of course, they’re a 1945 version of the crew of the Nostromo. A gradual winnowing-down brings Aussie Malone (Robert Taylor), Soviet Teplov (Alex Cooke) and English nurse Jane Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland) to the fore – with British weaselly codebreaker Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham), a food hoarder and potential turncoat, positioned as either Renfield or Ash. The first living person found on the ship is Mya (Ruby Isobel Hall), a Newt-like dirty-faced little girl who (uh oh) speaks Romanian and (even more uh oh) has a creepy doll that turns out to be a valuable antique. She also looks very intently when bloody wounds are being tended. This sets up the eventual unleashing of the Patriarch (Troy Larkin) and his concubine (Vivienne Perry), who display some familiar traits (and a flamboyant Nosferatu look that reminded me a bit of 1980s Dr Who monsters) but also have a few newish tricks, like puppeteering folk they’ve infected and semi-possessed and mocking little claw gestures that give the general issue monsters a bit of personality.
Though its comic bookishness means it works more as a ripping yarn than a blood-chilling horror tale – the same is true of that BBC Dracula episode, as it happens – it’s a very likeable mash-up of genres and influences. And the final moments – and punchline – do have a bite that has little to do with fangs.