To the best of my knowledge, writer/director Tomaz Gorkic’s The Curse of Dracula (a.k.a. The Curse of Valburga) is the first Slovenian horror film I’ve seen, which is always a fun checklist item to note, especially when the film delivers a satisfying ride. The Curse of Dracula succeeds enough to unquestionably deliver such a ride, with interesting enough characters portrayed well through a set up that offers enough questions to keep the audience guessing what kind of story the film is actually telling.
We open the film witnessing a darkly surreal bit of ritual magic being performed, followed by a title sequence that delivers us to a tavern in the capital city of Ljubljana, where a pair of small time crooks, brothers Bojan (Jurij Drevensek) and Marjan (Marko Mandic) hatch a scheme to offer tours of Valburga manor to an increasingly hungry tourist market. Being both the subject of internet forum ballyhoo for it’s relationship to Count Dracula (it’s founder of yore allegedly a cruel and cannibalistic cousin to the archfiend) as well as notorious for housing a post World War II mental asylum, closed following the mysterious disappearance of all of it’s staff and patients, the pulse of the film is set around the manor and how it may pose a danger to this inaugural tour of interlopers.
Along with including a seemingly Hatchet inspired group of internet pornographers, there’s a trio of naive young goth “vampire hunters,” a group of hardened killers looking to summon a demon at the behest of a Swedish mystic, and a late-middle age German couple who revel in the ensuing chaos with drunken delight. The character groups are an interesting divergence from classic tropes, and their design and portrayal work in service of the mystery of the mansion, and how legend meets reality in the lethal abode.
The nature of the film’s murderous adversaries, an extant population of Nazi eating cannibals, slowly reveal themselves in appearance, history, and motive by way of bloody kills and ghastly tableaus that the film continues to unveil until the very end. The third act was particularly satisfying to me, as the I felt rewarded for following the breadcrumbs laid out along the way.
Let me take a moment here to address who I think may be decidedly dissatisfied with the film, and that’s those who go into the story expecting a pay off on the title. There is no Dracula. In fact, aside from a punctuation sequence at the end, there is no vampire. The Curse part is even a bit debatable. While the attention grabbing motive of the title is understandable (and in some ways plays to the obfuscation of the competing rumors laid out in the first act,) I suspect a contingent of vampire loving fans will potentially find themselves feeling misled. Aside from this potentially glaring issue, I would have liked to have seen a touch more budget to allow for some establishing shots of the countryside around Ljubljana to help those of us far away from the locale to get a better feel for the environment, as well as to shore up one or two of the death scenes (there’s a mechanical device involving sawblades that, while a bit silly as presented, is certainly memorable and possessed of some untapped potential) but to me, these qualms proved minor, and I enjoyed myself quite a bit throughout this film.
I’m interested in seeing Gorkic’s next foray into the genre, be it an original tale or a sequel. The resolution certainly provides for an opportunity to make good on the title with continued exploration, and I’m interested enough in this inaugural effort to be curious where he goes next and if he begins to develop a signature style. With a little more budget and some tighter focus, I can imagine something closer to greatness from this director, but as it stands The Curse of Dracula is a good, fun horror film that’s well worth seeing, and and interesting early entry into the annals of Slovenian horror, a fact for which everyone involved can be proud.
DANSE MACABRE and MVD Entertainment are pleased to announce the US and Canada release of award winning horror THE CURSE OF DRACULA which will be available on DVD and VOD from April 5th 2022.
- Shawn Parks, The Curse of Dracula