Sins of Dracula (The)
R0 - America - MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (29th March 2015).
The Film

At the suggestion of his girlfriend Shannon (Sarah Nicklin), devout choir singer Billy (Jamie Dufault) decides to expand his sheltered existence by socializing with "secular friends" and auditioning for the local community theater's production of "Godspell" despite the misgivings of Pastor Johnson (Carmine Capobianco). Far from being the normal guy in a group of drama club "outcasts and extremists" – including role-playing nerd girl gamer (Samantha Acampora), gay guy Lance (Aaron Peaslee), non-conformist NuWave (Jesse Dufault), stoner Bandilli (Derek Laurendeau), square college boy Scott (Johnny Sederquist), and diva Kimberley (Elyssa Baldassarri) – Billy finds that he has been labeled "the religious kid" of the group. Theater director Lou Perdition (Steven O'Broin) has decided that the only way to put asses in seats is to do something more outrageous: "Jonestown Jubilee" in which Jim Jones is the messiah. The group apprehensively go off to do a read-through of the script, but some unfortunate stragglers learn that this is all a ruse on Lou's part to provide innocent blood to resurrect Count Dracula himself (Michael Thurber) and build an army of undead misfits, with Billy's religious purity intended to restore the Count to his full power. For dramatic effect, they decide he will be the last sacrifice and set about sending each resurrected misfit to vampirize the next; but they could be out of luck since Billy has been carrying on a running debate with the man upstairs about engaging in premarital sex with Shannon.

In my review of director Richard Griffin's earlier enjoyable slasher throwback Murder University (also featuring Dufault, Acampora, Baldassarri, and Thurber), I said that the film's eighties setting was sustained more through wardrobe and décor than camerawork, scoring, or its comedy. The Sins of Dracula is also set in the eighties, and is more successful stylistically with slick MTV-on-the-cheap videography and gel lighting (by Griffin regular J. Poisson), more period-specific décor, and a synthesizer score that at times recalls Jonathan Elias' score for Vamp. While other eighties vampire comedies like Once Bitten and Fright Night may have been in the minds of the director Griffin and writer Michael Varrati, I'm not sure whether they were paying homage to The Lost Boys, the nineties Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, or even going back to the seventies and straight horror with Salem's Lot with NuWave gets a visit from a vamped buddy at his second story window. The comedic aspects are well-balanced for the first two acts but tip over a little too much into horror parody, and Billy's "seduction" by the secular and the Satanic seems to have been neglected in favor of all the other opportunities for exploitative incident (and it was already somewhat of a parody of Christian scare films) at the end, including what I assume is a tie-in with Griffith's The Disco Exorcist (although I have not seen that one). A lengthy sequence intercutting two sex scenes (one "climaxing" in a bite) does not provide the eighties T&A but half of it does make a concession to gay horror fans (in what would have been a bold move had the film actually been made in the eighties). The purgatorial epilogue, however, did raise a chuckle. Dufault makes for an engaging protagonist with a very eighties comedy monologue with a side of religious hypocrisy while O'Broin's scenery chewing is very appropriate (particularly funny is his explanation as to why Dracula would having nothing to say to a would-be victim even if he could speak in his freshly-resurrected state). The rest of the cast is unevenly directed, particularly in group scenes, but have their standout moments as caricatures. While it seems as if Thurber's vampire is silent not so much as a homage to Hammer's Christopher Lee as the writer and director not really knowing what to do with him once resurrected, the filmmakers do indeed cite it as a reference to Lee's dialogue-less turn in Dracula, Prince of Darkness. While the film's practical effects are generally proficient for the budget, one terrible CGI simulation of an establishing crane shot complete with an equally unconvincing digital church is uninspiring to see so early on; but The Sins of Dracula is a distinctive effort even if it does not entirely satisfy.
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Video

MVD Visual's single-layer DVD features a progressive, anamorphic encode of a mostly handsome-looking high definition-lensed production (I would guess that some edge enhancement is a by-product of the compression during the video export and some of it from the encoding rather than a deliberate adjustment). The faux-scope 2.30:1 framing looks a tad severe at the top of the frame with taller actors being cropped at the hairline (even at times when the operator adjusts the composition slightly upwards), but that is the fault of the master rather than DVD encode.
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Audio

The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is quite good for an indie film, nicely balancing the dialogue with a constantly active retro eighties synthesizer underscore.
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Extras

Extras are minimal but respectable starting with two commentary tracks. On the first, director Richard Griffin and writer Michael Varrati discuss the origins of the project as a satire of Christian scare movies, various references that draw parallels between mainstream religion and the Jonestown cult (and cults in general), eighties references that did not make the final cut, and references to other eighties horror movies in the decor and costume choices (including the blue/black color palette of Cruising). Griffin and Varrati join actors Sarah Nicklin and Jamie Dufault on a rowdier second track. They reveal that Dufault's singing was done by his brother (who played NuWave) and concerns about casting the siblings as unrelated characters, the actors' actual stage backgrounds (and how that influenced their interpretations of the characters and prepared them for the handful of lengthier than usual scenes), and some ribbing during the sex scene (describing the fair-skinned Dufault as looking "like a milk bottle with shoes"). Since we hear of scenes and parts of scenes cut for pacing, it would have been nice to see some deleted scenes.
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The sole video extra is the short film "They Stole the Pope's Blood" (5:53) with Thurber and Dufault, which is an amusing Grindhouse-y trailer for an exploitation heist film full of bad dubbing, green vertical scratches, gangsters, Scotland Yard detectives, nuns, Nazis, and Catholic conspiracies. An Easter Egg can be found on the extras page that consists of a humorous outtake from the sex scene.

Packaging

Rather than utilizing the retro poster artwork (which actually looks more seventies Grindhouse than eighties), MVD Visual has utilized a more generic image that, combined with the title The Sins of Dracula, makes it seem like one of those Seduction Cinema softcore lesbian vampire DTV flicks.
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Overall

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The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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