Before they became known for ‘mockbusters’ like Transmorphers and The Day the Earth Stopped and the never-as-fun-as-they-sounded Sharknado series, the Asylum turned out a run of gory gothics like Frankenstein Reborn and The Beast of Bray Road – they even turned out a couple of Dracula-related quickies, Way of the Vampire and Dracula’s Curse. In 2021, they reverted to this earlier mode of horror – albeit presumably in the hopes of riding the cloak-tail of the long-delayed Morbius, which ended up being released without that ‘The Living Vampire’ subtitle the comics character uses … leaving this odd take on Bram Stoker as an imitation without a thing to imitate. And that’s not the strangest thing about it.
Made in Serbia, this version of the story is set in a nebulous time and place – it might be the 1920s, with very progressive social mores for the decade, but doesn’t seem to be London or Transylvania. A city is plagued by a series of exsanguination killings of red-headed women, and police Captain Renfield (Stuart Packer) has top detective Amelia Van Helsing (Christine Prouty) on the case, which reminds many of events a hundred years earlier when some aristo went mad because his fiancee died on their wedding day and slaughtered a bunch of women who looked like her before being tracked to a derelict castle on the edge of town. While she confers with occult enthusiast chemist Jonathan Harker (Ryan Woodcock) and coroner Dr Seward (Michael Ironside), Amelia’s girlfriend Mina (India Davies) – a blonde who has dyed her hair after childhood bullying – is extra-pleased that she’s got a gig showing new-in-town Count Dracula (Jake Herbert) around properties he’s considering buying.
Stoker’s plot has been reconfigured as a police procedural, which is an interesting way to go but doesn’t really pan out – it’s no surprise that Renfield is Dracula’s inside man on the police force and lots of talk about the anticoagulant saliva found in the dead women’s neck-wounds eats up footage before the reveal half-way through that (gasp!) Dracula is a vampire. And Van Helsing doesn’t work this out by noting any evidence, just by opening a file on the century-ago killing spree and finding that the culprit’s name then was Dracula – even in Stoker’s novel, the Count uses a false name in London to throw pursuers off the track, but this arrogant, feeble longhaired Dracula doesn’t bother. The old reincarnation-of-the-lost-love bit is trotted out to little effect. Herbert is one of the palest, thinnest screen Draculas to date – and not just in a goth sort of way – he’s unconvincing both as a great threat and a great lover. Of the rest of the cast, Ironside is in for name recognition value, and Prouty at least tries hard as out and proud lesbian Van Helsing (I said this community was progressive for whatever era the story is set in) though by contrast the usually strong-minded Mina is here a vacuous drip.
Scripted by Michael Varrati – who wrote the much better modern-day Dracula movie The Sins of Dracula and now seesaws between horror (Aquarium of the Dead) and many, many Christmas movies – and directed by Maximilian Elfeldt (Avengers Grimm: Time Wars, War of the Worlds: Annihilation). It has a decent-enough look, except when the CGI bats and snarls feature, and CSI Carfax Abbey isn’t actually a terrible premise … but this is a Dracula movie sunk by its dead-loss no-account Count.