Made on very chilly locations in and around Buffalo, New York, this low-budget community theatre effort starts and finishes as a remake of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, but drops in chunks of Bram Stoker’s text and takes one interesting new-ish direction in the second act. It’s as much goth charade as movie, but is by no means a write-off – though a few of the decisions (like scrambling character names) are just puzzling.
As in Nosferatu, the hero’s boss is already a minion of Dracula when the story starts – Renfield (Robert Bozek), who chews the scenery like a leftover Andy Milligan character, is the equivalent of Murnau’s Knock, who was a combination of Stoker’s Renfield and Mr Hawkins. Jonathan Harker (Richard Lovejoy) says goodbye to his wife Mina (Hillary Leising) and entrusts her to his friends Dr Seward and Lucy Westernas (Aaron Krygier, Tara Alexis) as he voyages across the sea to the castle of Count Orlok (Alex P). En route, Harker goes through a scene at the tomb of a lady vampire which approximates Stoker’s short story ‘Dracula’s Guest’, albeit with J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla instead of Stoker’s Countess Dolingen. Orlok is initially a goth band front-man with tattooed hands and not much presence (he later transforms into a particularly repulsive version of the rat-faced Max Schreck-look vampire) and swiftly dumps the estate agent on his bloodthirsty, fetish-dress-clad brides (Heather Daley, Hollis Witherspoon, Cara Francis).
In a fresh interpolation to the story, the brides react to the Count’s departure by torturing Jonathan – whom they crucify – with the intention of breaking his mind before turning him into a vampire so he can become their replacement ‘master’. In addition to this theatre of cruelty business, the three brides are riven with internal jealousies and plot against each other. There’d actually be enough in this section for a whole movie, though it hurts the film that the brides’ performances are wildly inconsistent – perhaps because it’s not easy to talk around a mouthful of giant false teeth. Jonathan goes along with the most treacherous bride – #three – as she feeds the others a drugged child to knock them out, then kills them all and races off to save his home town (and wife) from the unleashed Orlok. Professor Von Helsing (Michael O’Hear) is, in this version, feebly useless – though he does make a record of the case on a steampunk word processor.
The expensive sea voyage sequence makes use of footage from Murnau’s film – a few other backdrops are tipped in from that source – but the climax is new-made and combines the etherial romantic doominess of the original with a gory/rubbery homage to 1980s practical effects. It shouldn’t work and it doesn’t always, but writer-director David R. Williams genuinely engages with the material and makes something a bit above the level of fan film. Williams followed up with the Eurohorror tribute Red Scream Vampyres.