Director: Pearry Teo
Writer: Nicole Jones, Pearry Teo, Steven Paul
Producer: Steven Paul
Stars: Luke Roberts, Kelly Wenham, Stephen Hogan, Ben Robson, Holly Earl, Richard Ashton, Jon Voight
In order to defeat Dracula, Leonardo Van Helsing must convince a young thief to accept his heritage as a descendent of Cain.
Not to be mistaken for the Joe Chappelle directed USA Network movie from 2000, Perry Teo’s “Dracula: The Dark Prince” of 2013 is a fairy tale fantasy version of the oft-told yarn. This particular spin aims its appeal at fans of light adventure with a heavy dose of gothic romance on the side. Horror fans more interested in night creatures, bare fangs, and ravenous bloodletting best look elsewhere for vampire-themed frights.
“The Dark Prince” opens with an interesting 2D animated sequence recapping 100 years of the prince’s pre-vampiric life in the time it takes to roll the title cards. The roots of this script mirror the path that Francis Ford Coppola trod in his 1992 Gary Oldman starrer. In defense of his homeland, Prince Dracula takes to the battlefield to spill the blood of Ottoman Turks while his wife takes the throne in his absence. His once trusted advisors have other plans and use the opportunity to stage a coup by killing Dracula’s bride. The prince returns from war and avenges her assassination, but not before renouncing God and being given the curse of immortality in return.
Where this path carves its own niche is by casting Dracula as a direct descendant of Adam and Eve’s son Abel. Elsewhere, Leonardo Van Helsing and a pair of attractive young female demon slayers find a roguish thief from the bloodline of Cain. With his help, they may be able to defeat the dark forces of Dracula by using the Lightbringer, the staff that Cain used to kill his brother and the only weapon capable of destroying the undead.
By most biblical accounts, Abel was considered the good brother while Cain was the bad seed, slaying his sibling reportedly out of jealousy or some petty reason. So it is slightly mystifying that Dracula is descended from Abel while the hero is connected to Cain, instead of the other way around. Although the movie does make an effort to justify this by saying that God wanted to turn the Lightbringer into an instrument of divine retribution to atone for its use as history’s first murder weapon.
“Dracula: The Dark Prince” would look out of place on a theater big screen. A wise gambler would even wager that the production was likely intended for the small screen at one time. No one is going to mistake the interior settings for an actual Romanian castle or anything other than a studio backlot, but the locations themselves are incredibly well dressed. Even if the atmosphere is not entirely convincing, the costumes and the set design are not cutting corners. This is the work of a professional and passionate crew. It is simply that the tightness of the fabricated sets never elevates the look too far above that of an extended episode of “Xena: Warrior Princess.”
Impressive production aesthetics are complemented by equally intriguing weapons, armor, and clothing designs. If the budget for computer enhancements and digital mattes had been put to as good of a use, the CGI shots might stick out as less of a sore thumb. Further chipping away at the period authenticity in the meantime is a too pretty cast sporting well-manicured modern haircuts and glamour makeup.
The movie wants its big draw to be the inclusion of Jon Voight as Van Helsing. The Oscar winner busies himself with a curious performance made all the more odd by an impossible to place accent that is unlike the one that everyone else uses. Voight may be handling his role too glibly, or perhaps young director Teo was uncomfortable instructing the Hollywood heavyweight in a better way to do his thing.
A bigger misfire, however, is the portrayal of Dracula as a soft featured male model type with flowing platinum blonde locks. The depiction of the prince is intentionally that of a painfully heartbroken man consumed by a passion for his wrongfully murdered true love. That fits the romanticized themes that the film chooses to emphasize, except that the story’s driving evil is replaced by a different figure altogether. Dressed in an intimidating suit of armor, sporting a horned mask, and speaking in a gravelly gargle, Dracula’s servant Wrath replaces his master as the imposing menace. Meanwhile, Dracula raps his fingertips on the armrests of his throne while he pines for his lost love and the audience wonders why his name is in the title. In fact, of the half dozen or so main characters, Dracula just might top them all for most infrequent onscreen appearances.
“The Dark Prince” shows very little blood, no gore, and were it not for a trio of breast pairs briefly exposed here and there, it would seem that the film might have been intended for teenagers or mature women with its romance novel overtones. Given how many notes it tries to hit on the heartstring and fantasy adventure fronts, it is indeed questionable who the target audience is. Even with brief nudity, the eroticism is toned down. Swordfights occur, but they are few and far between. In their place are scenes involving a lot of bobbing heads that talk, plot, and scheme, without too much else of sustaining interest taking place.
This is a different version of Dracula, though it is one that is not completely satisfying or even necessary. At least the production value, which is exceptional for a smaller film of this scope, helps keep eyes transfixed on the screen, even when the other elements do not.
Review Score: 65