Vampire films have always had a strong sexual undercurrent–Christopher Lee brought it to the fore especially well in his Hammer “Dracula” series–but it’s rarely been made so explicit as it is in “Eternal.” Like most of the shlock one expects to encounter on a premium cable channel late at night this oddball mixture of bloodsucking horror and soft-core porn is both objectively terrible and perversely fascinating. But while it might be suitable for insomniacs, everybody else who watches it through will feel very guilty for having done so afterwards.
The script by co-producers and directors Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez is based on the figure of Elisabeth, or Erszebet, Bathory-Nadasdy (who was also the loose inspiration for the Hammer flick “Countess Dracula” from 1971). She was a Hungarian noblewoman who lived from 1560 to 1614 and is said to have literally bathed in the blood of girls in order to maintain her own youth and vitality. Liebenberg and Sanchez have done a Stoker on this distaff version of Vlad the Impaler, transforming her into Elisabeth Kane (Caroline Neron), a centuries-old being who’s set up house in a remote mansion in contemporary Montreal just as Count Dracula did at the ruins of Carfax Abbey in London. With the aid of her own Renfield substitute, a snarling wench named Irina (Victoria Sanchez) who wants to follow in her mistress’ bloody footsteps, Bathory-Kane uses an internet site to lure young women desiring sexual experimentation to her, and then does a “Martin” (thank you, George Romero) by using what looks like a big silver thimble to puncture the victims’ throat so she can drink, or bathe in, their blood. (Irina, meanwhile, just goes out and dispatches young male victims the way poor Renfield once swallowed flies.) Unfortunately, Elisabeth makes the mistake of feasting on the disaffected, and psychologically frail, wife of a police detective, a standard-issue rebel named–undoubtedly with the pun intended–Ray Pope (bald, smirking, trenchcoat-wearing, hot-car-driving Conrad Pla), who then comes looking for her spouse. His brusque determination to find out what happened leads Elisabeth to frame him for a couple of murders–of the wife of his partner, with whom he’d been having an affair, and of the infatuated young woman who’s been babysitting his son. But Ray escapes his colleagues and, with the help of a mysterious Italian, tracks her down to Venice, where a final confrontation occurs just as Elisabeth prepares a mega-bath in the blood of seven or eight women in the midst of an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style orgy.
This is hardly cerebral stuff, and it’s not helped by acting that doesn’t rise above amateur level, with Pla preening ostentatiously, Neron laying on the seductive bit ineffectually (it doesn’t help that her voice is so flat and characterless), and almost everyone else, especially Sanchez, chewing up the scenery without the slightest hint of shame. (The major exception is Liane Balaban, as the babysitter, whose death scene generates some real suspense, even if it recalls too obviously Arbogast’s demise in “Psycho.”) On the other hand, the directors, with an advertising background, and their crew–production designers Perri Gorrara, art directors Massimo Antonello Geleng and Marina Pinzuti, and set decorator Susan C. MacQuarrie–have put what must have been a modest budget to good use in fashioning faux opulent backgrounds and a gaudy atmosphere for the ludicrous goings-on. And, of course, the gore–restrained by today’s standards–is conjoined to plenty of moodily-photographed sexual activity, of both the woman-on-woman and man-on-woman varieties.
Contrary to its title, “Eternal” won’t be around long in the few theatres where it’s books. It might become a guilty pleasure for some on DVD, though.