I’m certain that, once upon a time, it must have seem like a novel idea to make a movie about the “real” Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, aka the original source behind all the vampire mythos. Unfortunately for the filmmakers who embarked upon this supposedly “unique” twist on an old legend, they forgot about the old axiom that timing is everything. In the aftermath of Coppola’s “Dracula” and even the recent TV movie “Dark Prince”, is there still anything new about Vlad to tell? Or for that matter, is there even an audience that cares to know?
Apparently writer/director Michael Sellers is an optimistic fellow, and he’s recruited four relative unknowns to star in yet another revisionist jaunt through Vlad’s sordid past. But apparently Sellers isn’t a total fool after all. Realizing that you can’t sell a low-budget movie with unknown stars to the international market, much less the fickle American audience, Sellers has wisely recruited and sprinkled the limited appearances of top-billed Billy Zane and Brad Dourif throughout the film as a crutch. After all, who has heard of Kam Heskin or Monica Davidescu? Exactly.
Our latest Vlad tale follows three American graduate students and a Brit counterpart as they backpack over to Vlad’s European homestead to write their thesis. Each graduate student has been invited courtesy of a cameo appearance by Brad Dourif (“The Two Towers”), playing the dean of a University somewhere thereabouts. Also along for the ride is Billy Zane (“Titanic) as Adrian, Dourif’s lackey, who is charged with protecting returning native Linsey (Monica Davidescu). For you see, before he died Vlad’s father bestowed a magical amulet onto his son as a means to gain power. Although Vlad has died hundreds of years ago, the amulet has found itself into the possession of Linsey, who starts having strange visions of Vlad’s bloody past. Later, while the students are hiking through the woods to Vlad’s old castle, other wacky things happen.
I don’t know what exactly to say about “Vlad”, except that it’s strangely uninvolving. There are some good ideas here, such as making the movie’s first 30 minutes into something of a history class, as each of the character lectures each other (and us) about Vlad’s true history — or at least the “true history” according to this particular screenplay. In-between all the talking, Linsey is having strange visions courtesy of the amulet, which she subsequently transfers possession over to traveling partner Jeff (Paul Popowich) so he can join in on the fun. Later that night, Jeff has visions of the lovely Ilona (Iva Hasperger), prompting the woman to appear out of his dream and in his time. Right behind her is Vlad, determined to take back his amulet and, along the way, have lots of sex with the lovely female cast.
The point is, “Vlad” doesn’t wow. Its story may seem interesting, but the execution is so…pedestrian. I don’t know what it is exactly, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything overly interesting about “Vlad”. Most of its first hour is basically a lot of walking, talking, and different people having visions. Even when Ilona inexplicably shows up in the present, hauling along a big, jewel-encrusted sword, no one seems especially interested. Oh sure, they try to make sense of who she is and how she arrived, but the energy level onscreen is just so blasted muted. As a result, I joined in on their indifference.
There’s also the sense that one has missed something important, even if one happens to have seen the entire movie from beginning to end. The film feels choppy, and although the characters were well realized in the beginning, they eventually get paired up in such unbelievable fashion that you wonder if you missed some courting scene along the way that would justify their sudden declarations of love for each other. But alas, no. The film is just like that. A lot of scenes of nothing happening interspersed with limited medieval combat with Francesco Quinn’s Vlad riding around on a horse.
I suppose these minor “action scenes” were supposed to keep us entertained until things finally came together. Not that the film ever really came together. I don’t want to give the impression that “Vlad” is a bad movie; I think they did the best they could with a limited budget and a screenplay built on a basic idea, but failed to properly expand into something resembling “entertainment”. The cast is very attractive, led by Kam Heskin, who exudes a sort of sleazy sex appeal; Monica Davidescu is pleasing in an odd way; and Iva Hasperger certainly doesn’t hurt the film’s aesthetics.
I can’t really put my finger on it, but “Vlad” is just not a very worthwhile film. It doesn’t really entertain, and it doesn’t really educate all that much either unless you’re absolutely ignorant of Vlad the Impaler’s history. The action in the last 30 minutes is too small-scale to get overly excited about, and Kam Heskin has a sex scene with Vlad toward the end, but somehow manages not to reveal anything. Talk about a cheat.
Michael D. Sellers (director) / Michael D. Sellers (screenplay), Tony Shawkat (story)
CAST: Billy Zane …. Adrian
Kam Heskin …. Alexa Meyer
Brad Dourif …. Hyman Radescu
Iva Hasperger …. Ilona