Dracula’s Widow (1988, Christopher Coppola)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The 1980s. A seedy, neon-lit Hollywood full of punk gangs, graffiti and rain.

Faithful to the novel? This 80s B-movie is essentially a sequel to the events of Bram Stoker’s novel. In Los Angeles, a wax museum is preparing for a new display based on the long-dead Count Dracula and an extra crate of materials is delivered from Romania. It contains a female vampire called Vanessa (Sylvia Kristel), who wakes up from hibernation and says she wants to find a way to get home to Romania. While she puts absolutely no effort at all into that, she goes on a killing spree. She also enslaves the museum’s manager, Raymond Everett (Lenny von Dohlen). But she’s troubled when Raymond tells her that her husband, Count Dracula, was killed many years ago. Meanwhile, a cop called Hap Lannon (Josef Sommer) is investigating her murders. Soon, local antiques dealer Helsing (Stefan Schnabel) figures out that vampires are in LA and offers Lannon help. He’s the grandson of the famed Dr Van Helsing who killed Dracula in 1893. The movie contains a few other references to the Dracula myth: at one point we see Raymond watching the 1922 film Nosferatu, while his girlfriend has the same surname as one of the novel’s characters (Harker) and sleepwalks like another (Lucy).

Best performance: Josef Sommer as LAPD Detective Hap Lannon. Here’s a character actor having fun with a rare leading role. He plays the film-noir voiceover for all its worth, wears a hat and raincoat, smokes, and tosses off the dime-novel dialogue. (Hap jokingly claims to be Sam Spade’s nephew.)

Best bit: The schlocky special effects are a real treat. The physical monster make-up and gore are both gross and charmingly cheesy. (Vanessa turning into a bat during the climax is more risible, though. You can almost see the prop’s strings.)

Review: The film has a lot of style to it. It’s lit like a giallo movie, with lots of bold colours that expressionistically match the mood of the scene (and even change during a shot to reflect the drama). The production design is also good fun. The story is set in the 1980s, yet the feel and look of a 1940s or 50s noir is never far way. However, the story is muddled and drab, and there’s a very mixed cast (Sylvia Kristel is especially rubbish). It’s enjoyable in a trashy kind of way, though doesn’t linger long in the memory. The film was directed by Christopher Coppola, the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola (who made his Dracula movie a few years later). In a not-so-sly nod to his famous relative, Christopher places the museum of the story right next to Francis’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Seven pentagrams out of 10

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