Bram Stoker's Dracula's Curse (2006)
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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