Movie Review: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

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1992 dracula
Columbia Pictures
1992
R

“I want you to bring me, before nightfall, a set of post mortem knives.”
“An autopsy? On Lucy?”
“No, no, no. Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart.”

  • From Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola comes the classic and chilling tale about the devastatingly seductive Transylvanian prince who travels from Eastern Europe to 19th-Century London in search of human love. When the charismatic Dracula meets Mira, a young woman who appears as the reincarnation of his lost love, the two embark on a journey of romantic passion and horror.

I wonder–is Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire novel Dracula the book that’s been adapted for the big screen the most? Seriously, that seems to have been given the celluloid treatment almost as soon as the book was originally published, and movie making was invented. It’s probably not, but I would say that maybe it would be in the Top 10, if not the Top 5. I’m sure there’s a list on some pop culture website out there.

Anyway, Dracula is one of the big Classic Movie Monsters that you don’t even have to have seen any of the movies to know about. Dracula is an icon. But, most only know about Bella Legosi’s iconic take on the vampire prince, with the cape and the tuxedo and the eyes you could get hypnotized with for days…

Um, what were we talking about, again? Oh, right.

When it comes to the movies, what every big screen adaptation of the novel have in common–besides a vampire named Dracula (unless it’s Nosferatu, which is a different kind of adaptation entirely)–is that they all veer away to something different from the source material, despite claims to be faithful to the novel. And in 1992, movie auteur Frances Ford Coppola made his attempt at a “faithful adaptation of the book” a shot.

For those of us familiar with the novel itself, Coppola’s adaptation opens with a scene that’s nowhere in the book: An explanation of the origin of the titular character by tying in lore of the historical inspiration, Vlad Dracula, back in the 1400s, to maybe make some sense as to why the guy lives so long and has a thirst for blood. Eh, it’s a valiant effort. Anyway, from there the movie takes most of its cues from the novel itself, with some liberal helpings of artistic license slathered on to keep things from getting too bogged down from the source material’s literary structure.

So, after Vlad renounces God and desecrates the chapel by drinking blood from an impaled cross because his wife committed suicide (as you do), we flash forward to 1897, where a young British go-getter solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to meet with his new client, one Count Dracula, to discuss and arrange the Count’s new real estate acquisitions in London. The Count seems a trifle odd, but that may be chalked up to cultural differences and all that. However, after Dracula spots a picture of Jonathan’s betrothed–Mina–he believes her to be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife, and throws Jonny to his vamperic brides and sets off to England to find the woman of his dreams. Or something. Coincidentally, Mina’s BFF Lucy’s health starts deteriorating, which is determined to be the result of a vampire attack by the socially awkward Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, here looking nothing like Wolverine, and then Nina goes to Romania because she got word that Jonathan managed to escape Dracula’s castle, and the two get married there. Moving back to London, Dr. Van Helsing leads the charge to take down Dracula, but the Count totally evades them, killing off his former servant Renfield, then turning Mina into one of the undead, leading to a showdown between Dracula’s forces and Van Helsing’s Heroes on Dracula’s home turf. Wackiness and gloriously bad acting ensue.

The best thing going about this take on Dracula is the heavy Gothic atmosphere that oozes out of the film. Gary Oldman does an outstanding job as the titular antagonist of the movie, giving his Dracula a pathos and melancholy to the undead embodiment of evil, even when he’s wearing perhaps the goofiest looking hairpiece I’ve ever seen. Also, Coppola made this using old-school practical effects, essentially eschewing any CGI trickery to achieve that authentic old school feel of the movie. It looks great. And Sir Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is probably the best character in this movie. That said, all the reports of the acting being incredibly wooden and off from the other actors? Yeah, I have to admit that is on display here. Especially with Keanu Reeves, affecting a rather…interesting British accent, let’s just say. The same with Winona Ryder, playing the Mina opposite Reeve’s Harker. But, really, it’s Billy Campbell as the over-the-top Texan Quincey Morris that gets me whenever I watch this. It’s just such a greatly cliche’d performance, it’s like the quintessential version of how British people view Americans, it seems like.

Overall: I absolutely adore this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This isn’t the first time a Dracula movie was made that tied in the Vlad Tepes source for the fictional character–there was a 1973 television version that was done that did just that. I love the style, the Gothic atmosphere, the soundtrack used which goes great with a dark night and candles, there’s much here to like. If you haven’t seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Even if you end up not liking it that much, there’s going to be something here you will like. Worth a rental some dark, moonless night in winter.

Movie Review: DAYLIGHT’S END

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daylight's endVertical Entertainment
2016
NR

The world is full of low-budget straight-to-video zombie flicks. One might say we’re overrun with a plethora of zombie movies. What we don’t seem to have enough of are low-budget straight-to-video movies that are I Am Legend-esque post-apocalyptic vampiric zombie movies. Specifically, I Am Legend-esque post-apocalyptic vampiric zombie movies that features Lance Henriksen as one of the stars of the cast. Fortunately, here’s Daylight’s End to help fill in that void in our horror subgenre.

Years after a mysterious plague has devastated the planet and turned most of humanity into blood-hungry creatures, a rogue drifter on a vengeful hunt stumbles across a band of survivors in an abandoned police station and reluctantly agrees to try to help them defend themselves and escape to the sanctuary they so desperately need.

Daylight’s End manages to be another generic post-apocalyptic action horror that checks off all the points, but doesn’t really do much beyond that to contain my interest. More character types than characters, a big macho action lead that’s stuck in constant 90s-era brood mode, and story beats that tread no new ground…Daylight’s End is an easily forgettable movie about five minutes after the end credits roll.

Movie Review: BLACK WATER VAMPIRE

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1-29 - Movie Review: BLACK WATER VAMPIREImage Entertainment
2014
NR

What sick-minded killer brutalized four women and left their blood-drained corpses by Black Water Creek? Andrea Adams wants to know, and she’s taking her film crew to find out the truth. What they find there can only be told by the footage left behind. Blood-wrenching, soul-shattering terror waits for those who dare ends these woods.

I remember, back in the late summer, early fall of 1999, when the movie The Blair Witch Project was released. All of you kids out there who only know the Paranormal Activity movies as the “innovative found footage” type horror movies have this one to thank for that. While there wasn’t as many found footage horror movies that popped up as much as after Paranormal Activity, for a while any type of found footage movie was referred to as a “Blair Witch rip-off”. Mind you, that had more to do with aping the filming style, and not actually lifting the direct story with different tweeks to be “totally different.”

Black Water Vampire, on the other had, is a Blair Witch Project rip-off, not only as a found footage style horror movie, but it liberally uses the same premise and beats, only swapping out the location of Burkitsville, MD with Black Water, WA, and changing Witch to Vampire. There are some differences thrown in, which I will get to in a bit. But for the first two thirds or so, it’s hard to not shake off the feeling that you’ve seen this all before.

So, we got four amateur film makers driving out to the remote woods of Black Water Creek, to document the legend of the titular Black Water Vampire. While doing so, weird things start to happen to them, and then they get lost, and things get weirder, and then the point comes to where they find out if the whole vampire legend is real or not.

And this is where the film deviates from just being a Blair Witch rip-off. See, where The Blair Witch Project never bothered to show the actual witch (just some purported evidence of the supernatural effects of the witch herself, or whatever it was they made up on the spot while filming it), Black Water Vampire at least gives us the vampire. And boy howdy is the payoff a good’un. We also have a nifty angle where the townspeople are in on the conspiracy, and then the movie ends on a bit of a Rosemary’s Baby ripoff. Which, in this case, was actually rather good.

Now, the big difference between this and the movie(s) it borrows heavily from is that, for me, I went in expecting crap from beginning to end, and ended up actually enjoying the movie in the third act. Yes, the first couple of acts were kind of hard to sit through, as the acting was rather bad, and the characters themselves were of the type that you wouldn’t be able to stand riding along inside a vehicle for any length before wanting to quell your mental images of stabbing them repeatedly with a sport to MAKE THEM SHUT UP. Sorry. Once they start getting picked off by some mysterious…thing, and when they run into the vampire itself (which is a nasty-looking, actually scary Nosferatu-like creature, very well done), well, darned if my amusement level just went up.

Overall, if you can make it through the first parts, Black Water Vampire’s payoff is pretty decent. It probably won’t be the first choice for a horror movie fest, but it’s worth maybe a curious look-see. You could do worse.

Movie Review: VAMPIYAZ

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Movie Review: VAMPIYAZLions Gate Films
2002
R

“What’s the difference between a plastic bag and Michael Jackson? One is something you carry your groceries in, and the other is too dangerous to allow children to play with.”

After a robbery gone sour, would-be gang banger Jakeem is betrayed by his Busta Rhymes-wannabe partner and is sent to jail for seven years. After being released, Jakeem returns to his old ‘hood only to discover his former compadre is now a vampire and has cornered him into getting an amulet for his nefarious purposes. Can Jakeem right the wrongs and take down this new evil that…ah, forget it.

It says a lot about a movie when the only riveting piece of dialogue…in fact, the only good part of the entire movie…is the above quote. Yep. Brilliant scripting, guys. Mayhaps you should fire the 1000 monkeys you hired to write this thing…

Ah, but what was I expecting, really? I rented this vampire genre misfire by the cheesiness of the title alone. Words cannot describe how bad Vampyaz is. From the horrible dialogue, to the shot-on-video crapiness (it’s called a boom mic…invest in it some time, people), to the Strawberry Qwik syrup and cherry Kool-Aide used to simulate blood, to the Spencer’s Gifts Halloween Clearance Sale effects (one of the vampire slayaz actually sports a large plastic glow-in-the-dark cross…I mean, geeze…), to the really bad generic gangsta rap and even worse string quartet used for the soundtrack…this movie is very painful to watch. I did get a couple of laughs from the big “transformation into uber-vamp” scene, where the effects used boiled down to spastic shaking of both the actor and the hand-held they filmed it on. Oh, and some Jacob’s Ladder-zap sound effects for that extra touch. Damn funny. Otherwise, this is 87 minutes of my life, and roughly $3 in rental fees I’ll never be seeing again…

Movie Review: SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE

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Movie Review: SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRELions Gate Films
2000
R

“I don’t think we need the writer any longer.”

Posing the question, “What if the actor used in the silent classic Nosferatu was actually a vampire?”, Shadow Of The Vampire follows eccentric director F. W. Murnau and his quest to film the most realistic vampire film ever. To that end, he hires Max Schreck, a reclusive and very ugly vampire who dwells in a dilapidated castle in the area where Murnau is shooting. And while Schreck gives the performance of his, er, life, it’s kind of hard to make a movie when members of the cast and crew are disappearing mysteriously…

Fascinating movie that’s not so much a true horror piece than it’s a dark and stylish fantasy based on fact. The great William DaFoe steals the show as Max Schreck, right down to his can’t-recognize-him makeup. The equally great John Malcovich brings the pretentiousness into his roll as jerk director Murnau. The banter between the two is engulfing, to be sure, injecting some dark humor in the situation (I love that scene where Schreck is discussing who he can eat next…priceless). There’s also a bit more depth to Schreck beyond just “I’m a vampire! Booga booga booga!”. There’s a scene where he’s sharing a late-night drink with a couple of crew members, using the book Dracula to reflect on how lonely it is to be alive for so long that makes one sympathetic for his plight. Then he eats the crew members. Basically what I would do, so no judgment there…

Stylistically, this film is beautifully made, at times reproducing the techniques used to film the original Nosferatu to great effect. There are times where it seems the movie was dragging on, but that’s due more to the fact that this is a character movie rather than an action-based horror flick.

Mind you, Shadow Of The Vampire may be a bit too “artsy” and “heady” for someone looking for a straight-up vampire flick. But for those into the genre, and especially those who appreciate the original silent classic, this movie unveils a different aspect that works well. Not perfect, but a really good movie to discuss afterwards…

Movie Review: ‘SALEM’S LOT (2004)

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Movie Review: 'SALEM'S LOT (2004)Warner Bros. Television
2004
TV-14

“Town looks a little dead today.”

Ben Mears, a writer returns to the small Maine town of Jerusalem’s Lot (also known as Salem’s Lot), where he spent the first few years of his life, to write a book. Little does he or the townfolk realize that a couple of other new residents are coming…Straker, a antiques dealer, and his partner and master Barlow, a ancient and malevolent vampire bent on making Salem’s Lot his new home.

This version of ‘Salem’s Lot is a two-part cable TV miniseries adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel about vampires that invade a small Maine town. Those old enough (or suave enough in your horror history) might recall that ‘Salem’s Lot was previously made into a TV movie back in 1979, toned down with changes to the book’s plot because it was on network television, and with vamps that bore more in resemblance to Nosferatu than the post-modern freaks-with-fangs that we’re all accustomed to. I have yet to really care enough to locate a copy of the 1979 version to watch, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve read the novel on which this adaptation is based, so I came into viewing this with nearly a clean slate.

Gotta tell ‘ya, I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. Most of the time, any made-for-television (be it network or cable) adaptations of Stephen King stories tend to fall flat for me. And at a grand total of three hours, while there are a couple of bumps along the way, overall I was very much satisfied with the execution on ‘Salem’s Lot. I was completely geeking out on the cast at times (Donald Sutherland! Rob Lowe! Rutger Hauer! That last one played the vampire king Lothos in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie, there…), the overall creepy vibe was well-used throughout, and the vampire effects were very effective. The story starts off with a small town, somethin’ ain’t right vibe, then when the vampires are revealed later in the second half, it becomes a fun bloodsucker romp with just enough visceral scares to keep you going.

Overall, I’d say that this collected miniseries is a good way to spend a vampire-themed night. Pair this up with The Lost Boys, a pizza and munchies, and you’ve got a party, there…

Movie Review: Tales From The Crypt Presents: BORDELLO OF BLOOD

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bordello of bloodUniversal Pictures
1996
R

“Don’t eat your heart out, baby – that’s MY job.”

As if we needed further proof that Corey Feildman’s career is in desperate need of revival.

From what I’m told, this second entry in the “Tales From The Crypt” big screen series (a series that really needs to expand beyond just two movies…I mean, co’mon…even if it’s a bunch of direct-to-video releases, there’s some fun to be had) doesn’t really measure up to its predecessor, Demon Knight. Since I have yet to view Demon Knight, I have no basis for comparison, so I’ll just take their word for it. And, since I have seen Bordello Of Blood, I’ll review this on its own merits…

Okay, so we have an uptight church gal, working as an assistant to a really flashy television evangelist. Her wayward brother (the afore mentioned Feildman) has gone missing after visiting an underground bordello located under a mortuary (isn’t that one of the first signs that mayhaps something isn’t right? I digress…). So, she hires Dennis Miller to investigate his disappearance. As you may have guessed, this investigation leads him to the brothel in question, which, we pretty much ascertained around the time the opening credits rolled, was staffed by lady vampires that look like they could have been drawn by Eric Larson, lead by the vampire queenie Lilith.

One thing I’ll give the Tales From The Crypt franchise- they never really claim to be anything more than mindless horrific fun. Their mascot, the famous Crypt Keeper, spouts off really bad puns, for cryin’ out loud. And really, Bordello Of Blood lives up to that, in spades. We’ve got female vampire hookers. We’ve got midgets. We’ve got an over-the-top religious guy shooting effigies of Satan with lasers that emit from an electric guitar. We’ve got an over-acting Cory Feildman. Aaaaaaand…we’ve got the king of dead-pan dry wit, Dennis Miller. Normally, for me, that would be “sleeping off bad Mexican food” night.

Those looking for a vampire movie featuring a strong story and drawn-out characters, boy have you rented the wrong movie. This is really more of an “Exploding Bodies & Bad One-Liners” type vampire movie, where the acting is camp and the plot is secondary to the exposition. Let me tell you, you don’t see any Holy Water squirt gun fights in Interview With The Vampire, now, do you?

The best way to watch Bordello Of Blood is to grab a pack of your favorite adult beverage (if yer over 21, that is…this is a family website), some chips and dip, invite some friends over, and turn off your brain. Sit back, relax and enjoy…

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