Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula (2000)

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Charles Band has been making horror movies in Rumania for several years, so it should come as no surprise to find his local collaborators, associate producer Vlad Paunescu and costume designer Oana Paunescu, among the crew of this ambitious historical epic from The Kushner-Locke Company and director Joe Chappelle (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers). It's an impressive attempt at rehabilitating the image of Vlad Tepes (Rudolf Martin), the famous Transylvanian prince who inspired Bram Stoker as the model for his vampiric count in the novel Dracula. That's part of the problem with Chappelle's film, because Martin plays Vlad as a sultry, pouting romantic figure in the Frank Langella mode rather than as a man who might have been capable of such astonishing savagery and physical strength on a battlefield. He pouts for money from the King of Hungary (Roger Daltrey being out-pouted for once), romances Jane March, speaks in a petulant growl, and generally looks like he'd be more at home on the dancefloor of a chic discotheque than on a corpse-strewn battlefield. Only the unavoidable feeling that he might be a vampire (he isn't) makes him seem even remotely threatening or dangerous. The rest of the film is better, with authentic-looking locations, some surprising gore, and nicely-handled battle scenes. Peter Weller comes off the best among the cast, playing the creepy Father Stefan with a suitable gravity and authority. It is very difficult to take the historical Dracula away from the vampire legends after over a century of Stoker-inspired over 150 films, but Chappelle and his cast make a game effort, and if they don't exactly succeed in removing the shadow of the vampire from their heroic prince, they have at least produced a rousing entertainment which is far better than anyone had a right to expect.