Review: Tales of Dracula (2015)

Unsurpassed horror as monsters walk the Earth once more!

Unsurpassed horror as monsters walk the Earth once more!

TALES OF DRACULA (2015)
Not Rated / Black & White / 75 minutes
Directed by Joe DeMuro
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD)

For the past several years, I have been keeping tabs on a locally-made horror film called TALES OF DRACULA. After completing work on 2012’s THE DEMON MESSENGER (an anti-fracking demonic Bigfoot movie), creature suit actor Joe DeMuro was still eager to fulfill his dreams of being a director. He immediately started work on a treatment for this throwback to the Universal monster movies he grew up watching.

Initially intended to be a series of short films, TALES’ script got beefed-up, and was reborn as a feature-length film. Casting calls and long weekend shoots gradually gave way to months of editing. New scenes were shot, some scenes were excised, digital effects were added, and a soundtrack was composed. Then finally, on April 24th, 2015, after two long years of blood, sweat, and tears, the film finally saw the light of day.

TALES OF DRACULA begins with several men tracking down, and slaying, Dracula’s bride. Enraged, the Dark Prince (on his way back from England via stock footage) takes flight to his castle in the Carpathian mountains to avenge his undead betrothed. Once Dracula (Wayne W. Johnson) accomplishes this, he then seeks a new bride, targeting a local girl named Ilona (Greta Volkova).

In the meantime, the mysterious Creighton Reed (Tom Delillo) arrives in town Dr. David Banner-style, seeking Peter Frankenstein. Though he seems like a decent enough fellow, Creighton is hiding a dark secret that he hopes the famous Dr. Frankenstein can aid him with. What exactly is wrong with Creighton? Well, let’s just say that things get a little hairy for him on the night of a full moon.

Also recently arrived in town is Victoria (Courtney Bennett), the tomboyish daughter of Dr. Peter Frankenstein. With her father off hunting a mythical “wild woman,” Victoria carries on his work on “The Frankenstein Monster” (Joe DeMuro), the hellish offspring of her grandfather Henry Frankenstein’s scientific experiments.

Eventually Victoria’s path crosses with Dracula’s after she removes some blood from Ilona, and injects it into the Frankenstein Monster. Enraged that “his blood” now flows within the scientific abomination, Dracula declares open war on the Frankenstein family, leading to swift monster battle royale.

Who will win in the war of the monsters?! And what will become of poor Creighton on the night of the full moon?! Well you’ll just have to watch TALES OF DRACULA to find out!

Yech! Even his nose hair is growing out!

Yech! Even his nose hair is growing out!

Having seen the rough cut of this film last June, I was amazed at how much had changed in the final edit! The entire opening sequence for the film was drastically altered from what I had initially seen, and it was a major improvement. It’s exciting and perfectly sets the stage for what is to come!

Shot in black and white (in glorious high-definition!), TALES OF DRACULA looks pristine (though part of me wishes that they made it look like an old 35mm print), and every scene is well lit. The editing is good for the most part, but there are a few moments where there are noticeable pauses during exchanges of dialogue between characters. A few digital snips here and there would have easily remedied this.

Also, there are moments when background noise, like the sound of dry leaves crunching beneath actors’ feet, becomes a bit distracting. A little tinkering with the audio in these brief moments, or even the addition of some low background music could have masked these issues. (Note: Said audio issues have since been fixed for the DVD release!) Then again, I’m being a bit too nitpicky here, because none of that really detracts much from the final product.

The cast is largely made up of local talent, with many of the cast members putting in memorable performances. Wayne W. Johnson is fantastic and imposing as Count Dracula; he commands your attention whenever he’s on the screen. Tom Delillo is good as Creighton, though his character is a little on the dull side, and Joe DeMuro looks pretty darned good in his Frankenstein Monster makeup.

Sadly The Monster, much like Greta Volkova’s vampire bride Ilona, doesn’t have very much to do during most of the film. He spends a good chunk of his time just chilling on the slab in the lab.

Victoria attempts to "spark" The Monster's imagination.

Victoria attempts to “spark” The Monster’s imagination.

Actress Courtney Bennett does a great job with her role as Dr. Victoria Frankenstein: She’s such a fun character! She’s brash and witty, and treats The Monster like an annoying kid brother. Casting a woman as the film’s mad scientist (which has only been done in a handful of other movies, such as LADY FRANKENSTEIN, and JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN\’S DAUGHTER), and creating a family dynamic between her and The Frankenstein Monster were bold creative decisions that definitely worked in the film’s favor.

Also, I’d be remiss if I did not bring up Anton the Innkeeper and his daughter Elsa, played respectively by Dwight Kemper and Cassandra Hayes. Dwight chews the scenery a bit, but he is the only person in the film that attempts a regional accent, and he nails it. Anton is the one of the few characters that feels like he totally belongs in the small Carpathian village, and he has some of the best lines in the movie.

Cassandra does a great job as Anton’s overbearing daughter, who has to take care of her father and his business. These two prove to be quite an entertaining team because they play so well off of each other.

The effects in TALES OF DRACULA are one of the film’s major highlights, and much of the credit must go to makeup f/x artist Ron Chamberlain. All of the monster in the film are easily recognizable, but Ron has put his own personal spin on each. The Monster’s neck bolts have been removed and replaced with a metal plate at the back of his skull, and the Wolfman, Dracula, and his brides, look downright fearsome.

RAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWRRRRR!

RAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWRRRRR!

Along with lots of practical makeup effects, TALES OF DRACULA also utilizes some miniature work (Dracula’s castle), stock footage, hand-crafted sets (Drac’s crypt and Frankenstein’s lab), nd some great location scouting (the Roberson Mansion). There is a bit of computer animation to be found here, but it is utilized sparingly. The bulk of it was primarily used for Dracula’s transformation scenes, and for the film’s explosive climax.

TALES OF DRACULA is a true labor of love, made by fans of classic horror, for fans of classic horror. It is surprisingly bloodless and contains zero cussing, so it’s family friendly, and the plot moves at a brisk pace. Well, at least until it slams on the brakes for a drawn out expository scene where a group of villagers meet with several priests. In my opinion, this single scene should have ended up on the cutting room floor. I understand the point of it, but it is totally unnecessary and wouldn’t have been missed.

But this is just a minor infraction, because TALES OF DRACULA is genuinely well made, and it definitely leaves you wanting more. I believe Joe DeMuro’s cinematic love letter to Universal’s classic monsters is going to be well-received, and the cast and crew should be proud of their film. They set out to create a loving homage to the monster movies of their youth, and I think they succeeded admirably. Hopefully TALES OF DRACULA finds an audience because I sincerely want this to become the flagship film for a whole new indie franchise.

While it may be a little rough around the edges, there’s a lot to love here, and I gladly award Wolfbain Productions first feature film with: