SEVERAL YEARS AGO in another life, wearing a different hat, I was often called upon to be a guest on a panel, judging competition entries for national and international films and documentaries. Many of the films and programmes were produced by amateur film makers and enthusiasts. Some were made by students from universities and film schools . . . The entries were of varying standards and levels of competence, but all had been produced with enthusiasm and passion. For over twenty five years I had worked in television, managed my own production company and had the pleasure of nurturing and helping young people and adults, in theatrical performance (performing arts) and the visual arts. It was a unique job, and a very rewarding time. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than to meet someone who had spent, months and months shooting and editing, shaping and creating, that flickering image, their story on that big screen! It's true, as I have said, many fell short of a standard to win a prize, or to maybe show promise of the first steps of what could be a promising career. But occasionally a warm glow would start in the pit of my tummy, a flutter, followed by a smile of recognition, when a zinger came along that DID tick all those boxes. Joshua Kennedy's 'Dracula AD 2015' IS one of those zingers...
Charles Caleb Colton (1780–1832) an English cleric and writer of some note once wrote, "Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery". Colton was at times brilliant in the pulpit, and could have been a successful and charismatic force in the church. Unfortunately he was more than a little eccentric, even though he had at one time considerable wealth, he gambled it away and was in debt until the end of his life...and that end came, when he required surgery. An operation he dreaded so deeply, that he eventually killed himself rather than undergo the procedure! But, if what Colton wrote, is true, Hammer films should be bursting with pride! 'Dracula AD 2015' is a love letter, a beautiful filmatic quilt, not patches, but scenes, sounds and emotive sequences sown together, to warm the bones, hearts and souls, of anyone who still blows the dust off their VHS broadcast recording, of a Hammer films 'double -bill' courtesy of BBC2 in 1981!
I knew writing this review would be tough, because so much of Kennedy's homage to Hammer's Dracula films, is emotionally charged. It's hot wired into the memory bank of any Hammer-aficionado who loves those films. However, that is not to say, this production can only be enjoyed by a cliche, romantic fan boys or Hammer die-hards. No, there is much here, even for someone who has never heard of Dracula, Peter Cushing, or 'that bloke in the cloak, Christopher Lee. And what there is, I'll happily share with you . . .but without giving too much away . . .
DRACULA AD 2015 is probably the Dracula film that Hammer films would be making now, if they were still around as the old gang, I guess. A film with drama, imagination, suspense and the age old 'everything works out in the end' plot, all produced by the cozy family of people who cared about the films and the quality of what they produced. It's one thing that is evident in Kennedy's film too. This a group of young people, who love what they do and do it well. They know Joshua and each other well, and actors always take risks and give great performances when they are with a director and team they can trust.
Which brings me, to those actors. Josh has 'cast' the film very well, using some of the same templates that Hammer used too. I am not sure if it was sheer luck or divine intervention that provided Josh with actors that nearly all, project some either physical or spooky degree of nuance, of the actors and characters who appeared in the original Dracula Hammer films! And it's not just Hammer's plots and iconic set pieces that get the nod, there's much enjoyment to be had for any horror film buff here, picking out the scenes and characters from a dozen or more references, among them Chaney Jnr, Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye and quite a few more. Se if you can spot them!
In every Dracula film, it's the guy who plays the Count, that bolts the whole structure together. When Hammer made their Dracula series, Lee was the draw. Powerful, sexy and feral. When he wasn't in a few of the productions, it was like a cart without it's horses. The vehicle was sound, but had no way of getting anywhere! Not so with Dracula AD 2015. Dracula is played with a delicate touch by Xander Pretorious, and he is well supported by a multi textured cast. Another thing that Kennedy got right, actresses that sound, act and look believable. . . something that Hammer often got really wrong and casting that still makes some uncomfortable and cringe-worthy viewing.
Bessie Nellis is someone to watch, in the film and in the future. With a role like Ingrid Stensgaard..there it is again, the temptation to play big and busy is where many a female vamp has 'stuck a stake in the cred department', before they've even started. Nellis understands the gift of stillness in front a camera. Focus and concentration is all. It takes guts and maturity to use that rule as your guide, but the reward is a performance, that all eyes are drawn to, when you are on screen. Her seduction scene with the Count, crackles with electricity. Her haunting and truly 'other-wordly' scene with Madelyn Wiley, was sheer animal magic. Wiley gets some great scenes too and plays Diana Farmer's exit, with a performance that Barbara Shelley, would certainly be proud of.
Someone has to play the 'girl in peril' and Kit Kennedy thank goodness takes the role and makes it more than a scream fest. Like everyone here, Kit has a relaxed and natural presence before the camera. She makes Jennifer Fordyce real, in the moment, fresh and believable. I felt the same about Hannah Rose Ammon performance, as I did about Caroline Munro's in Dracula AD 1972... gone too soon! I would have loved to have seen more! Everyone loves the 'slightly pushy, but dizzy character, who comes unstuck' in a horror film and Ammon, never gives away, what is around the corner and her fate. Next, the suspicious sounding, Thorley Ripper! I am sure Universal fans are going to love what Jeremy Kreuzer does with this. It must be hard to play 'crazy' without tipping into 'crazily over the top', Kreuzer hits it just right, spot on. Crazy as a fox!
Director Terence Fisher believed, every audience had to have breathing time. After a shock, give them time to recover, before you lull them into the next shocker. And with stories like this, someone must play, well.... normal! It may feel like a thankless task, but no build up, results in no tension or climax. Here Cody Avord and Jake Williams, provide the stability of, the reliable boy friend and his buddy, but they certainly get a lot to do, some classic staking scenes re-enacted and a face off with a vampire too. Actors Philip Miller and Michael Kitchen in Dracula AD 1972, provided the same service. Except Miller's 'Bob' death scene never made the edit, despite being shot and Kitchen...remind me again? Finally, Claire Daniels, plays 'nightmare seduction with a certain trademark style', the stamp of a Freddie Francis seduction scene, from Dracula Has Risen From The Grave', complete with the sepia filters, and manages to give Veronica Carlson a run for her money too!
It would be unfair to give away key moments of the plot here, as some come as genuine surprises. It's not a straight follow the numbers, remake of Dracula AD 1972, Joshua Kennedy has been cute to key in some of the best elements of what made Hammer and Universal fantasy flicks great. The staking, the resurrection, the passion, the bite, the glamour and the sex. It's all here, and delivered with such confidence. Kennedy makes a great vampire hunter, in the Peter Cushing mold. He has the energy, authority and credibility of an actor and director many years older. His stamp can be seen throughout all his films. That wicked sense of humor and fun, that has brought the likes of actresses Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro, to come on board several of his productions. Munro actually has a voice-cameo in Dracula AD 2015 . . playing the Mother of Hannah Rose Ammon, who plays Munro's daughter, Caroline Monlaur. See what he did there!
I have watched Dracula AD 2015 several times, in order to get the full picture, and on one such screening, watched with a group of Hammer fans. Many a lead up to a scene was met with, 'They aren't going to do that scene are they?'...which was followed by, 'That was great!' 'Well done' and ' pulled it off. . ..wow!'. Also quite a few scenes were given a cheer or chap of appreciation. Dracula, cloak flapping striding through New York and running for his life across a subway platform, made quite a few very happy. As did the opening prologue to the film and THAT title sequence. Back in 1972, I am sure Drac Buffs almost choked on their popcorn and coke, when the film zipped into a dutch tilt to the sky, and revealed a passenger plane and a hip and trendy London skyline with Chelsea hot pants and Trafalgar Square to boot!
In Dracula AD 2015, that theme tune, still has a punch, as Kennedy acknowledges the power and emotional connection to the music, in particular Mike Vickers soundtrack from the opening to Dracula AD 1972 and James Bernard's classic Dracula theme and incidental arrangements from the Hammer Dracula series. It's a technique that is used throughout the film and because of it's connection to the original films, works amazingly well, setting the atmosphere and tone of the entire film.
If I was Kennedy, I would be entering every film festival and competition from here, across the Atlantic and back. This film needs to be seen and enjoyed, but also it needs the opportunity to win the praise it deserves...well done to everyone involved you made my viewing full of many warm glows and flutters!
Marcus Brooks: Peter Cushing Appreciation Society : firstname.lastname@example.org
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