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Way of the Vampire begins around the turn of the 20th Century in England. Abraham Van Helsing (Rhett Giles), who is immortal here, has assembled a "gang" of vampire slayers (no, they're not a Scooby gang like Buffy's). In the first few minutes, the gang is slaughtered, but Van Helsing decapitates Dracula. Dracula's "gang" is left in temporary chaos. The "Prince" who will replace him, Sebastien (Andreas Beckett), was mistaken by Van Helsing for an eligible member of his gang. Unfortunately, he left Sebastien with his wife, who Sebastien turned into a vampire while Van Helsing was out earning the bacon.
The opening credits roll, and we are propelled into "The Present". Van Helsing has moved to Los Angeles (to try to jumpstart a film career?) and naturally so has Sebastien and his current gang. We can all guess the kind of chaos that will ensue.
First off, whoever did the sound mix for this film--for the DVD in general, for that matter--should to be looking for another job, pronto. Even if the raw sound was bad and no ADR was done (which seems like it might have been the case), it can be easily cleaned up by a competent sound engineer. Turn the music down, get rid of the horrendous echo in the scenes filmed in a large concrete room, compensate for the actors who are whispering and mumbling, and so on. The surround sound mix was horrible. The stereo mix was horrible, and even the commentary track sounds like it was recorded in a large, empty bathroom.
That took at least one solid point off of the film. If I have to screw with my equalizer and crank up my system loud enough to threaten blowing my speakers (or having the cops called on me) so I can just make out at least 75% of the dialogue, something is wrong.
But that's not the only problem with Way of the Vampire. Most of the performances are questionable, and directors Sarah Nean Bruce and Eduardo Durao must have never met a melodrama they didn't like, because they tend to instruct their cast to over-emote without a shred of humor or self-awareness. There is a lot of very strained agonizing in the film, such as vampires saying, "Oh, but what about Van Helsing" like a junior high drama student doing Hamlet on an audition tape.
And there's more--or is that less? Bruce and Durao do not know how to film or edit action sequences. They tend cut them way too fast, with far too many close-ups and non sequitur insert shots. There's no sense of suspense in the fight scenes, because the audience just can't tell what's going on.
Additionally, some viewers might be perturbed that this is "yet another Dracula film" with very few surprises. Yes, Dracula is dispatched in the first few minutes, but focusing on Van Helsing or vampire slayers in the Bram Stoker universe isn't exactly novel, and neither is putting vampires in the modern world, especially Los Angeles. Most vampire film fans could write a rough parallel to this script in their sleep. On the other hand, I don't personally subtract points for predictability or derivativeness, but just in case you do, you should know about it.
So why the hell did I give this film a 7? Well, I gave it a low 7, and a 7 in my book is a "C". That means this is almost a "D", and almost doesn't pass--at a university level, you don't usually earn credits for a D. But there are enough positive points that Way of the Vampire certainly isn't an F, and it's not quite bad enough to lose its credits.
Bruce and Durao may be too fond of melodrama and not know how to do action scenes or check the work of sound engineers, but they're pretty good at directing cinematographers. There are plenty of attractive shots throughout the film. There is an interesting use of the recent trend towards monochromaticism. Here, monochromatic blue scenes represent flashbacks to the turn of the century. Most of the present day stuff is shot in an attractive array of colors. And towards the end, the film slyly shifts towards monochromatic "golds"--browns, oranges, etc.
The score, by Ralph Rieckermann, is pretty good. It's not his fault that the sound mix sucks. For that matter, it's not most of the cast or crew's fault that the sound mix sucks. I have a feeling I would have enjoyed the film quite a bit more if I wouldn't have had to struggle to hear the dialogue.
There are a lot of beautiful women in the film. There is a fair amount of nudity. And there is even more sensuality. Especially in a vampire film, that stuff doesn't come across as just gratuitous. Bruce and Durao don't do sensuality as good as Ron Oliver did in Thralls (aka Blood Angels, 2004), but they're not far behind. It adds quite a bit to the atmosphere, and the atmosphere overall is pretty good here.
The story kinda worked for me. Sure it wasn't unprecedented, but as a potboiler vampire flick, this rose to a nice boil. More could have been done with it--I would have liked to delve into Van Helsing as a doctor more, the new slayer gang would have been fun to get to know, and so on. But the story wasn't bad. Maybe Bruce and Durao should make their next film a bit longer. Also, not all of the performances were horrible. I actually kinda liked Giles, and that's important, since the film is centered on him.
Finally, there was some halfway decent blood and gore here. The scene with Van Helsing getting rid of the new blonde vamp was primo. If this would have been a film filled of stuff like that, it could have been a nine, even with crappy sound.
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