It's 'Nosferatu' meets 'The Red Shoes' in the new DVD, Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary. This is a fresh and surreally beautiful balletic interpretation of Bram Stoker's immortal novel, like nothing I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot of Dracula movies!).
Directed by Guy Maddin and partially based on the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's stage production of Dracula, this film (which originally aired on Canadian TV and made the film festival circuit) owes a lot to silent cinema and Victorian literature. Running at 75 minutes, Pages From a Virgin's Diary is not, thankfully, one of those static exercises filmed onstage (ala Nureyev's Romeo & Juliet, or Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd). The camera moves freely and cinematically, and Maddin's use of color, contour, and contrast create a dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere.
This is one of the more faithful adaptations of Stoker's work: Playing on the typical English Victorian's anxiety of strangers, of women's sexuality, and of the Godless, Maddin brings all of those fears to fore while still telling a great horror story.
First, we meet the elegant and playful Miss Lucy Westenra (Tara Birtwhistle) as she chooses between three hopeful suitors. Enter the dark and mysterious Count Dracula (Wei-Qiang Zhang) who's recently come to England, and meet his faithful, incarcerated servant, Renfield (Brent Neale). Lucy is bitten, and vampire killer Van Helsing (David Moroni) comes into the picture, then it's off to Transylvania and into the story of Mina (CindyMarie Small) and Jonathan (Johnny Wright).
The costumes, sets, dancing and expressions all tell the story in an effective way, and while the film is mostly in shades of black and white, key elements - such as blood and money - are emphasized with the selective use of color. It's sort of a revival and a modernization of the silent film; while Pages From a Virgin's Diary is certainly an homage to previous Dracula films, it brings refreshing and exciting dimensions to the immortal character - and his elegance certainly does lend itself to the balletic interpretation of the tale.
Zhang, who was one of the actors that portrayed Dracula in the stage production, is certainly an inspired choice -- the Asian usurper intimately touching and dancing with the pale English rose helps enhance the theme of fear of the unknown. Exuding a heated sensuality tempered with menacing coldness, he dances and seduces while shrouded in fog and concealed in long, black shadows. When he turns his cape it flashes red, then black again as his bat shadow flies over Lucy's bed. When he bites Lucy, it's with a real hunger: Zhang gives the long-in-the-tooth character a much-needed blood transfusion.
Birtwhistle, while maybe not physical type I'd have in mind for the role of Lucy, is definitely one of the standouts in the cast as she's able to act, tell a story, and dance with breath-taking beauty all at once. Another real standout is Moroni as a gleefully murderous Van Helsing who unhesitating lops off heads and hunts Dracula with a scary single-mindedness.
Blended seamlessly with Victorian beauty, Gothic darkness, and silent-era etherealism, is stark German Expressionism: gargoyles and angels of death dance around Lucy as she succumbs to Dracula's deadly charms and it's pure eye candy without one whit of CGI. Deanne Rohde's production design is mostly spare, but brilliantly effective with its occasional dazzling flourishes. The music also helps set the mood as the eerie, haunting strains of Mahler's 1st and 2nd Symphonies envelop the players in dreamlike notes.
It's wonderful to revisit an old favorite in a completely new way: I heartily recommend Pages From A Virgin's Diary to any horror fan who wants to get swept off their feet.
Review by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com