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Terra presents
Vlad (2003)

"You play your wits against me. I, who have commanded armies centuries before you were born. You understand nothing."
- Vlad Tepes (Francisco Quinn)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 02, 2005

Stars: Billy Zane, Brad Dourif, Paul Popowich, Kam Heskin, Nicholas Irons, Monica Davidescu
Other Stars: Iva Hasperger, Guy Siner, Emil Hostina, Francesco Quinn, John Rhys-Davies
Director: Michael D. Sellers

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, violence and some drug use.
Run Time: 01h:38m:12s
Release Date: August 24, 2004
UPC: 684457213925
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C-CA A-

DVD Review

Although Bram Stoker, in the course of writing Dracula became interested in the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler, whose nickname "Dracula" (son of the dragon) he borrowed for his vampire, it wasn't until the best-selling book In Search of Dracula in the early 1970s that the two figures became inextricably united in the mind of the public. That notion was cemented even more firmly with Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which borrowed more of the historical character to meld into Stoker's count. The association is delved into even more deeply in this offering from writer/director Michael D. Sellers

Four graduate students, Jeff Meyer (Paul Popowich), his siter Alexa (Kam Heskin), Justin (Nicholas Irons) and Linsey (Monica Davidescu) are in Romania to gather information for their respective theses related to Dracula by visiting his castle. Sinister professor Radescu (Brad Dourif) oversees their expedition on behalf of a secret society, exercising his influence through their guide Adrian (Billy Zane). A mysterious necklace that Linsey carries holds a secret with power over Vlad Tepes (Francisco Quinn) himself, and it will come as no surprise to viewers to learn he's still lurking about the Carpathians. But there's also a wild card, in the form of the mysterious Ilona (Iva Hasperger), who suddenly appears as if out of a dream and speaks only Middle English.

Besides the always entertaining Dourif and a more-amusing-than-usual turn by Zane, who slips comfortably into lower-class ethnicity, there's a lot to like here. Much of the film was shot on location in the Carpathians, with the finale at a castle where Vlad was actually held prisoner in the 15th century (the actual Castle Dracula is a pile of rubble). The scenery is beautiful, as is the photography. The lead foursome is adequate, though Heskin is barely so and I found Nicholas Irons' smarmy Brit a bit hard to take. Quinn is suitably intense and venomous, with a thinly-veiled temper that seems credible for a character given to impaling people on spikes on a whim. Dourif was clearly available only for a day or so; he appears in bits through the first half of the picture but always in the same set and same costume. Nonetheless he give his usual intimidating performance and would be memorable if he didn't more or less vanish from the story at the midway point.

Unfortunately, more care could have been taken with the script. Things don't hang together terribly well, and much is poorly explained. Apparently there is a second secret society (or a faction of the first? Hard to say) pursuing Adrian, for some reason that's not clear. The geography is never clear, and Adrian is sometimes out in the woods with the group, and other times back in Bucharest, though the city sequences don't appear to be flashbacks. The result is disorienting and difficult to follow, as is the concluding half hour which vacillates between ill-defined buildings and woods seemingly at random and with no sense of where they are in relation to one another. But the biggest problem is Ilona, who just materializes out of a dream for no apparent reason other than to complicate the story and give it a fairy tale feeling that's out of step with the sense of dread that the picture is otherwise trying to create. Sellers in the commentary states that if you don't buy her appearance the movie doesn't work, and he's right. I didn't buy her appearance and it was just another headscratcher. Vlad himself seems to be something of a knucklehead, for once he recognizes the magic necklace, he seemingly forgets about it to attack the group, rather than attempting to secure it, setting himself up for the obvious.

It's too bad, really, because the characters are interesting enough to carry the picture, and the use of the Romanian settings is certainly commendable. Tossing Ilona into the mix just dissipates what's gone before and turns to weirdness for its own sake rather than following any internal logic of the picture. Gore is quite restrained, though the sexuality quotient is fairly high.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen format. As a result, it's a bit soft, lacking in fine detail and texture, though the constant smokiness is decently rendered with minimal blockiness and digital appearance. Color is acceptable, as is the shadow detail. I didn't note any significant edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 audio track, not surprisingly, packs a good punch. There's good presence, especially in large halls. Shock noises are frequently inserted and they certainly do startle, even though they're a terribly cheap trick. Bass is powerful and the sound design is frequently almost overpowering. The music is often overly bombastic, but it sounds good enough. As befits a new film, the audio is quiet and clean and free of hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Michael D. Sellers
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:39s

Extras Review: For a fairly obscure independent film, this does get a sizable quantity of extras. A nonanamorphic widescreen trailer is accompanied by two deleted scenes, totaling 3m:36s, which give Justin, Alexa and Linsey some character bits. An alternate ending is mostly just recut, but stoops to an ending that was clicheed when it was used for The Fearless Vampire Killers 35 years ago. Over half an hour of behind-the-scenes footage displays some of the difficulties of this shoot, and they're pretty significant. The most important extra is the director's commentary, and he's seldom silent as he's fairly frank about what works and what doesn't in this picture, while pointing out various locations and giving a wealth of background information. Well worth listening to and it will increase your enjoyment even if you didn't much care for the feature itself, which is a hallmark of a very good commentary indeed. The original pressing apparently was missing some of the extras, but Terra corrected this problem before street date. We're not aware of any of the defective discs getting out to retailers.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A clumsily-written but conceptually interesting take on the Dracula legend, with an okay transfer and some good extras.


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