by Special Guest Dungeon Master
Howard Paul Burgess
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.....
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
needs more subjects for him and Warren to experiment on. Off to Vulture
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.
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.
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.
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
done their homework. Soon they've gotten together holy water, crosses,
wooden stakes, and silver bullets.
me very much. Silver bullets! I think not. There's not a werewolf in
sight, so what are these people doing with silver bullets?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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?"
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.
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.
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.
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..........
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.