Another DVD from the bargain bin.
The opening titles of Dracula Reborn state that the film is “based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker”, and the writing credits on imdb are listed accordingly. In fact, however, the film models itself only loosely on Bram Stoker’s novel. The story is set in a modern day US city, and while many characters take their names (and functions within the plot) from Stoker, there is little that reminds one of Dracula.
A real estate agent named Jonathan Harker is employed to purchase a certain building for a mysterious stranger. That stranger, who has an equally mysterious manservant called Renfield, takes an interest in Harker’s wife Lina (not Mina), and things go south from there…
Sure enough, a certain Van Helsing turns up sharing a fair bit of knowledge, thus being considerably more helpful than the Harkers’ friend Dr. Joan Seward who is looking for a medical explanation for certain unexplainable things.
So here you have the names and the real estate angle from the novel. What does this film do with that base of operations? Not much. The script’s plot, while by definition not new, is also pretty thin. The film is further suffering from a clumsy story progression in which some things are just too convenient or too coincidental. The second act is oddly slow-paced, and so I found myself frequently looking at my DVD player’s time-counter – never a good sign. Adding to that sense of odd pacing is the fact that in this film it becomes day and night at random, whichever writer/director Patrick McManus needs at that moment. That way there is no real sense of time for the viewer, as days or nights are incredibly long or short, and as working hours or car journeys take an unbelievably long or short amount of time. The story fails to pick up speed (or tension) after the second act, as the inevitable final showdown is fractured and a bit disappointing; with an ending that sacrifices consistency and internal logic for a bit of novelty.
There are many positive things about Dracula Reborn. Although the film is pretty unengaging and the plot pretty thin, the story as such is rather solid and neither horrible nor a complete mess. The visual side of things is mostly competent: the effects creating facial changes in the antagonist as well as those that fall under his spell are simple but very well done and effective; spooky even (Stuart Rigby’s acting helping with that). The visions or dream sequences in this film are also well-made, although the most prominent one looks like a music video from the 1990s and is pretty camp. But that is merely a question of taste, visually it looks great. The one thing that does not work is the human remains that are supposed to turn up at one point – that stuff looks horrible and unbelievably fake. The opening titles are nicely done and the work on the sound is also adequate. The score is unremarkable but effective; and it is unobtrusive, which is always good.
Weaker points include the locations, which seem to have been chosen on a “whatever-is-available”-basis (but they still work), and some of the props, in particular Van Helsing’s weapons and tools (his plastic sword being the worst offender).
The strongest asset of this film is the acting. For the main part, the acting in the leading roles is superior to that in most B-movies. That does not necessarily hold true for the minor supporting roles though. Christianna Carmine does a very decent job, as does Dani Lennon as Dr Joan Seward, but other supporting actors do not perform on that level. Krash Miller, for example, seems bogged down by a thankless role, and the guys playing the criminal gang members that appear briefly are (unsurprisingly) not able to do much with these 2-dimensional stereotypes.
As for the leads, I like Victoria Summer quite a lot as Lina Harker, but as the role is not giving her much room I would be interested to see her in a more challenging role to see if she has got any range. Ian Pfister does a very good job as Renfield, proving that you can do great things as an actor even with roles that do not have much meat. I believe that his performance in this film shows his talents more clearly than the few minutes in his rather limited role in the short Vampire Birth Certificate. As I have already hinted at above, I believe that it is Stuart Rigby’s performance as the big evil that really carries this film much further than it would get without him. He is able to deliver a blend of smugness, arrogance, coldness, and menace that turns his character into a very intriguing antagonist. This has nothing to do with a traditional Dracula role, but is certainly interesting, and thus I would call casting him a very good choice. I would love to see him again in a similar role.
The other two leads fall off a bit, by comparison. Corey Landis does a decent enough job as Jonathan Harker, but he suffers from the rather bland way in which his character is written. Mind you, the Jonathan Harker character seems to suffer from a certain blandness in any version of Stoker’s story, so apparently that cannot be helped. Whether this is a writing, a directing, or an acting problem, it is definitely not made any better by the fact that Landis has those bland square-jawed looks of your average jock character. As Jonathan Harker is front and centre in over 90% of this film, the dullness of his character is contributing to the dullness of the viewing experience.
The other “problematic” character is that of Van Helsing. Keith Reay is an odd casting choice for the role. Not only is he younger than your traditional Van Helsing character, he is also too similar in type to Landis’s Harker. Reay’s Van Helsing, too, is kind of a bland jock type; and he is weirdly written, so that the two characters do not complement each other at all. Reay’s acting achievements in this role may be unremarkable, but the main problem with this character is definitely in the writing. My general feeling is that McManus did not know what to do with this character but somehow needed him in order to convey some vampirology to Harker and thus propel the story forward. As a result, this character is not written in a well-rounded and believable way: he simply turns up at a convenient moment and he is oddly omniscient. And while he seems to position himself as the more reasonable, less impulsive version of Harker, he has a surprisingly cavalier attitude regarding “collateral damage”.
So, this film is difficult for me to rate. As I said, I found this film rather dull. Not bad, just dull. What is worse is that nothing that has been done here with the traditional material justifies in any way this film’s existence. It was simply not needed, and it offers nothing new that would be worthwhile. That said, it seems entirely possible that Patrick McManus is a better director than he is a writer, and the film proves that he can turn such a project into a passable end result: it looks better than many a B-movie, and the casting/acting is better than you usually get in this sort of film. Based on this film I would not hesitate hiring McManus to direct episodes for TV drama (or horror) shows.
In spite of all the things that have gone right in this film, its general inability to entertain means that I can rate it no higher than 3.5 or 4.0 out of 10. With the added proviso that I cannot see any reason why anyone should watch this film, unless you are unusually curious about some of the acting performances, especially by Pfister and Rigby.