The Bad Movie Report

The Mark of Dracula

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by Special Guest Dungeon Master

Howard Paul Burgess

It's a given in life that most direct-to-video movies are bad ones. The Mark of Dracula stands out from other bad movies in that it is based upon an idea which is original and exciting, and made by moderately talented people who just don't have the financial resources to put a final shine on their finished product- and that's a shame. Even with the resources of most made-for-television movies, this could have been a far better piece of work.

This starts out promisingly enough with the opening titles shown over footage from the silent (and, conveniently enough, public domain) movie Nosferatu. We see Renfield's trip to Castle Dracula, his first meeting with the Count, the mysterious goings on in the night and, finally, Dracula's ship under full sail as it heads for England. The movie we're about to watch takes place in California, but that's beside the point.

Fans of Stoker's novel and the subsequent films will remember the sad fate of Lucy Westenra, beloved fiancee of Johathan Harker. Lucy was bitten by Dracula and eventually died despite everyone's frenzied attempts to thwart Dracula in his evil plan. Because she died of a vampire's bite, Lucy became a vampire herself. She was eventually laid to rest when Harker drove a wooden stake through her heart.

In this story, Lucy has managed to survive the attempt to end her misery as one of the walking dead, and is now well over a hundred years old but still quite a babe. As played by Roxanne Coyle with a rather stagey English accent, Lucy has done well for herself over the decades. She had gathered money and jewelry from her victims during the past century and is amassing a fortune to be used in reviving Dracula and restoring him to his rightful place. Lucy comes to the small California town of Shepperton because the Carreras-Hinds research facility is there, doing work on cloning from DNA samples. A couple of Hammer studio jokes there, and good ones. Later, a cross on a poster for a revival to be conducted by Reverend Roy Ward Baker is enough to send a vampire running.

Upon arriving in Shepperton, Lucy kills and drains a drunk she encounters on the street just after sundown. Then we see her toss a poorly weighted and jointed dummy dressed in the drunk's clothes a fair distance, and from the way the dummy lands we can tell that it probably weighs less than ten pounds. Memo to the lighting director: next time film scenes like this in much dimmer light.

Lucy goes to visit Dr. Warren (Tim Sullivan) and make him an offer he can't refuse. Lucy's been carrying around the wooden stake she pulled out of Dracula's chest, and the blood is still wet. Warren is a big cheese in the DNA trade. He's the man for her plan. This in and of itself is as good a story idea as anyone could ask for. Watching The Mark of Dracula, you only wish that somebody like Tim Burton had gotten hold of this idea. If only.

Oddly enough, Lucy insists that Warren do the dirty work at his house. He lives alone and lacks it: some time ago his wife got tired of living in an isolated house with a man so devoted to his work, so she packed up and left. It doesn't take long for Warren to notice that despite being well over a hundred years old, Lucy looks darned good. He heads off to the lab to get the equipment and bring it back to his house.

You know that the equipment needed to clone a human being would not transport all that easily. Electron microscopes, computers, what all. You know that. I know that. The people who made this movie don't know that, and it's amazing how little equipment Warren brings back.

Warren has a brief delay before he can get to the lab. It seems that an angry villager has gone to the lab and is protesting the research being done there by making himself into a human time bomb- he has dynamite strapped to his body. Sheriff Cobb (Ron Ford, who also wrote and directed the film) goes up to reason with the man and winds up pushing him out a window. Although the building looks to be only two or three stories in the establishing shots, we see the unfortunate fellow falling
for what looks like hundreds of yards before he hits the ground.

With that little obstacle out of the way, Warren loads his PortaClone kit and heads back to the house. In no time at all- all of this action takes place in one night- he has cloned Dracula and the great vampire is again among the living. Or, among the undead. Whatever.

Cloning Dracula (Mark Allen) is a scientific wonder. First of all, it takes no time at all. He comes back not as a baby or a small child, but as a grown man. Not only is he grown, but his beard is neatly trimmed and his hair combed. It's a wonder that the film's creators don't have Dracula come back fully clothed. In a concession to reality, he is naked (seen briefly and only from the waist up). Most remarkably, he's thoroughly pissed.

Having cloning bring back a person just the way he was before he died is an especially wrongheaded piece of scientific misinformation. Had he died in a car crash, would he have come back with a steering wheel in his hand? Assuming that Dracula started off life as a regular person and became, uh, vampirized after himself being bitten, there's a strong argument that that his clone wouldn't be a vampire at all. And, Dracula has a belly button, which a clone wouldn't, well, anyway.....

Dracula is unhappy about being awakened from his long slumber. But, since he's here anyway, he'll stick around for a while and maybe have a few folks for dinner.

Since there seem to be no normal people at all in the town except Warren and the sheriff, a quartet of city folk is soon introduced. They show up at a local diner the next day wanting information about local hiking trails. The waitress and a trio of locals are unfriendly as can be to the outsiders, but the sheriff comes in and tells them where the hiking trails are. But, he warns them, stay away from Vulture Ridge.

That seems like the kind of advice that you or I would take to heart. Places with names like Vulture Ridge are made to be avoided. But these two couples are just short of having Potential Victim # 1- 4 printed on their spotless white shirts. Hank (Mark Sawyer) and Kendall (Valerie Belardinelli) and Matt (William Terry) and Suzanne (Tonja McCoy) do everything but walk around with apples in their mouths.

Sure as anything, they get into trouble on the hiking trail. Kendall slips and almost falls down an incline which your grandmother could wheel her way back up in her wheelchair before breakfast. Kendall twists her ankle. The happy foursome makes camp for the night at, where else, Vulture Ridge.

Meanwhile, Dracula comes up with a new project for Warren. As a vampire, Dracula reacts most badly to sunlight. And he longs to feel the sun's rays again. Does Warren think he can cure Dracula of that by DNA manipulation? Sure, he'll get right on it.

Because Dracula doesn't want to kill Warren, and the four chumps aren't in line to be bitten yet, he goes out looking for supper. He finds a couple of gothic teens discussing their tattoos. The girl has just gotten a new tattoo of Bela Lugosi's grave. What these two characters are doing in this tiny village is never explained, because Dracula chows down on them before they can give us any more exposition. The sheriff comes along at a crucial point, and Dracula disappears in a flash of light.

Warren uses Lucy as a guinea pig to see if he has cured her allergy to sunlight. Well, not hardly. Exposure to a sunlamp fried her to a crisp in no time. Dracula carries Lucy's body outside. Then he picks up the same ten pound dummy that subbed for the drunk earlier. It's dressed in Lucy's clothes now. He throws it, and it lands in such a jumble of arms and legs that a small child could tell it's a dummy. Sheesh, is this supposed to be scary or something?

Dracula needs more subjects for him and Warren to experiment on. Off to Vulture Ridge!

The sheriff is getting more and more irritated. People fall out of windows, dead teenagers lie in the street, and villagers break into the funeral home to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the poor drunk's corpse. The funeral director is called Mortimer Poe, and he's played by Film Star Randal Malone. That's how he's billed, possibly because Mr. Malone was the sole member of the cast I could locate through the Internet Movie Database. Mortimer Poe looks and acts exactly like you'd expect a character named Mortimer Poe to look and act. At one point Poe offers himself to Dracula and the vampire thinks better of it. And you thought I was kidding about the need to import victims because there are so few normal folks available locally.

Cut to Vulture Ridge. The four potential snacks are whisked to Warren's house, where they wake up late the next afternoon. When they meet Warren, they thank him for having rescued them as they might have frozen to death at Vulture Ridge. Well, they might have. If they had waited several months until winter. The four snacks are dressed in shorts and t-shirts, and everyone else is dressed for warm weather. And although Warren is presented as being a genius, he doesn't correct their confusion in possibly thinking that the film they are in is somehow connected to the final hour of Titanic.

Very shortly Hank and Kendall become vampires. Although this severely limits their hiking and tennis playing, it does wonders for Kendall because her twisted ankle is cured. Hank is used as a subject for another sunlamp experiment. Bye, Hank.

Matt and Suzanne finally start to get wise to what's up and they meet up with Sheriff Cobb. They decide they must do something before the whole town is taken over by the living dead. Of course they don't try to contact any outside help. And although there is an unseen dispatcher the sheriff talks to on his police radio, there don't seem to be any other law enforcement authorities around, either. As previously noted, the townspeople are all mental cases. So it's just these three to solve
the dilemma.

They've done their homework. Soon they've gotten together holy water, crosses, wooden stakes, and silver bullets.

Excuse me very much. Silver bullets! I think not. There's not a werewolf in sight, so what are these people doing with silver bullets?

Mind you, I've never shot a vampire with a bullet of any kind, plain old lead or silver. I've never shot anyone and, actually, don't even own a gun. Truth is I've never met a vampire since these are supposedly mythical creatures, although the X-Files frequently reminds us that there's a lot of stuff out there we can't make sense of.

So here we have Suzanne hiding out at the sheriff's mobile home when Dracula comes looking for her. Remember, if you will, that a vampire cannot enter a house unless he is invited in. Dracula looks down at the porch: there's a big old Welcome mat, right there at his feet. That's enough for him. Nice idea. Soon he's inside and putting the bite on Suzanne.

Matt and Sheriff Cobb mount their assault on Warren's house to rescue Suzanne. It doesn't go as well as they hope. They use holy water to cure Warren of Lucy's bite, which had put him in thrall to the vampires. Warren is wounded in a struggle with Dracula. The sheriff shoots Dracula with a silver bullet, which does no good. While the Count was at Cobb's house he borrowed a bulletproof vest. Sheriff Cobb is chained to the door of Warren's refrigerator, and Matt is about to be the next
lab rat for the sunlight test. Suzanne is thoroughly under Dracula's control, and actively helping him.

Cobb gets his hands free and splashes holy water on Suzanne, thus freeing her from Dracula. She turns the sunlamp on Dracula and fries him to a crisp.

So Sheriff Cobb and Matt and Suzanne walk out into the sunlight, leaving the rather badly wounded Dr. Warren right where he was at the beginning of the story: alone in his big house, no wife, no friends, and now wondering what he's going to tell the people at the lab about how all of this expensive equipment has wound up at his house. And just what he's going to do about the serious but nonfatal wounds which have been inflicted upon him, since the sheriff did nothing to help him and he can't dial 911 and his not having a phone is an important plot point which was established quite firmly.

It was good to see a movie like this in which more than two characters survive. I was fully expecting to see both Warren and Sheriff Cobb meet gristly ends. Not because any pressing plot point would be made by sacrificing them, but just because there is thought to be a maximum number of survivors in stories like this.

Counting Dracula and Lucy and the man who falls out of a window at the lab, the little town has acquired about eight dead bodies over a weekend. Logic would dictate that at some point Sheriff Cobb is going to have to confront a mountain of paperwork to account for all of this. And when Matt and Suzanne get back home, someone will eventually ask them where Hank and Kendall are.

"Where are those young folks from across the street who went to Shepperton with you?"

"Dead. Vampires got 'em."

"Damn. I hate it when that happens. Say, have you guys bought Girl Scout cookies from anybody yet?"

These are the little details of life that don't seem to get too much in the way in movies. People in New York and Los Angeles park right in front of where they want to go. Nobody spends hours on hold on the phone. Only in low comedy does anyone fart. Maybe that's why I prefer movies to real life, thank you very much.

There's a lot to be liked in THE MARK OF DRACULA. The actors seem to understand that film puts every audience member in the first row, and they avoid the pitfall of pitching their performances to the third balcony. With nurturing, any one of these actors could have a decent career in tv and films, and it would be nice to see them get the opportunity.

With nurturing, this screenplay could have turned into a solid little thriller. Perhaps the author should have developed this first as a novel. Or, letting another pair of hands work on it would have shaped it a little better. As it is, I'd be willing to watch another movie with this same DNA theme. Goodness knows it worked nicely for Jurassic Park.

Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. This may sound condescending and/or overly optimistic, but I really believe that everyone does the best that they can. Even this summer's much maligned Godzilla started with someone thinking, say, wouldn't it be neat if..........

And it's what's done with that "if" that makes the big difference. From the best of premises, it's all to easy to make a bad movie.



Good ideas, impoverished execution --
score another victory for the low-budget monster

- October 18, 1998