Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.

Film Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Also known as: Burned to Light (working title)
Release Date: May 15th, 2000 (Cannes)
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by: Steven Katz
Music by: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, John Aden Gillet, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert

Saturn Films, Long Shot Pictures, BBC Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born.” – F. W. Murnau

I don’t know what it is about Nosferatu but every film within its grasp is great, whether that’s the original 1922 silent film, the 1979 remake or this, a movie that appears to be a biopic about F. W. Murnau and the production of the original Nosferatu but is actually a fictional reimagining that makes Murnau a vicious tyrant behind the camera and his star a real vampire.

Obviously, this isn’t the true story of the making of Nosferatu but it is one hell of a fun ride through an alternate dimension. It’s also well written, stupendously acted and features incredible makeup, great set recreations, as well as several tropes and techniques from the silent era reworked with great care into this modern picture.

I love this film and from the moment I saw it in 2001 or so, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite vampire pictures. It also solidified my love and respect for the talents of John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. In fact, Dafoe would get an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for makeup.

Beyond those two, the rest of the cast is also superb. I especially liked Udo Kier in this and it’s one of my favorite roles he’s played over his very long and storied career. Additionally, Eddie Izzard, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Aden Gillet all put in memorable performances, each adding so much complexity and nuance to the overall production.

The director, E. Elias Merhige, hasn’t done a whole lot over the years and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Suspect Zero. I remember enjoying it at the time but this movie is certainly his magnum opus. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make more movies but as great as this one is, his lack of motion pictures feels like a great loss for cinema.

Shadow of the Vampire is pretty close to perfect from top-to-bottom and it’s just a neat, clever story featuring one of the best monsters that has ever graced the silver screen. Dafoe actually is perfect and the brightest spot in this already bright film. Malkovich is damn good, as well, and the two have incredible chemistry. They’re both villainous and it’s just interesting watching this play out, trying to see which one is the greater villain, overall.

In real life, however, Murnau was said to be great to work for and a very sensitive artist. Also, Max Schreck wasn’t a blood sucking murderer, as he’d go on to live a married life while enjoying success in many films outside of just Nosferatu.

Despite this not being real, it makes me wish that there were more movies like this. Films that would take something really cool from history and just do something bonkers but respectable with it.

Although, I guess that’s what makes this motion picture so unique and so special. It truly feels like one of a kind and it was crafted with a genuine love of the original film it tapped into.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the two Nosferatu movies, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Film Review: The Night Stalker (1972)

Also known as: The Kolchak Papers (working title), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (long title)
Release Date: January 11th, 1972 
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes

Review:

“Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.” – Carl Kolchak

I was a pretty big fan of the Kolchak television series when it was in syndication back when I was a kid. It originally aired before I was alive but I remember my granmum having it on her television set in my younger, most impressionable years.

Sadly, I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s and I never saw the two television movies that predate the single season show. So I figured I’d start with the original Night Stalker movie and go from there.

I’m glad to say that this was pretty close to my memories of the show and seeing Darren McGavin ham it up while monster hunting was a sight to behold and enjoy, once again!

More than anything, watching the original film, which I found in HD on YouTube for free (as long as that lasts) motivated me greatly to continue on with the second film and twenty-ish episode series.

McGavin is great in this and it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever seen him play. It’s like it was tailor made for his specific talents, as it maximizes his strengths and charisma. I’m not sure how close the Kolchak TV material is to the original novel but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

In this story, ace reporter Carl Kolchak is investigating strange murders that appear to be vampiric in nature. No one wants to believe what Kolchak starts to uncover and even after the vampire gets into a skirmish with police while stealing blood bags from the hospital, those in power try to suppress Kolchak’s narrative.

Eventually, we get a showdown with the vampire and the end result sees Kolchak having to leave Las Vegas or be charged with murder for killing the bloodsucking fiend.

While the picture can feel hokey and dated, I mean, it is a ’70s television movie, it’s still an energetic, charming, entertaining ride and pretty solid shit for its time and production limitations.

Plus, Darren McGavin is stupendous.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel The Night Strangler and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Film Review: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Also known as: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (original German title), Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1979 (France)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: Werner Herzog
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens by F. W. Murnau
Music by: Popol Vuh
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabella Adjani, Bruno Ganz

Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Gaumont, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, 107 Minutes, 96 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“[subtitled version] Time is an abyss… profound as a thousand nights… Centuries come and go… To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst… Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities…” – Count Dracula

Back in the 1970s, I probably would’ve been vehemently opposed to a remake of the 1922 classic F. W. Murnau film, Nosferatu. However, I would’ve been very wrong, as Werner Herzog, who was still a very young director back then, made an update that fit the time while also being very true and respectful to the source material it used as its blueprint.

This incarnation of one of the greatest examples of the German Expressionist style did its damnedest to try and recreate the original. It employed great art design in how it recreated the look of the characters, the locations and the overall tone.

This also had to be a big challenge, as far as the location shooting went, as they couldn’t return to the same spots as the original due to the Berlin Wall and communism being in the way. They did, however, find great spots that replicated some of the original film’s most iconic visual moments.

The biggest difference with this picture is that it is presented in color and with sound. Other than that, it feels as true as a nearly sixty year-old remake can.

What also makes this so great is the cast. There wasn’t a more perfect actor at the time to play the title role. Klaus Kinski had already made a name for himself as an extremely versatile character actor in Europe and his most memorable roles were the ones where he was creepy or villainous.

In this, Kinski is absolute perfection. He owns the role, gives it life (even though he’s undead) and has this unsettling presence and an aura of death every time he is present on the screen. Plus, he had incredible chemistry with both Isabella Adjani and Bruno Ganz.

The cinematography is excellent and even though this film had a pretty iconic visual roadmap to try and emulate, it was done so to perfection and with great care. Herzog and his cinematographer, Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein, created a dark, gritty yet very lived in world that is full of atmosphere and nuance to the point that the scenery feels like a character in the movie.

My only real complaint about the film is that I didn’t like how they switched the character’s names to those in the Bram Stoker Dracula novel, as I always felt that the original Nosferatu really did a superb job in taking that story and reworking it into its own unique thing. I feel that to truly do an homage to the Murnau film, they should referred to the vampire as Count Orlok and not Count Dracula. I know it’s nitpicky but it’s just one of those things that is kind of jarring and takes me out of the movie. This could also be due to the fact that I’ve seen the original more than a dozen times.

Overall, this is how a remake should be done: just like a cover song. It should only exist if it can take the source material and build off of it and legitimately try to improve upon it. While this isn’t as good as the original, it is still a damn fine attempt and one of the best vampire movies ever made. Plus, seeing Kinski play an Orlock-like vampire is incredible because it feels like it was his destiny to do so. 

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original 1922 film, as well as other film’s featuring Nosferatu-like vampires like Salem’s Lot and Shadow of the Vampire.

Comic Review: Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella: The Heart Is a Lonely Killer

Published: June 6th, 2018
Written by: Shawn Aldridge
Art by: Rapha Lobosco

Dynamite Entertainment, 137 Pages

Review:

Two of my favorite indie comics creations are Vampirella and Hack/Slash. So seeing them come together for the first time is really cool.

Honestly, I’m surprised that this didn’t happen much sooner than it did, as both characters have had tons of crossovers with other franchises over the last dozen years or so.

Cassie Hack and her sidekick Vlad joining up with comic’s greatest vampire heroine seems like such a natural fit, though, that I feel like they should cross paths somewhat regularly.

That being said, I loved seeing these characters share the same space and the tone of the two franchises meshed together perfectly well and we were given a fairly decent story that worked and established the characters as pretty solid allies after their initial tension.

I also thought that the art was pretty good and overall, this was a fun, cool read.

Granted, I would’ve liked a little bit more than what we got.

However, if you do like either of these series or both, you should probably check this out.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hack/Slash and Vampirella crossovers, there are so many.

Film Review: The Monster Club (1981)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1981 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Edward Abraham, Valerie Abraham
Based on: the works of R. Chetwynd-Hayes
Music by: Douglas Gamley, various
Cast: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Magee, Stuart Whitman, Britt Ekland, Richard Johnson, Barbara Kellerman, Simon Ward

Chips Productions, Sword & Sorcery, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Can we truly call this a monster club if we do not boast amongst our membership a single member of the human race?” – Eramus

This used to be one of my favorite anthology horror movies when I was a kid and while it wasn’t my first Vincent Price movie, it’s one that I had on VHS and would watch more than any person probably should have.

The film is really a mixed bag, as anthology horror movies tend to go, but most of the stuff contained within is good and amusing. Even if the disintegrating woman at the end of the first story scared the living shit out of me every time I saw it with young eyes. Frankly, it’s still effective and the best special effects shot in the entire film.

This is incredibly low budget but it also makes the best out of its limited resources and I actually like how bad the monster costumes are in the nightclub scenes, which are sprinkled throughout the film as the narrative bookends.

A lot of this film felt overly hokey and I’m not sure if they were specifically aiming for that but it worked and gave it a charm that it wouldn’t have had if it was more serious or had a budget that better hid its flaws. I love that the movie sort of wears its cheapness and absurdity on its sleeve.

My favorite parts of the movie are the bookend bits, mainly because I like the music, the performances and the banter between Vincent Price and John Carradine. I especially love the scene where Price goes on a diatribe about how The Monster Club needs to open up to humans, the best monster that ever lived.

As far as the actual short horror stories go, I like the first one the best. It was actually effective, emotionally and I liked the characters and the simple story. The vampire chapter was the worst one and it’s really just meh. The final story with the village of ghouls was decent and I liked Patrick Magee in it but it’s still far from great and watching it, you just want to get back to the Monster Club scenes.

Overall, I can’t say that this aged well but it will most definitely excite the nostalgia bug for those who loved the horror and music of this era.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s horror anthologies.

Comic Review: Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion

Published: February 29th, 2012
Written by: Joe Harris
Art by: Jose Malaga

Dynamite Entertainment, 135 Pages

Review:

It’s been a little while since I’ve read a Vampirella comic and this one has been in my Comixology queue for quite some time. In fact, it was the oldest title in my queue, so I figured I’d give it a read.

For the most part, this was kind of cool and I liked the whole mythos surrounding The Scarlet Legion and their ties to Vampirella. This also added in some Aztec mysticism, as Vampirella is essentially elevated as a god to the tribe she encounters in the story.

The plot itself is just okay. It’s got a few twists and surprises but a lot of this feels cookie cutter.

And while I mostly like the art, it lacks energy. The character designs and illustrations are pretty solid but nothing feels very dynamic. The colors are decent but a bit wonky at times, as well.

Overall, this is okay but there are better Vampirella stories out there.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Vampirella comics from her Dynamite era.

Film Review: Crypt of the Vampire (1964)

Also known as: La cripta e l’incubo (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (UK), Terror In the Crypt (US alternative title)
Release Date: May 27th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Camillo Mastrocinque
Written by: Tonino Valerii, Ernesto Gastaldi
Based on: Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Christopher Lee, Adriana Ambesi, Pier Anna Quaglia, Freidrich Klauss

E.I. Associates Producers, Hispamer Films, Alta Vista, 82 Minutes

Review:

“It’s so beautiful here. Perhaps nature has purposely set the stage and is waiting for the actors to enter. But who knows if the play is farce … or tragedy. This is a spot where one could come for pleasure … or for death.” – Lyuba

Being that Christopher Lee is one of my favorite actors of all-time, it’s always cool checking out one of his films for the first time. While I’ve seen all the fairly well-known ones and most of his Hammer work, there are those odd ones that have slipped through the cracks over the years. But the guy has close to 300 acting credits to his name, so there are still several of his movies that I haven’t seen.

This one was a low budget production by Italian and Spanish studios that came out during the height of his career, just before he’d make The Devil-Ship Pirates and The Gorgon for Hammer that same year.

Also, this film is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, which Hammer would also use as source material for their Karnstein trilogy of films, as well as Captain Kronos.

While Lee was no stranger to vampire films, this one provides him with a very different role. It doesn’t push him into another version of a Dracula character and instead, he plays a human count that is concerned that his daughter may be possessed by an evil spirit that brought his lineage trouble in the past.

This film is kind of slow and pretty drab for the most part. However, what it lacks in energy and poor pacing, it makes up for in atmosphere. This is a dark, haunting picture. The surviving prints of this film that have made it online and in spite of being digital, are of pretty mediocre quality. But this actually seems to work for the film, as it appears darker and in a higher contrast than what was probably originally released.

Overall, this picture looks superb, even with the physical elements working against the physical film that they eventually digitized. It’s not an exciting picture, though, but at least Lee gives a solid, convincing performance and the film convincingly manufactures a thick sense of dread and claustrophobia.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror films that Christopher Lee starred in apart from Hammer.

Comic Review: Graveyard Shift, Volume II

Published: June, 2020
Written by: Mark Poulton
Art by: Jon Malin, Anthony George

Haunted Pizza, 48 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since the first Graveyard Shift came out but these crowdfunded comics take time.

While I mostly liked the original, I was expecting more out of this one, after the setup. However, I also wasn’t expecting this to be the end of the story, as I know more volumes are planned.

However, this is the end of this story arc, which in totality, comprises about the length of four regular floppy comic book issues.

That being said, while I also enjoyed this one, the plot felt a bit rushed, as I don’t feel like we really got to know these characters well enough in the limited time we had. Add in all the action and cool stuff and the story just didn’t have enough room to breathe and properly develop.

I think that it needs more balance between developing the characters, especially this early, and the big action sequences.

Granted, I would like to read more of these and get to know these characters better. And I hope that they are explored more in the future.

Apart from the story, which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t read it yet, I thought that the art was a bit of a step up. Jon Malin didn’t deviate from his style but it feels more polished and refined, here. I’m not sure if he spent a little more time on this volume or if he’s just improved since last year’s release.

Ultimately, this was a fun, great looking read. It’s not my favorite series out of the crowdfunded stuff I’ve supported over the last few years but I would put it in the upper echelon. 

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent Comicsgate books like Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers, which Malin also worked on.

Comic Review: Monster Hunt – One-Shot

Published: June, 2020
Written by: Mike S. Miller
Art by: Mike S. Miller. J. Nanjan Jamberi
Based on: Jawbreakers by Richard C. Meyer, Graveyard Shift by Mark Poulton, Jon Malin

Blacklist Universe, 24 Pages

Review:

I never really wanted to back the original Lonestar comic, as Mike S. Miller rubbed me the wrong way. Eventually, I relented and backed it after hearing his sob story and because it was pushed pretty heavily by Ethan Van Sciver on his YouTube show, Comic Artist Pro Secrets.

I was fairly surprised by it though and I gave it a pretty positive review. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I’d back the second volume but I did want to back this project, as it was a crossover one-shot featuring characters from different creators within the Comicsgate circle. Well, that is until Mike S. Miller had his forty-third emotional meltdown and left the group because his grapes were sour and his neighbor had kumquats he needed to steal.

You get what you pay for, though, and I knew that this was a soulless cash grab where Mike wanted to ride on the coattails of his peers with more success. I only bought it because it used characters from these other creators. It also took an ungodly amount of time for this to reach my mailbox.

The final result, is a comic that looks good but falls flat and underwhelms. It doesn’t really add anything to any of the franchises it mashes up. It only added pity dollars and swindle duckets to Mike’s bank account.

I wanted to see beyond the disingenuous shuckster that ran this campaign and I wanted this to be as cool as my initial feelings back when Image and Valiant came out with the Deathmate crossover in the early ’90s. This ended up being more of a disappointment than that one though, as it really just throws these characters together, kind of aimlessly, sees them fight a bunch of monsters and then abruptly ends.

In all fairness, I think Mike was limited in how he could use these characters, as they’re all in their own series doing their own thing and this couldn’t really explore them as characters.

Honestly, this just felt kind of weird and sloppily thrown together. Yes, the art is really good and it’s some of the best I’ve seen from Miller but it quickly became obvious that this was what I feared it would be and that’s just a cash grab, piggyback project by a dishonest opportunist.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other comics featuring Lonestar, the Jawbreakers and characters from Graveyard Shift.