Starring Rhett Giles, Andreas Beckett, Denise Boutte, Paul Logan
Directed by Sarah Nean Bruce and Eduardo Durao
You know that old saying about how certain things being a dime a dozen. In the case of direct-to-video vampire movies, they’re a nickel a gross. Is there any single genre that has been done to death more than the vampire genre? The fact that vampire flicks are usually so cheap to produce makes it easy for them to get made, which in turn ups the ratio of good vampire movies to really, really bad vampire movies in the favor of the exceptionally sucky ones. Having sat through the abysmal Reign in Darkness and the damn near intolerable Frost: Portrait of a Vampire I can honestly say that my patience for such low budget vampire films has become so low that when I see a new direct-to-video vampire movie at the video store I barely give it a thought before moving on. Nonetheless, I decided to give Bram Stoker’s Way of the Vampire a try and much to my surprise, it turned out to be a halfway decent entry in this overdone genre.
Late 1800’s, Abraham Van Helsing sets out for one final showdown with Dracula, who is played by a guy that looks more like the kind of studly Dracula they would have cast on the soap opera Port Charles than the European count Bram Stoker conceived. While he’s off having his final showdown with the Lord of the Vampires, it turns out the man Van Helsing left behind to protect his wife was actually a vampire prince named Sebastian. He seduces her, feeds on her, and ultimately turns her into a vampire, whom Van Helsing is forced to kill. In order to save her immortal soul from eternal damnation, Van Helsing makes a pact with the Knights Templar to become immortal himself and will never be allowed into the kingdom of Heaven until he rids the world of all of the remaining vampire princes. Not all vampires mind you, just the really important ones.
Now in modern day Los Angeles…
Uh, the movie is called Bram Stoker’s Way of the Vampire. Did Bram Stoker back in the late 1800’s write a vampire tale set in 21st century California? I’m going to take a wild guess and say this movie isn’t really based on any of Stoker’s writing but they decided to slap his name on the title since it’s marketable and justify it because the film features characters he created. Well, it has a character he created. I don’t count Dracula since he gets killed off in the muddled prologue that opens the film, and in a most unspectacular fashion considering he is supposed to be the ultimate vampire. It’s so unspectacular that I honestly kept waiting for him to show back up again before the end of the movie. He doesn’t.
Anyway, it is now modern L.A. and Van Helsing is working undercover as a hematologist in a big city hospital. If you’re looking for vampires I guess it helps to work in and around blood. From the looks of things, his game plan is to continue working in the hospital and wait until vampire bite victims start showing up in the ER giving him leads to go on. That doesn’t really strike me as an effective preventative strategy to hunt down vampires.
Meanwhile, the vampires have become a sad lot forced to live like homeless drug addicts due to a combination of lack of leadership and fear of Van Helsing. That all changes when the bootylicious Nubian vampiress Arianna gives the ailing vampire prince Sebastian a good pep talk and a wee bit of blood to get his, well, blood pumping. Before you know it, Sebastian is growling like a werewolf to alert vampires everywhere else that he is back in charge of them and giving football coach-like pep talks about how it is their time again. He also begins dressing like a maestro. Taking a cue from their suddenly revitalized and flamboyant leader, the vampires begin to kill people at random while Arianna plots to do in Van Helsing. Sebastian would be on top of the whole kill Van Helsing thing himself if not for the pile of naked women currently on top of him for an orgy that seems to go on for days.
It isn’t long before the first vampire victim, a prostitute in the process of becoming a vampire herself, turns up at the hospital and Dr. Van Helsing proceeds to do away with her in a manner that makes one wonder how he could possibly explain her demise to hospital administration. He then visits the local Catholic priest and explains his situation via a series of flashbacks. It appears the whole vampires exist deal is common knowledge in the Catholic Church because the priest doesn’t bat an eye when being told any of this. Van Helsing needs some volunteer vampire hunters and the church provides them in the form of a group of random people that all look like they showed up to audition for a deodorant commercial but would up getting recruited to hunt Nosferatu instead.
I know I’ve spent much of this review so far ridiculing its cheesy nature, but the truth is that an honest effort was clearly made to tell an actual story and even develop a few characters, namely Van Helsing, Sebastian, and Arianna. Rhett Giles as Van Helsing is so reminiscent of Alexis Denisoff’s Wesley towards the end run of “Angel” that it’s almost uncanny at times, and Andreas Beckett’s Sebastian is amusingly over the top, sort of like a pro wrestling version of Lestat. Denise Boutte’s Arianna comes across like a Buffy villain, especially during the big battle where she promptly rips off her dress to reveal her skintight leather fighting gear. Even the overall quality of the acting here is surprisingly good save for one or two characters. That’s a rare thing indeed.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of complaints and frustrations to go around. The film practically comes to a halt while we are treated to a series of lengthy vignettes of Van Helsing training these novice vampire hunters, most of which are played for laughs even though they aren’t even remotely funny. The movie would have been much better off if it had just stuck to dealing with him as the lone vampire hunter. The vampires’ plot against Van Helsing involving taking his girlfriend hostage would have worked better if I had actually been aware that female nurse was supposed to be his love interest, a fact I was unaware of until the vampires said so. And outside of the three main characters, none of the other characters are given anything even resembling character development or at the very least a distinct personality.
Oh yeah, my biggest frustration goes out to either the filmmakers’ that could use a few audio lessons or the people that authored the DVD because the dialogue track was several notches lower than the rest of the film’s audio. I had to crank up the volume real loud just to hear what was being said, and even then I still couldn’t make out certain lines. This also became annoying when the sound effects or the score got loud and would be blasting because I had to turn the volume up real high in the first place. Not cool, folks. Not cool at all.
In the end, Bram Stoker’s Way of the Vampire isn’t completely satisfying but still blows away the majority of the vampire flicks turning up on video store shelves these days. It may have been too ambitious for its meager budget and really could have used one more rewrite to flesh things out a bit more, but I’ve seen so many godawful low budget vampire flicks and Buffy/Blade rip-offs that Bram Stoker’s Way of the Vampire almost seems like a minor triumph just for being as enjoyable as it is despite its numerous problems.
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