‘You should be ashamed of yourself … and you call yourself an Admiral!’
‘How dare you … I’ve fought in three wars … I’ve killed hundreds of foreigners!’
Writer-director Michael Feifer specialises in worthless serial killer biopics (Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, Bundy: An American Icon); this stab at gothic horror is more ambitious – if hampered by an inability to hire actors who can do 19th Century British or Transylvanian accents without sounding like utter prawns. Ostensibly based on the short story ‘Dracula’s Guest’, it’s a melange of bits (and names) from the novel, earlier Dracula films and a version of Stoker’s life even less fact-based than the Roger Corman-produced Burial of the Rats (where Stoker tangles with piratical rat-women on a trip to Russia). Like many low-budget 21st century attempts at period horror, it goes with ugly, desaturated colours (influenced by John Badham’s controversial preferred transfer of his Dracula?) rather than attempt the rich look of Hammer.
A story which spans a continent and several countries seems to take place mostly on a California beach. Young, bearded, brogue-sporting Bram (Wes Ramsey) finds his girlfriend Elizabeth (Kelsey McCann) imprisoned in a cave near Castle Dracula. Through bars, she gives him sorry news that the Count has ‘planted the seed of the beast in my body’. Then, we flash back to London where Bram has Jonathan Harker’s job as ‘a real estate agent’ with offices in Baker Street. He is charged with finding a suitable property for a Mr Dracula (Andrew Bryniarski). The villain is undramatically introduced sitting in a chair in the office insisting – in his worst Bela Lugosi accent – on being addressed as Count. Bryniarski’s hulking Count has long black hair, the stuck-on goatee favoured by several of the screen’s worst Draculas (Zandor Vorkov!), plastic fangs and a tendency to speak slowly. In a London park, the plot boils as characters stand awkwardly in a clump struggling through stuffy dialogue: Admiral Murray (Dan Speaker), Elizabeth’s father, disapproves of Bram as a future son-in-law, which annoys the young lovers. Elizabeth runs off in a snit and Dracula smarmily transports her to Transylvania – though she puts up a spirited Victorian argument against being raped (‘how dare you treat me as if you have my acquaintance – you do not!’).
In the cave, Dracula recites extracts from the novel about his heroic past. There’s nearly an interesting argument as Elizabeth dismisses Dracula’s tales of mediaeval martial glory by telling him her father foresees tanks and aeroplanes making old-fashioned warriors obsolete. The Admiral comes from a line of vampire-hunters who have persecuted Dracula, so the Count’s abuse of her is personal. Bram has adventures in France with scurvy, treacherous peasants offering a new flavour of bad accent – but duffs them up. He arrives on foot in Transylvania just in time to be warned that it’s Walpurgis Night and the unquiet dead are around (‘oh, I see, suicides, how interesting’). Bram survives a brush with three vampire women in the woods (this might be a trace element from the short story). Elizabeth sees Dracula flying overhead, but we don’t. She whines further about ‘his seed’ (she mystically knows she’s pregnant) and bad attitude (‘you don’t know what it is to have love inside your heart – I don’t know if you even have a heart’). Bram proves his heroism by climbing a cliff as a rinky-dinky organ score tries to give the impression the feat is more difficult than it plainly is. The Admiral shows up at the cave and tells Elizabeth she has ‘abilities beyond your imagination’ thanks to her special bloodline – though the Murray superpowers are never brought into play. Bram clambers into the castle – represented by a borrowed mausoleum — and waves a knife (‘I’m an Irishman, and an Irishman never turns his back’) and Dracula swishes a fur-collared crimson velvet cloak, cackles like a panto villain, and uses powers of invisibility and/or telekinesis.
The Admiral (‘I’ve a long history with Vlad the Impaler’) teams up with Bram, who rescues the girl. The savant has a slow, clumsy sword-fight with the slow, clumsy vampire (who finds it hard not to get his sword tangled up in the cape) and manages to skewer the bastard – who gloats about reigning in Hell as he dies. The Admiral (‘without a head to wear a crown, you’ll never reign anywhere’) drives a sword through the prone Dracula’s heart (it looks more like his stomach) and announces that Bram and Elizabeth ‘have an appointment in Westminster Abbey – to be married!. Dracula disappears in a simple effect (no expensive putrefaction) but his cackle stays behind – and we’re left to wonder whether Elizabeth’s child will take after the vampire or vampire-hunting side of its lineage.
Extract from Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon.