In "Vlad" writer-director Michael Sellers envisions Vlad the Impaler, the historical figure who inspired the legend of Dracula, as a tragic figure. Vlad's legendary brutality, the film suggests, was triggered by myriad personal betrayals and tragedies, until a folkloric belief arose that he was a tormented creature, trapped eternally between life and death. Myth would then transform him into a vampire.
But it's Sellers himself who is trapped. He aims far higher than the routine vampire horror picture, but his concern for being true to what is known about Vlad leads to an undue earnestness and an anemic fright quotient. "Vlad" was shot stylishly on location in Romania, and its authentic locales are its strongest asset, but its trite framing story and stilted, colorless dialogue lend themselves to unintended humor. In short, "Vlad" could have used a substantial transfusion of wit and energy, with a dash of dark humor.
Hyman Radescu (Brad Dourif), dean of the University of Bucharest, has organized a research project on Vlad for four graduate students, who embark on a trek through a Carpathian forest to the ruins of Vlad's castle. They are an American brother and sister, Jeff (Paul Popowich) and Alexa (Kam Heskin); an Englishman, Justin (Nicholas Irons); and a Romanian, Linsey (Monica Davidescu), who is returning from studies in France. Serving as their guide is Adrian (Billy Zane), a professor at the university.
As it happens, one of the students is carrying an ornate medallion on a necklace stolen long ago from Vlad's tomb. The student is planning to return it, unaware that it can bring back Vlad (Francesco Quinn) and his times — five centuries past.
The darkly handsome and brawny Quinn is well-cast as Vlad, who endlessly longs for the wife who committed suicide when she believed him to be dead in battle, and it's unfortunate that the entire film is not about him.
Zane comes up with a convincing accent, and the other key actors are competent. However, when all is said and done, it's hard to resist summing up "Vlad" as lacking bite.
MPAA rating: R for sexuality, nudity, violence and some drug use
Times guidelines: Too intense and violent for children
Brad Dourif...Hyman Radescu
A Quantum Entertainment release. Writer-director Michael Sellers. Producer Tony Shawkut. Executive producers Dina Burke, Nick Mandracken, William J. Booker, Pamela Vlastas. Cinematographer Viorel Sergovici. Editor Joel Bender. Music Christopher Fields. Costumes/art director Ioana Corciova. Production designer Radu Corciova. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
At selected theaters.