The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Transylvania, January 1918 (1995, Dick Maas)

JonesandTargo

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The bulk of the story takes place in January 1918 in Venice and Transylvania. There are also bookends featuring an older Indiana Jones (George Hall) back home in America; it’s Halloween in the early 1990s.

Faithful to the novel? The connection to Dracula lies in the fact that this TV episode – which obviously was a spin-off from the 1980s movie series – features a vampire version of Vlad the Impaler who is Bram Stoker’s character in all but name. Indiana Jones (Sean Patrick Flanery) travels to Venice during the First World War. He’s operating under the alias Henri Defense and working for US intelligence. Four months previously, a POW camp in Austria was attacked by a Romanian general called Mattias Targo and the Allied prisoners are now missing. So Indy and his superior officer Colonel Walters (Keith Szarabajka) are sent to find out what’s happened. There are lengthy shots of them travelling into rural Transylvania and then they have an edgy encounter in an unfriendly bar. Hooking up with some local agents – Dr Franz Heinzer (Sam Kelly), Nicholas (Paul Kynman) and Maria (Simone Bendix) – they track down the prisoners, then head to a nearby castle… which is spooky and on a hilltop. Lightning strikes as they see it. After Indy and the others break in, they find bodies impaled on spikes – and deduce that Targo is copying Vlad Tepes, the 15th-century warlord known as Vlad the Impaler who killed over 100,000 people. There’s other weird shit going on too, including balls of lightning that float about. Maria is then possessed, blood flows down the walls, and Walters is electrocuted to death. Eventually, Indy finds General Targo (Bob Peck), who turns out to be a vampire with a Bela Lugosi accent. He’s been capturing soldiers for his army of undead warriors. Indy and Maria try to escape, but Targo gives chase. The pair eventually stake him.

Best performance: Sam Kelly as Dr Heinzer, who is later revealed to be a double agent for the Austrians called Adolf Schmidt.

Best bit: Clearly a lot of money was spent on this series – the sets and locations are very impressive.

Review: This episode was meant to be the final instalment of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicle’s second season in 1993. However, the series was axed by ABC and Transylvania, January 1918 was one of four episodes not shown. There was a screening on German TV in 1995, then it got a wider public release in 1996 when the series was reedited into movie-length specials for a VHS release. Transylvania, January 1918 was combined with an episode called Istanbul, September 1918 (originally broadcast 17 July 1993) and the result was branded as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Masks of Evil. Sadly, Indy’s adventure in Transylvania doesn’t exactly sing. There’s cheesy dialogue, a few dodgy performances, and clichés all over the place. Characters have penis-measuring contests for no reason; Indy is a passive character who’s just along for the ride; and the horror is either implied or tame. A dud.

Five paper aeroplanes out of 10

Night Gallery: The Devil is Not Mocked (27 October 1971, NBC, Gene Kearney)

The_Devil_Is_Not_Mocked

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: A castle in the Balkans during the Second World War. There’s a brief framing device in the modern day (ie, the early 70s).

Faithful to the novel? The Devil is Not Mocked makes up the last quarter of an hour-long episode from the American TV show Night Gallery (1969-1973). This anthology series was created by Rod Serling as a more horror-based version of his earlier hit The Twilight Zone. He appears on screen at the start of the hour to introduce the episode’s first story (A Question of Fear, which stars Leslie Nielsen) then again after 45 minutes to tee up The Devil is Not Mocked. The latter segment was based on a short story by pulp writer Manly Wade Wellman and is about a Nazi general called von Grunn (Helmut Dantine). During the Second World War, he arrives at a Balkan castle, intending to search it for resistance fighters. His soldiers force their way in, but the castle’s owner – a strange, calm nobleman in a cape (Francis Lederer) – seems unconcerned. Von Grunn reckons that the man is the leader of the local resistance, but when midnight strikes all the Nazis are wiped out by the nobleman’s acolytes and wolves. As he closes in on the general, the man confirms that he’s the leader of the rebels and then announces that he’s also Count Dracula…

Best performance: This was Francis Lederer’s second go as the famous vampire: 13 years earlier he’d starred in a tame horror movie called The Return of Dracula.

Best bit: When von Grunn tells Dracula that they’re going to burn his castle down, Dracula just smiles benignly. If he were a Twitter gif the caption would be, “Bitch please.”

Review: Evil meets evil in a 15-minute drama. It has just one story beat: a punchline that surely every member of the audience sees coming a mile off. In its favour, the plot is notable for Dracula being (relatively speaking) the good guy.

Five paintings out of 10

The Return of Dracula (1958, Paul Landres)

Return-of-Dracula-3

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Mostly the fictional town of Carleton, California, but there’s also a brief sequence in eastern Europe (we spy a Berlin newspaper in one scene). It’s the 1950s.

Faithful to the novel? This 1958 B-movie horror begins with a portentous voiceover telling us all about Count Dracula, the infamous vampire who terrorises innocent people and spreads his dominion around the world. We’re told that various attempts to destroy him have been unsuccessful and then see a group of men break into a tomb only to find the coffin empty… Then we cut to an artist called Bellac Gordal, who’s about to travel from Europe to California and stay with his cousin. On the train, however, he’s killed and replaced by Dracula (Francis Lederer). In the US, Cora (Greta Granstedt) hasn’t seen her cousin for a long time so doesn’t notice it’s an imposter. She welcomes Dracula into her home but he soon focuses on Cora’s grown-up daughter, the wholesome Rachel (Norma Eberhardt). He also turns Rachel’s friend Jennie (Virginia Vincent) into a vampire. (If we think of this as a loose remake of the book’s plot, Rachel is the Mina equivalent; Jennie is Lucy.) But when people start to suspect he’s not Gordal, the Count has to start killing. Meanwhile, Rachel’s finding it difficult to resist him…

Best performance: Francis Lederer plays Dracula as a man rather than a monster. There’s no Bela Lugosi cape (instead he wears a suit) and you almost feel sorry for him. The actor had the distinction of living in three different centuries: he was born in Prague in 1899 and lived until 2000. As well as a successful film and theatre career, he fought for the Austrian-Hungarian Army in the First World War. Lederer later played Dracula again, in a 1971 episode of TV show Night Gallery. Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of actors’ backgrounds, Cora actress Greta Granstedt had a notorious incident in her past. In 1922, when she was 14, she shot her 17-year-old boyfriend with a pistol. She claimed it was accidental, though newspapers said she’d stalked him from some bushes and wanted to hurt him because he’d been with another girl. The boyfriend eventually recovered and Granstedt was sentenced to time in a reform school.

Best bit: A few neat tricks are used to show off Dracula’s vampirism: when he first arrives in Carleton he appears out of thin air; we later get the clichéd no-reflection-in-a-mirror shot; and there’s also a great moment when he forms from a cloud of smoke. In the latter, the actor speaks dialogue as the smoke dissipates around him. The effect was achieved by having Lederer talk backwards as smoke is blown around him and then reversing the shot.

Review: For a horror film, this is incredibly safe material. We’re in a pre-rock’n’roll, small-town America where Cora bakes cakes, Rachel has a child-like enthusiasm for life and her boyfriend drives around in an enormous convertible. There’s no sense of danger to anything, and the whole film falls very flat. It’s directed with no attitude, there’s a bland cast, and lots of night-time scenes are shot in broad daylight. One notable – and very effective – aspect of the film is that it’s in black and white… aside from the shot of gushing red blood when Jennie is staked!

Four dull and useless worlds out of 10

Dracula’s Widow (1988, Christopher Coppola)

drwidow4

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

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973, Alan Gibson)

satanic_rites_of_dracula_06-e1478721385143

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: London and the surrounding area. We’re told that the events of Dracula A.D. 1972, of which this is a sequel, were ‘over two years ago’. The climax takes place very close to 23 November, which is said to be the sabbath of the undead.

Faithful to the novel? This was Hammer’s eighth Dracula film in 15 years, so the book is now a dim and distant memory… A secret agent escapes from a country house where some prominent members of society have been taking part in strange rituals. His bosses Peter Torrence (William Franklyn) and Colonel Matthews (Richard Vernon) then recruit a policeman called Murray (Michael Coles) to investigate the cult further. He in turn ropes in occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), who lives with his granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley). (Murray, Lorrimer and Jessica are returning characters from Dracula AD 1972, though the latter role has been recast.) Lorrimer realises that one of the cultists is an old friend and this eventually leads him to a businessman called DD Denham, whose shiny new office building was built on the site of the church from the previous film. Guess what: Denham is actually a resurrected Count Dracula (Christopher Lee, playing the vampire in a Hammer film for the seventh and final time)! He’s planning an apocalypse, using his own ‘four horsemen’ to distribute the bubonic plague. After a lengthy sequence at the country house – in which various female vampires meet their end – Lorrimer lures the Count into a hawthorn bush (go, biblical subtext!) and stakes him through the heart.

Best performance: Peter Cushing, who was always able to make hokum watchable.

Best bit: When the team first investigate the house, Jessica sneaks into the cellar, which is full of coffins. Then she finds Torrence’s secretary Jane (Valerie Van Ost) chained to a wall. We’d earlier seen her kidnapped by the cult and turned by Count Dracula. At first, Jess thinks Jane is dead – but we viewers know otherwise. Jessica creeps closer, feels for a pulse, and Jane turns to look at her. She smiles… then lunges with her fangs. Then other female vamps start to emerge from the coffins and close in…

Review: This starts out well. A Satanic cult are carrying out bizarre ceremonies in an English country house, while the British Secret Service are getting worried about it in their modern, brightly lit offices. It has the feel of an episode of, say, The Avengers or Doctor Who. (Incidentally, Don Houghton had recently worked on the latter when he wrote this film. Perhaps choosing 23 November as the plot’s key date was an in-joke: it’s the day Doctor Who began in 1963.). And the storytelling is often fun, with information being drip-feed during different scenes. However, the longer the film goes on the more it drags and the less it entertains. Few of the characters have much spark or life to them, especially Joanna Lumley’s Jessica, who’s a noticeably blander, older and less fun version of the character we saw in the preceding film.

Five Afghan coats out of 10

Dracula: The Impaler (2013, Derek Hockenburgh)

v1

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day, plus a few flashbacks to the 15th century. We start somewhere in America, then the main bulk of the story is in Transylvania – specifically at Vlad the Impaler’s castle.

Faithful to the novel? This low-budget, straight-to-DVD movie starts with seven friends celebrating the end of high school with a pool party and beer pong. They’re all off to college soon, so decide to go on a holiday beforehand. Based on a dream had by rich kid Adam (Christian Gehring), they decide to visit Vlad Tepes’s castle in Transylvania. They’ve all heard of the fictional Count Dracula, who was based on Vlad, because Bram Stoker’s book exists in this fiction. At the castle, they meet a young woman called Veronica (Diana Busuioc). She plays host and tells them about Vlad (Gregory Lee Kenyon), who in 1476 or so accepted being an immortal vampire as a trade-off for his love Elisabet being spared death. The film soon becomes a slasher-flick: the fat friend (Mark Jacobson) is attacked by weird baldy men caked in mud, the phone-obsessed friend (Rocco Nugent) is impaled, and the blonde friend (Christina Collard) is torn to pieces by Dracula’s Brides-types who appear in that one scene. At the climax, as one survivor is tortured by another, we start to question whether what we’ve seen took place the way we saw it…

Best performance: In tone and performance, the sexy Veronica is not a million miles away from the Red Woman in Game of Thrones. She’s played by one of the movie’s writers, who’s also the wife of the director.

Best bit: When the survivors find two of their friends dead, their reaction is one of violent distress. One character even retches. It’s a nice bit of genuine emotion, which lifts the film above the Scooby-Doo surroundings.

Review: This is a poor film with plenty of blemishes: the cast is variable, the story is muddied, scenes set at night are lit by floodlights, unwanted shadows appear on people’s faces, a scene set on a moving train is filmed with a rock-solid camera and actors sitting stock still… But there are a few things in its favour. For a start, the gang of friends do actually feel like real pals. They swear at each other, have in-jokes and take the piss, which helps set them up for when they go through the various traumas. The script also contains a couple of funny scene transitions and there’s some trippy editing. It’s barely a vampire film, barely a Dracula film, but it passes the time well enough.

Six promise rings out of 10

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, Freddie Francis)

dracula-has-risen-from-grave-9

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: A prologue is set in 1905, then the bulk of the film takes place a year later. The location is Hammer’s default, mid-European fantasyland. A lot of the story takes place in a village called Keinenberg.

Faithful to the novel? This is the fourth entry in Hammer Films’ Dracula series. At the start, Count Dracula is terrorising a village, but we then cut to a year later – ie, after the events of Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). The count is dead but the villagers still fear him – so a visiting monsignor called Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) attempts to exorcise the abandoned castle. However, during the ceremony the local priest (Ewan Hooper) accidentally resurrects the vampire (d’oh!) when his blood drips into the vampire’s icy-moat grave. (During this scene, Dracula sees his own reflection in the water.) Unaware of any trouble, Mueller returns home. Dracula (Christopher Lee) follows, wanting revenge for what’s happened to his castle, and targets Mueller’s niece Maria (Veronica Carlson). Maria’s mother (Marion Mathie) and fun-loving boyfriend (Barry Andrews) get caught up in the mayhem, as does local barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing).

Best performance: Barbara Ewing as the flirty Zena.

Best bit: The prologue shows a young man discovering a corpse in the church: a woman hanging upside down in the bell tower.

Review: This film is hamstrung by all the usual Hammer limitations: the cast is tiny, we get very used to the same few sets, the locations are generic, and there’s some risible day-for-night shooting. But in a couple of ways it’s an interesting entry in the series. The nominal hero of the story, Paul, is an atheist. Admittedly, this detail doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a nice change from the norm. And Freddie Francis (an Oscar-winning cinematographer as well as this film’s director) uses coloured filters on the edges of shots associated with Dracula. This gives them a strange, stained-glass-window quality, which is both unusual and effective.

Five rooftops out of 10

Van Helsing: The London Assignment (2004, Sharon Bridgeman)

Screenshot 2017-03-21 18.10.05

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: This 30-minute animated special was produced to promote the 2004 movie Van Helsing and dramatises the events immediately before that film’s main storyline. The DVD packaging says it’s set in 1889, a date that’s confirmed by Queen Victoria being 70 years old, even though the parent movie takes place in 1888. The locations are London and the Vatican City.

Faithful to the novel? It’s a new storyline. Dr Jekyll (Dwight Schultz) is the Queen’s personal physician, yet has been secretly turning into a monster called Hyde (Robbie Coltrane), killing women, and bottling their dying breaths. Vatican monster-hunter Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and his sidekick Carl (David Wenham) are sent to combat him. Turns out, Dr J has been in love with Queen Victoria since she was a young woman and wants to return her to her former beauty and marry her.

Best performance: Give them their due, the producers convinced Hugh Jackman, David Wenham and Robbie Coltrane to reprise their movie roles.

Best bit: The film begins with a 1930s Universal logo. Nice touch.

Review: Various Victorian clichés have been thrown into the mix: as well as Van Helsing himself, we get fog-bound London streets, the chimes of Big Ben, a version of Jack the Ripper (though that name is never used), the Jekyll and Hyde story, the London Underground, beefeaters and Queen Vicky herself. The animation’s stylish, but the story’s slight.

Five proper-sized corsets out of 10

Frankenweenie (2012, Tim Burton)

open-uri20150608-27674-m1t1bv_341722d5

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: It’s the modern day, albeit a stylised version that’s stuck in the 1960s. The story takes place in the town of New Holland.

Faithful to the novel? Not at all. This black-and-white, stop-motion animated film is a parody of Universal Pictures’ pre-war horror films, especially Frankenstein (1931). A young boy called Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is distraught when his dog Sparky is run over and killed. So, inspired by a science teacher called Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau), he resurrects the pooch via the electrical charge of a lightning bolt – ie, in the same way as in the 1931 classic. There are two minor Dracula connections. Victor’s next-door neighbour is a girl called Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder, coincidentally one of the stars of 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). And in one scene Mr and Mrs Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) watch 1958’s Dracula on TV.

Best performance: The stop-motion animators and cinematographer Peter Sorg. The high-contrast, black-and-white photography is very Universal Horror, and the physical puppets and sets really are quite beautiful.

Best bit: The newly resurrected Sparky wags his tail so furiously it falls off. “I can fix that,” says Victor.

Review: A fairly routine animated film, in that there’s plenty of whimsy, a lot of visual humour, and flashes of sweetness and sadness. With the story predictable enough for kids to follow, you start counting off the nods and winks. A character who looks like Vincent Price? A corpse resurrected during a lightning storm? A haircut like Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein? A climax in a burning windmill? Check, check, check, check.

Six robotic buckets out of 10