A creature of two worlds, the Dampyr is born under a full moon above stormy clouds even as its human mother breathes her last, the three witches chanting around her bloody bed throwing up a mystical barrier to protect the infant who would otherwise be killed immediately by its vampire father, the child a half-breed abomination whose blood is deadly to all of his father’s race but who will survive to adulthood as one half of a con-artist duo.
Trading on the superstition of local peasants in the Balkans, Harlan Draka and his business partner Yuri use the reputation of the Dampyr to cleanse graveyards and villages and claim reward, but with mercenary Emil Kurjak and his men engaged in a war with real vampires led by Gorka, Lord of the Night, his lieutenant who is familiar with the legends believes he knows where they can find a weapon with which to fight back against the darkness.
Based on the comic book series of the same name created by Mauro Boselli and Maurizio Colombo, the former also contributing to the screenplay of the film adaptation, Dampyr is the feature debut of director Riccardo Chemello, starring Foundation’s Wade Briggs as Draka and Rebel Moon’s Stuart Martin as Kurjak with The Witcher’s Frida Gustavsson as Tesla, a vampire whose hatred of Gorka leads her to side with the mortals against her master.
Filmed in Romania and set in 1992, the war forming a backdrop in which bodies line the streets and fill the churches of the ruined village, that they are all drained of blood only apparent on closer inspection, the scenery and locations add huge production value but the premise feels exploitative, diminishing those events without acknowledging the reality of it, and reliant on over-the-top digital effects the end result is garish and tacky, more intent on spectacle than story.
Aiming for cool but lacking style or panache to carry it, the mythology is heavy-handed as it is spelled out, Draka finding the power of his birthright in a by-the-numbers “chosen one” narrative where his sidekick is a whiny rodent of a man and his nemesis played by David Morrissey spends more time sulking on his throne behind a black wig than being threatening, the lead trio working their hardest but given insubstantial material and Martin in particular unfairly hampered by an accent out of Sesame Street.
Taking its cues more from the abomination of Van Helsing than Night Watch, the Underworld sequence presented Eastern European Gothic more effectively, Dampyr feeling less like something original or even a clever reworking of ideas and myths than a mashup of others people’s ideas haphazardly stitched together and thrown on screen, optimistically setting itself up for a sequel in its final scenes when it struggles to find sufficient material to hold attention in a first excursion.
Dampyr is available on digital download now