Dracula Review

Also known as Il Bacio di Dracula (The Kiss of Dracula), this Italian TV mini-series production updates the Dracula story to a modern-day setting, relocating it to the stunning locations of Hungary and the Castle Hill of Budapest.

Jonathan Harkin, a successful investment banker in Eastern Europe, proposes to Mina Murray at a ball in Budapest and has brought his friends along for the occasion – Lucy, Quincy and Arthur. There they make the acquaintance of Dr Seward, a Hungarian doctor who works at the hospital where he has to deal with a difficult patient called Roenfield. Unable to handle this lunatic who eats bugs and demands to be released because ‘the master’ has need of him, Seward seeks the help of his friend Dr Valenzi. Jonathan meanwhile has a business call to deal with, but it turns out to be a not at all straightforward job. For a handsome commission he is to help a client called Vladislav Tepes move from Romania to Carfax House in Budapest – a job that will require a few friends to pull some strings for him. After a meeting with the nephew of Tepes however, Lucy starts sleepwalking and wakes with puncture marks on her neck…

The updating of the Dracula story to a modern day setting is always a difficult trick to pull-off. Relocating to Budapest is an interesting choice (and no doubt a cheap option for the production) – a city where the modern co-exists with the vast gothic monuments and cathedrals of the city’s turbulent past – but it is also the film’s problem. If you are going to do a modern day version of Dracula, it’s better not to have all the old gothic locations to fall back on when it suits you. The film even goes as far as having Harker dress in period costume when he visits Castle Dracula with the excuse that it’s all he can find in the wardrobe. Michael Almereyda, completely relocating the story to modern day New York, at least made an genuinely ambitious attempt at a contemporary retelling in his fascinating but flawed Nadja (1994). This version of Dracula also makes the mistake of trying to be clever and self-referential, one of the characters scoffing at vampires being the stuff of movies – which if he had seen any of them, he might be a bit concerned at having a friend called Jonathan Harker who is trying to help a certain Vlad Tepes out of Romania. And maybe my geography is a bit hazy, but if Dracula has to cross a sea to get from Romania to Hungary, he must be taking a rather circuitous route.

It’s this awkwardness in the script and the dialogue that weighs heavily on the film, although the film actually does operate half-way successfully when it moves into the non-verbal action sequences. What really sinks the film in the end though is not the weakness of the special effects, but the performances and the delivery of the pan-European cast that struggles through their semi-dubbed English-language lines. The acting skills and expressive range of Hardy Krüger Jr. as Jonathan Harker will have you nostalgic for Keanu Reeves’ 19th century English surfer accent. On his trip to Romania, it’s hard to have any sympathy for this Harker when he gets a kicking from the locals for crashing his bright red sports car while boy-racing through the Carpathian Mountains listening to some Pat Benatar-style rock. Patrick Bergin however not so much takes the biscuit as takes the whole pack of Digestive and the cup of tea to go with it, hamming it up shamelessly and making the least mysterious and menacing Dracula ever. The only time he looks the least bit threatening is in the bedroom scene with Mina, which the film only makes work by stealing almost frame for frame from Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Anchor Bay have released this version of Dracula as a two disc set. Disc one contains the edited down 102 minute film version of the series, while disc two contains the full 163 minute TV version divided into two parts. The mini-series version certainly rounds out the characters a little more, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing with this film. It at least allows more space for Giancarlo Giannini, whose Van Helsing role is inexplicably cut well back in the feature version.

The film version of Dracula is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic, after a 4:3 opening-title sequence and some of the framing suggests that this is not the intended ratio of the film, although to be honest all it does is cut off chins and tops of heads occasionally, so this doesn’t seem to matter that much. This is confirmed by the original TV series version on disc two being presented entirely in the fullframe 1.33:1 ratio. The picture quality is rather nice – colouring is strong and the lighting is effective, giving the film a softer appearance than you would normally expect from a TV movie. It does lose some detail however in medium to wide shots and there are digital artefacts visible in macro-blocking and shimmering, but not to any great extent.

Three soundtrack mixes are provided – a Dolby Digital 2.0 version, a Dolby Digital 5.1 version and a DTS mix. According to the titles at the end of the film, the audio was recorded for Dolby Stereo, but the DTS is the most effective and realistic sounding mix here on the film version. It is marred slightly by some strange directional effects placing voices in early scenes too far to the right speaker – which is a little disorienting when the character speaking is in the centre of the screen to even to the left. I noticed this less as the film went on however. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fine, but not really any improvement on the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. The TV series version comes with the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack only.

There are no substantial extra features on the DVD, unless you count one of the versions as a extra feature, but I couldn’t imagine anybody wanting to watch more than one version of this film. A Theatrical Trailer (1:18) is included, anamorphically enhanced, but looking rather grainy and blurry, an unexciting Photo Gallery (19) and Biographies for Patrick Bergin and Giancarlo Giannini.

There are a few versions of Dracula released recently and more to come in the next few weeks all hoping to cash in on the fever being generated by Van Helsing. However good a film it might be, I don’t think it will be good enough to work you up into rushing out to buy this made-for-TV version. The DVD itself is well presented, giving you the choice of the original TV series or the film version and if you don’t like your Dracula too scary or too sexy, then you might find this of interest.

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