Directed by Jeno Hodi
Germany-Hungary-United Kingdom-Austria/2007-105 Minutes/Full Screen
Review by Heather Drain

Countess Bathory, a name that has inspired immense fear, revulsion, curiosity, band names and one really killer song by black metal legends Venom. She was a member of Hungarian royalty who was rumored to have tortured and murdered hundreds of young girls. But it was the story of her bathing in their blood to remain youthful looking that has captured the minds of many an artist and vampire enthusiast alike. The pale bloody hand of this historical figure has most recently inspired the European production METAMORPHOSIS, a 2007 effort that puts an ever so slightly new twist on an old legend.METAMORPHOSIS

After a nicely done gilded title sequence, the film opens up in Hungary 1610 where a steely-eyed Elizabeth Bathory (Adel Kovats) and her little girl of the same name are captured by a gang led by a burly man named Palatine Thurzo (Gabor Concz). The Countess is taken to be imprisoned in a tower adjoined to her own castle, but we're never told what happens to her daughter by the time things quickly switch to Present Day Hungary.

A daytime funeral complete with Catholic death passage rites is interrupted by one Constantine Thurzo (Christopher Lambert). Turns out the deceased is his brother, who was supposed to be shipped to Thurzo's castle. For his troubles, not only do they refuse to hand him the body but then stake his brother's corpse for good measure. And I thought the funerals I've been to were over dramatic!

Meanwhile in the same country, a trio of moderately annoying American college students drives around the countryside. There's Keith (Corey Sevier), the hero who naturally seems to have the highest IQ out of the three. Then there's JJ (Charlie Hollway) and Kim (Jennifer Higham), who are tagging along for funsies while their friend researches the history of Countess Bathory. Personally, I would pick bloodthirsty Hungarians over Vegas, too. Oh yes, JJ and Kim are a couple, despite the fact that JJ has a case of what I like to call “Penile Retardation,” meaning he is slightly retarded, which is partially related to him thinking with little JJ consistently. Kim seems to find it funny and is at least a smart ass, which makes her more likable than her beau.

Anyways, night falls and Constantine is digging up his brother's body by moonlight while upset owls are hooting it up. Work with me here. He finishes the job and gets attacked by something inside his car. This is why digging up stake impaled bodies at night is a bad idea. But maybe not for the reasons you think. Right after angry French man becomes someone's lunch, our intrepid protagonists end up in the same cemetery, because taking short cuts in a foreign land through graveyards is a good idea. It is there that they meet a beautiful woman named Elizabeth (Irena A. Hoffman) who happens to know a lot about the great Countess and whose mere presence makes crosses shake. She's totally not a vampire, right? Elizabeth helps them find solace in a monastery, where she and Keith quickly bond. In bed. Naked. Unsurprisingly, we find out she's...dun dun dun...a vampire! But a nice one, because she doesn't vamp him. Where's Count Yorga when you need him?

One of their biggest ties together is sympathy for the Countess, which is a pretty novel thread to the small but notable Bathory film sub-genre. JJ, of course, handles their alone time with great grace and aplomb, by ceremoniously imploring, “Dude, did you score?” Keep in mind this is also after he interrupted a chapel funeral to ask the Priest a question. Yes, JJ needs to become vampire chowder and he needs to do it fast. Face it, Darwin was right.

They end up tagging along with a different priest, a nun, a scummy Russian biker and his pretty German girlfriend. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has disappeared. She only leaves Keith with a message about going to the white light when he sees it. They get attacked by some wolves that quickly get scared away, and the travelers end up at the Countess's original castle. People start getting picked off one by one as (minor spoiler alert that could be seen a mile away) Constantine has returned with some minor changes. First of all, he has a greasy Seagal-ponytail and secondly he's a member of the undead! Even worse, he is prone to cracking really bad, sub-Freddy one-liners as he continues his evil deeds. It is only a matter of time before a battle of the undead will unleash between Constantine and Elizabeth. Somehow it makes me wish that the Queen song from FLASH GORDON could be used, but then again I feel like every epic battle should feature that song.

METAMORPHOSIS is a return to the gothic vampire movie, though admittedly that brand of cinema never really died. Much like Monty Python's parrot, it was only resting. With the success of glittery vamps and Southern legions that at least have fangs, this band of supernatural creature is making a huge comeback. It's a three year old film but is still new enough to the market that having a movie set in the heartland of vampiric lore, Eastern Europe, is kind of nice. It's a gorgeous region of the world that is used to great benefit here. If I was an independent filmmaker wanting to make a Gothic horror film, I would beg, plead and try to engineer a way to shoot it in Eastern Europe. Gorgeous land and the weight of history are great ingredients for any old school horror film. The scenery and the cinematography are all aces here as well.

The acting is not bad, with Sevier, who is reminiscent of a young Zach Galligan, making Keith a likable hero and Hollway and Higham (sounds like a good law firm!) giving a nice college try with their very limited characters. Hoffman is appropriately beautiful and does a good job with what basically amounts to a “sexy vamp with a heart of gold” role. But it is Lambert who steals the show. It's like he knew how cornball the dialogue and plot were, said screw it and decided to just have fun. Though why on Earth they thought it was a good decision to dress him up like Steven Seagal, complete with vaguely Asian clothing and the aforementioned grease ball ponytail from Hell, is beyond me. Not even close to looking vampiric, though some would agree that Seagal is pretty scary. Lambert, being the formidable man that he is, still manages to work past the ham hock look and stand out.

Perhaps the biggest struggle within the movie is the ambition versus actual script. There are some good ideas and the whole approach of having Countess Bathory being a sympathetic but secondary character is fascinating. But aside from Keith and to a lesser degree Elizabeth the daughter, everyone else is a total caricature, especially when you add in the occasionally weak dialogue. That alone would be fine if the direction was outright camp but it's not, so you got some creative discord going on here. It is possible to do both. There are loads of great horror movies that have their cheesy side. Like anything else in life, it's all about balance. We won't even go into the random and pointless ending either.

The other problem, though a minor one, is the title itself. When you think of the word “metamorphosis,” the first thing that comes to mind is Franz Kafka's classic piece of literary weirdness where the protagonist turns into an insect. Literally. But on top of that, there's nothing in the film that epically fits the title. Sure, there are characters that transform into vampires, but it still seems like a bit of reach. This is a film that wears its vampire sub-genre proudly on its velveteen sleeve, so why not have a title that screams it?

Since my copy was a screener, there were no extras, but there was some nice, classic horror artwork on the disc itself. The film is a mixed bag with some interesting ideas, fantastic scenery, earnest actors and Christopher Lambert looking like Dracula's and Steven Seagal's bastard Franco-phonic son. One could do way worse when it comes to vampire films.