My notes on Dracula AD 2015 (2015)
This hour-long fan film is pretty well put together for something that’s basically an amateur production. With one or two exceptions, those sadly being the lead roles, the performances from the gang of pals assembled to take part are actually stronger than the starrier retro names writer-director-star Joshua Kennedy later obtained for the more-nearly-professional House of the Gorgon. Shot in and around NYC’s Pace University, it tries to use lighting effects to make up for the rather bland, moderne look of the anonymous halls of residence, lecture rooms, diners and basements where the action takes place – the area in which this can’t hope to evoke its models is art direction, which means (despite one okay exterior castle location) we get neither the gothic mode of classic Bernard Robinson Hammer or the funkier 70s vibe of the contempo-set Hammer Draculas. It lifts music cues from Mike Vickers, John Cacavas, James Bernard and Philip Martell, and the script braids together scenes and set-ups from Dracula AD 1972 (obvs), Dracula Prince of Darkness and Dracula, with many lifted lines and homage character names like Thorley Ripper, Caroline Monlaur, Gina Melly and Miles Malleson.
Kennedy plays occultist Terence Fordyce (Fordyce was Peter Cushing’s character name in Cash on Demand), who arrives to teach a semester at Pace and is greeted by his sister Jennifer (Kat Kenendy) – the youth of most of the cast mean that characters who were grandfather and granddaughter in AD 1972 are now siblings, and the enthusiastic all-rounder Kennedy can’t really summon the gravitas to evoke Cushing … while ‘Xander Pretorius’ is a Robert Pattinson-look Count in a Christopher Lee cloak, and imposing enough while just standing there in shadow but lacking in the booming voice or snarling physicality stakes. Instead of Johnny Alucard, we get Ingrid Stensgaard (Bessie Nellis), a lecturer who dragoons Jen’s circle of friends – introduced in a rare 2015 touch in an Unfriended-style splitscreem group chat – into a resurrection ritual that turns an unsightly pile of orange sick into the Count via an old-fashioned, surprisingly effective lap dissolve with fog effect (the company name is Gooey Films). The eventual defeat of the Count, following the 1958 staging, has a different, equally unusual low-rent effect that’s also surprisingly effective.
A few of the cast do their own thing – Jeremey Kreuzer, cast as janitor-turned-minion Thorley Ripper, does a bit of a Dwight Frye imitation and gets killed the way Frye does in the 1931 Dracula, and Traci Thomas goes so far over the top as an African-American housekeeper called Gerda that the mostly straight pastiche turns briefly into a parody. In a couple of scenes, Kennedy does manage a translation of his sources in contemporary America – restaging Cushing’s jog through Chelsea with Times Square, and doing much of the final Fordyce-Dracula conflict on a New York subway train with alarmed spectators before shifting to a horse-and-carriage chase through Central Park recreating the AD 1972 prologue en route to the 1958 dust-blown-away-from-the-ring finish. Nellis is almost good in her role, and one odd scene – as her former acolytes make feeble excuses not to hang out with her – comes close to being weirdly affecting. Apart from the gruesome coalescing/dissolving, it’s relatively blood-free and it has the chastest lesbian shower fanging in cinema history.
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