This story takes place on the outermost southwestern fringes of the Russian Empire, presumably sometime in the 18th or 19th century. A desolate rural community in a barren, mountainous region is haunted by the return of a vampire prince who has set up shop in the castle on the mountain. His aim: to get his hands on the beautiful young Milena in order to perform a ritual. And only a few people, including an exiled priest and an Imperial courier, are standing against him.
Given the premise, the film’s plot plays out exactly as you’d imagine it would. Nothing here really surprises. And the vampire backstory is laid out minutely, thanks to an information dump that happens approximately 17 or 18 minutes into the film:
Vampires, we learn, are the master race, and they ruled the earth for millennia. Their dominance was represented by six mighty families who preserved the power of the dark side for thousands of years. But then a breed of semi-vampires appeared who could walk in the sun. They allied themselves with the humans and defeated the vampires.
Now the recently returned vampire prince wants to perform a ritual (on a specific night with a specific astronomical/astrological constellation, you know the drill), which he believes will allow him to become a daywalker, just as the aforementioned semi-vampires. By becoming a daywalker, he hopes to recreate the rule of the vampires, enslaving humanity once more.
Imdb’s English-language title for Вурдалаки is Ghouls, but apparently it has also been sold under the name Vamps. The film convinces with its locations, props, and costumes. Nothing here looks cheap, and even the CGI elements are not bad at all. Unfortunately, almost everything else is bordering on mediocre.
As I said earlier, nothing in this historical Russian horror film surprises. The plot, apparently based on the writings by 19th century writer A. K. Tolstoy, is pretty straight-forward: a villain seeking to steal away a young woman, with her lover and a small band of heroes trying to save her.
The acting is decent, but there are lines of dialogue – especially in the inevitable love-story subplot – that are rather painful to watch. The chemistry between the two people in question is virtually non-existent, which does not help either. Another distracting element is that the sole comic relief character does not always work and does not always fit the tone of the film around him. The final showdown is also a bit disappointing, so that the film ends up being a 5-out-of-10, despite its very decent looks.
This is a film that you can watch if you catch it on TV by coincidence and have nothing better to do. But this is not a film you should seek out and pay money for.