Friday, February 6, 2015

Review: The Sins of Dracula

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

The Sins of Dracula
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
80 minutes / 2014
The film can be obtained HERE.

When I was an undergrad in Brooklyn, I was invited to a screening of a film on campus that was marketed to us as modelled on The Exorcist, and being the horror fan, I said sure. It ended up being sponsored by the Jews for Jesus and the Newman House Catholic Club organizations, with a mallet-heavy message of accept Jesus or burn! For the college newspaper, as its reviewer, I not only panned it, I ridiculed the message and had both those organizations try to kick me off campus. And this was a year before I started hanging out in CBGB’s.

There is a whole subgenre of accept Jesus or burn!!! films out there, this seems to play mostly on campuses and Southern high schools, or to teenage church groups. While it’s becoming more popular in the mainstream, with the Kirk Cameron Left Behind series at the forefront, it is still worthy of ridicule It’s about time someone did a spoof of it. Sure, Saved! (2004) did a nice job on the mentality behind these beliefs, this is the first I know to actually be modelled on the genre, and apparently Richard Griffin is just the guy to do that. The Sins of Dracula takes this sub-standard subgenre and methodically breaks it down, wisely taking the less-than-subtle message and making it a less-than-subtle comedy, using the same tropes to say the opposite.

Sarah Nicklin
If you haven’t been following Griffin’s career, this New England filmmaker has made some of my favorite films over the past few years, such as Exhumed (2011), The Disco Exorcist (2011), and Murder University (2012), all of which you can find my reviews elsewhere on this blog site. Also wisely, he has chosen a talented cast he is mostly familiar with from these other releases (I will use the initials of the films in which they appear from this list after their names).

Seemingly taking place in the late 1980s, if I’m judging the photos on the walls correctly, Billy (Jamie Dufault; MU) is a “pure” and innocent lad who sings in his church choir, but is itching for more. His girlfriend, Shannon (the ever exquisite Sarah Nicklin; E, DE) is a bit more… in the real world, i.e., her tempter Eve to his innocent Adam, and convinces him to join her theatre troupe (aka the body count). The company is full of out there characters, including the New Wave guy (who is more pre-Goth than New Wave, in my opinion), the shy gay guy, the hallucinating druggie guy, the nerd gamer girl Traci (the also exquisite Samantha Acampora; MU)… well, you get the drift.

Jamie Dufault
As preachy as this subgenre tends to be, this film, written by Michael Varrati, uses the form to be mockingly sermonizing in another direction, with such great lines as, “Your whole world is based around a man getting nailed to wood, and Lance’s whole world is based around getting nailed by a man’s wood,” or “I promise you, you won’t live to regret it!” There’s also a part where the main character is praying and he says, “Dear, Lord, it’s me, Billy. No, the other one? From choir? I know it’s been about a half hour since we last talked…” So many others, but I don’t want to show too much of the hand before you see it.

The over-the-top-ego and dressed all in red director of this theater production is, of course, named Lou Perdition (Steven O’Broin).  If you don’t know, Perdition is your time in hell after you die, if you follow Christian dogma. His assistant, the sarcasm-dripping Kimberly (the also exquisite Elyssa Baldassarri; MU), is equally smug with obviously a secret to hide (that I will not give away).

Samantha Acampora
It makes sense that the framework for the film revolves around an indie theater group, since so much of the cast has its history in local theater, especially Michael Thurber (E, DE, MU), who plays the titular character of Dracula with finesse and grace (of course), who also the founder and artistic director of the Theater Company of Rhode Island. What makes it even more charming is that Thurber is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He is, one may say, Griffin’s acting muse, and has appeared in nearly all of his films. Thurber has shown a level of elegance in Exhumed and in a campy way that is appropriate for this release, he continues on that role. I’m definitely a fan.

This is one damn enjoyable piece of work, but at exactly one hour in, it ramps up and it’s almost like the same film on adrenaline. The comedy is more pointed (it was already sharp, but it goes from ginsu to katana), the visuals are bloodier, and the comedic drama even more enthralling. Fuck, let’s just break it down and say it gets even more fun. The dialog between Billy and the Pastor (Carmine Capobianco who is often a regular in James Balsalmo’s films, e.g., I Spill Your Guts (2012) and Cool as Hell (2013), both also reviewed elsewhere in this blog) had me laughing so hard, I actually had to play it again to hear the parts I missed!

Michael Thurber
Billy and Pastor Johnson head off to bring down Dracula and his minions. They are joined by an exorcising (another well-played short set piece reminiscent of Richard Pryor’s Saturday Night Live spoof from 1975) Latino hardass soul brother Pastor Gibson (Jose Guns Alvez) that could have been a replacement for Shaft. This is where I am going to stop with any kind of story description, because you really need to see this.

Rigidly religious films are not the only model used here. There are a lot of Hammer Films influences, from Thurber’s take on Christopher Lee’s Dracula (who also did not talk much in the heady early Hammer days of the 1950s-‘60s) to the stark primary lighting of red and blue (and some green), which gives it an appropriate ‘80s feel, like something out of Creepshow (1982), or Dario Argento’s canon. Usually the sharper the color, the more intense the action, is how this works, y’see. If you didn’t know that, horror fans, y’need t’do some schoolin’.

Elyssa Baldassarri
On a sociological level, there are many aspects that one could note. For example, there is a lot of playing with sexuality (plenty of sensuality and sex acts here, but no nudity to note). In one instance, there is a mash-up of two separate couples, one straight and one gay, as if to say there is no difference. I like that one could interpret that as both are expressing love, or both are equally sinning (to paraphrase a bumpersticker I once saw, “Oh, Lord, protect me from your interpreters”). In another moment, someone comments on someone who is transgendered, though taking place in the ‘80s, so there is no “populous” word for it. That was a sly addition by Varrati that made my media theory mind perk up. There is actually a lot of justifying of actions through both positive and negative religious followings, which I believe is where this film’s tongue is firmly in cheek, as it were.

Thurber makes a strong-but-silent Dracula. He plays his character with his eyes and mouth a lot, as did Lee, and also subtly uses his hand movements to indicate menace, or acknowledgement (e.g., see the ring? Beeeeware!). One of the thoughts that went through my head is that the center of evil is actually the Theater’s artistic director, a role Thurber possesses in real life. I hope he got as much a kick out of that thought as did I.

There are three extras, all worthwhile. The first is a short, 10-minute fake trailer which is amazing called "They Stole the Pope's Blood" (pssst, you can find it on YouTube, but don't tell anyone). There are also two excellent commentary tracks, one with the director, Richard Griffin, and the writer, Lenny Schwartz, and the other with lead pair Sarah Nicklin and Jamie Dufault, and again, but not least, Griffin. It actually was worth sitting through the film two extra times to hear it, as it's full of interesting anecdotes rather than fluff. A great package altogether.



  1. Robert, I recommend you shell out the couple of bucks for the full release. You won't be disappointed.