Starring Tom Downey, Eliza Swenson, Rhett Giles, Jeff Denton, Christina Rosenberg
Written & Directed by Leigh Scott
It’s taken me several days to write this review because this is the kind of movie that I find really hard to review. Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Curse, a new movie from The Asylum that actually isn’t designed to be a knock-off of a current theatrical film, is not a bad movie per se, but I really can’t say it’s one you should go out of your way to see. If you asked me if it’s worth a rental, I’d be inclined to say yes because it’s different and definitely of better quality than much of the DTV dreck out there right now, and yet if you asked me for my overall opinion I’d probably focus on the film’s negatives that stand out more than the positives. See my dilemma?
Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Curse is a very ambitious film, perhaps too ambitious for its own good. I do admire the work that writer/director Leigh Scott put into it but think it really could have used another rewrite, a little more budget, and a few less characters to juggle. What we have here is a movie about vampire hunters that has less to do with vampire hunting and more to do with vampire politicking. This is a very talky movie, and I swear there were times when it felt like I was watching people playing a live action Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game. Given that the majority of the film focuses on the lives, losses, and loves of the vampire hunters, I guess it would be more like live action Hunter: The Reckoning. Of course, that might also be due to some occasionally horrible acting.
The primary plot deals with a ragtag band of vampire hunters led by the determined (and somewhat secretive) Rufus King and Jacob Van Helsing, a descendent of Abraham Van Helsing continuing the family tradition. The group is disbanded after King forges a truce with the vampires’ high council who promise to stop vampires from preying on mortals in exchange for no longer being hunted down by King’s group. The story then picks up five years later (Scott actually divides the movie into chapters complete with on-screen titles, a neat yet unnecessary quirk) when the evil blood countess Elizabeth Bathorly launches a scheme that could make her the supreme vampire, a plot that alarms both vampires and vampire hunters alike. King “gets the band back together” in order to deal with Bathorly, including taking in and training a young man whose girlfriend has been abducted by Bathorly’s ominisexual vamp tramps, while the vampires themselves embark on their own to deal with the Bathorly threat, often finding themselves at odds with King and Van Helsing’s forces.
The thing about this movie is not that the script is incoherent, but that Scott is trying to balance so many characters – some of whom have full story arcs while others get maybe a single individual scene designed to give their character some reason to exist – along with the main storylines to the point that I started having trouble following everything, and at nearly 110 minutes in length, trying to keep up with everyone along with the occasional asides began to wear me down about 2/3rds of the way through.
There are some really good scenes such as when Van Helsing gives the new recruit a combat lesson or when another member of the group introduces the new recruit to the other vampire hunters through their weapons of choice, but this latter scene is a perfect example of the story structure’s problems. The weapons scene tells us more about some of the lesser vampire hunters than anything else in the entire flick, and yet it doesn’t take place until about an hour in, long after it would have meant something to know or care about these supporting characters. It’s not that the overall plot isn’t decent; it often is – the ending is actually quite good – but the screenplay desperately needed some restructuring, and given the low budget nature of the film it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to eliminate a few extraneous characters that never really payoff.
In a way, Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Curse is The Asylum’s version of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World! since the cast is a virtual who’s who of actors and actresses that have appeared in previous Asylum productions. Unfortunately, for every Rhett Giles – an actor that really deserves to be appearing in A-list films – there’s a Rebekah Kochan (star of The Asylum’s When a Killer Calls) who gives a gratingly bad attitude of a performance in what ultimately amounts to a pointless character. Again, there are just too many characters inhabiting this small film.
Leigh Scott does make one other critical error that nearly sinks the whole film. The villainess, Elizabeth Barthorly, played with perhaps a bit too much girlish glee at times by the otherwise solid and not too hard on the eyes Christina Rosenberg, is reduced to a minor character. Virtually everything plot-wise has to do with Bathorly’s actions. Everyone constantly talks about how dangerous Bathorly is and how much of a threat she poses for vampires and vampire hunters alike if she succeeds. That right there is the problem – everyone constantly talks about it. It’s all talk; talking is about all anyone ever does except for the film’s opening and closing action scenes. Bathorly herself and her whorish minions have very little screen time; Bathorly herself is little more than a minor character, certainly not one realized enough to fully convey the threat level that’s constantly being paid lip service to her. Again, eliminate a few characters and give us more of the villain.
Never is this fim’s over-ambitiousness more apparent than in the make-up department. Scott has opted to give us a variety of different vampire races, some of which are monstrous in their appearance. While the Nosferatu type vampire and another patterned after Lon Chaney in London after Midnight turned out fairly well, if not 100% convincing, there’s a scene where Bathorly’s henchwenches confront a pair of vampires with laughable make-up jobs: one a Knights of Columbus Halloween carnival quality devil and the other an Asian bloodsucker whose vampirism seems to have caused him to sprout monstrous dimples. The highlight (of the entire film too) is a Dracula monster that looks like the winged vampire creature from Underworld: Evolution if brought to life with traditional man in a suit f/x. It’s such a great looking monster costume I kind of wish they’d built the whole movie around it instead of the story at hand.
It’s funny how I often find myself complaining about DTV movies not having enough plot or character development, and yet I finally get one with both and actually wish it had a little less of either. Still, Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Curse isn’t a bad movie. If you’re looking for a vampire film cut from the same cloth as Vampire: The Masquerade or the short-lived TV series “Kindred: The Embrace” then you’ll probably dig Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Curse, but you’ll need to have a little patience.
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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