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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dracula A.D. 2015 (2015)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Xander Pretorius, Bessie Nellis, Kat Kennedy, Jeremy Kreuzer
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

A teacher at Pace University in New York City succeeds in bringing about the reincarnation of Dracula, but one of the university's professors is well versed in combatting vampires.

Hammer horror films are among the favorite productions of Joshua Kennedy, and he pays homage to them in this clever amalgam of moments from all of Hammer's Dracula films, united in a screenplay restaging them on his own university campus, with Kennedy playing the vampire hunter after Pretorius' Dracula.

The story from one of Hammer's last Dracula movies, Dracula A.D. 1972, provides the primary outline for Kennedy's film, smartly adapted to fit the college setting and scenes in which modern conveniences like cellphones and online chatrooms help drive the story forward.  Kennedy uses the main title theme from that film to set the stage, and was able to utilize one of its actresses, Caroline Munro, who has a vocal cameo and therefore ties the two movies together.  Although Kennedy's vampire hunter, Terence Fordyce, is a new character not appearing in the earlier film, he's clearly modeled after Peter Cushing who played two different generations of Van Helsing opposing Christopher Lee's Dracula,  who is the clear template for Pretorius' performance.  Pretorius doesn't exactly replicate the great Christopher Lee, but he does show glimmers of Lee in his icy stares and nuzzling of Dracula's victims before he bares his fangs.

Josh's friends and classmates provide color to the supporting cast, with Kat Kennedy playing the confused and frightened Jennifer, (Dracula's primary target), Cody Alvord portraying her fun-loving but faithful boyfriend, Jeremy Kreuzer bringing to life a version of Renfield harkening back to the original Bela Lugosi film, and Hannah Rose Ammon, Madelyn Wiley, and Claire Daniels adding the right touches as victims who succumb to the vampire's bite with relish.  However, standing out among them is Bessie Nellis, in one of her best performances for Kennedy, as the teacher who brings Dracula to the university, and ends up becoming a vampire herself.  Although Nellis' role is based on Christopher Neame's in Dracula A.D. 1972, she makes it her own with a compelling creepy gaze and a grim voice that unsettles her friends and the audience.

While Kennedy's adaptation of Dracula A.D. 1972 provides his narrative thrust here, it's far from the only film referenced.  Scenes from Horror Of Dracula and Brides of Dracula fuel Kennedy's confrontations with Pretorius, while dialogue from the other Hammer productions permeate the screenplay, and selections from many of their scores layer the soundtrack.  The athletic pursuit of the fleeing Dracula by Peter Cushing in those films inspires dynamic scenes where Kennedy rushes through New York streets, leading to a memorable conflict aboard a subway train.  I'm sure it would be entertaining to hear how Kennedy requested permission from the proper authorities and explained what he would be shooting for this sequence.

Horror Of Dracula of course also provides the framework for the film's finale, in which Kennedy and his crew recreate that movie's denouement with homegrown special effects that are very reminiscent of the originals.  The effects throughout the film are staged that way with smoke and flying dust and fades recapturing that Hammer feel, while Kennedy and Pretorius match Cushing and Lee's expressions and reactions, to create a thrilling tribute to one of the studio's most memorable climaxes.

While I enjoy all of Kennedy's productions, I have to say this is my favorite of the bunch, as Josh's love of the subject matter is more than evident not only in the look of the film and its staging but in his vibrant performance, in which he gets to play hero against one of cinema's greatest villains.  He's not Peter Cushing and can't bring the exact same gravitas and weight to the lines he quotes from that great actor's dialogue, but he does a fine job in capturing the nobility of Cushing, and representing to the audience those classic moments that we all love to relive.  The film itself is one of his most exciting productions, with suspenseful stalkings, action-packed chases, and some fun original humor as well.  Although the Hammer films inspired the the highlights of this picture, their packaging into such an entertaining product is perhaps Kennedy's greatest triumph.

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