Every year, Amazon offers me a trial month of Prime in December, which is awfully nice of them. It makes ordering Christmas presents to the other end of the country much more convenient, and allows me to forget about Christmas shopping until it is too late.
This year, I realised that Prime isn’t just about being sent things faster – it also comes with access to all sorts of films, streaming free from Amazon. Way of the Vampire is one such film. It came up in my recommendations, and idly decided to watch it.
Van Helsing, as expected, fights vampires. He manages to kill Dracula, but another vampire kills his wife in return. Grief-stricken, he makes a deal with God and gains immortality with which to hunt down and eradicate vampires. The film then jumps to the future, as he searches for the vampire who killed his wife.
It’s not a great film. That’s clear from the initial appearance of The Asylum’s logo – they tend to make deeply derivative films, cashing in on trends. Their films are usually awful, but often quite watchable. Seconds later, the film introduces itself as “Bram Stoker’s Way of the Vampire” – I feel there should be a rule about claiming your work as an author’s, when it bears an incredibly small resemblance to the original work. Dracula dies in the first few minutes, and Van Helsing is a young immortal, not an aging Dutchman.
One of the first issues I have with this film, and I have many issues with it, is that the vampires don’t seem to deserve their destruction. In the present day, the vampires are all utterly terrified of Van Helsing – they don’t hunt, they don’t even take donated blood from blood banks. Everything they do and are is curtailed because they are so afraid of him.
Obviously, this changes throughout the film, and they did kill his wife, but they don’t seem to have done anything evil in a century ago. They aren’t hunting people, and he is hunting them – it makes the protagonist seem more monstrous than the monsters do. That could be an interesting twist on the vampire legend, but it isn’t used like that: once you get that initial impression, the film moves on – it isn’t a new take, it’s just a poorly set-up antagonist. It is hard to feel afraid of the monsters you feel quite sorry for.
Additionally, the atmosphere is lessened by having most of the cast from SMBC Theater appear in the film, which is a little odd. SMBC Theater is a comedy sketch group (some of their stuff is quite good, watch it), and I found it hard to adjust to them in serious roles. That’s not fair grounds to criticize the film on, and won’t have any effect on you if you aren’t familiar with the sketches, but I did find it strange.
There are lots of things I could pick out as problems with the film – intermittent faux-Transylvanian accents, clunky dialogue, and so on. But that, given the film’s provenance, budget, and peers, that wouldn’t really be fair. It’s an Asylum film, a low-budget vampire flick, and it should really be judged as those should be judged.
And judging it next to other Asylum films – other rushed, cheap productions, it holds up okay. The script isn’t as bad as some of the others and the acting is, for the script they’re given, reasonably solid. The film tries, at points, for layers of complexity, they’ve thought about the vampire slaying specifics (holy water features more prominently in this than staking and so on, which is a nice variation) – there are hints of quality underneath the roughness. But the flaws in Way of the Vampires drag it all the way down.
The main problem is the lack of money: for the kind of film that Way of the Vampire wants to be, you need decent special effects. Lots of vampiric transformations, superhuman stunts, weaponry and visceral wounds. This film doesn’t have those, and its weaker for it: instead of the gloomy, Gothic atmosphere and shocking, realistic violence, you end up with poorly lit sets and camera angles that just miss all of the violence – someone slashes, but you don’t see it connect because that’s just out of shot. There is no feeling of weight or power to any of the punches and attacks.
Despite this failing, the film revolves around combat and vampire attacks, which I think was a mistake: it highlights the flaw rather than minimizing it. Because it kept breaking, the mechanical shark in Jaws was rarely used; as a result, Jaws is an incredibly creepy and atmospheric film. Way of the Vampire does less well at this – a huge amount of the film is taken up with what is essentially one massive montage – it cuts between the vampires vamping, and the Templar recruits training. Both of those things require much more of a budget than the film had – you need special effects and expensive choreography to avoid making it seem like LARPing.
The training scenes are without a doubt the worst in the film, because they are utterly unconvincing. The initial induction of the recruits into the truth of vampires’ existence has all of the urgency of a coffee-morning, and the “well-trained” section of the montage is more of the same, but the actors are now moving with a little more focus and making more grandiose gestures. Again, there’s little sense of impact. You don’t feel at any point that this is a group capable of taking on the children of the night.
The vampires aren’t much better – I was rather reminded of this Key & Peele sketch while watching the film; this film is what was being satirized. Rather sadly, Key and Peele’s vampires are slightly better done. There’s lots of hissing, lots of open shirts and baring fangs. There isn’t much else – only one vampire has anything of a sense of menace, and that flickers in and out.
The overall impression isn’t bad, nor yet so bad it’s good. The overall impression is just lacking – the film isn’t engaging enough, isn’t pacey enough, is too easy to switch off from. The whole thing feels flat and uninspired.
Way of the Vampire is an ambitious film, without enough to back that up. The budget is too poor for the kind of special effects and polish that make the kind of film it is trying to be (combat-focused, action-heavy) entertaining. As a result, it fails more badly than it really should – flaws and problems are thrown into sharp relief. It isn’t really as bad as lots of similar films, with similar budgets but different styles. I could list films with weaker scripts, poorer acting, more derivative ideas. But in the end, the simple fact is that Way of the Vampire needed far more money and far more polish – without those, it just isn’t good enough to catch and keep watchers’ interest.