Sad, primarily because the last ten minutes of the film are an inspired bit of craziness that, if carried backward through the rest of the thing, would have resulted in a fun, pulpy kind of vampire story I really could recommend and be glad for it. But, unfortunately that isn’t the case and anyone willing to watch the film will be given, by any measure, a goofy mess. Now, I don’t say this lightly considering the film’s director. The man has directed some truly remarkable films in his career (Dracula, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Godfather, Apocalypse Now etc) so I don’t want to downplay that. He is a truly gifted filmmaker and visionary creative person. But with this film, I really don’t know what the process was, how and why it was made the way it was or a host of other questions. Honestly, I just don’t get it, considering his past work.
The film follows Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), a struggling, hack horror writer who is riding on the ever-tattering coattails of his early writing success. Hall finds himself in a small town for a book signing and is introduced to a strange local story of child killings, missing persons and other such things. The opening narration is done by Tom Waits who was great as always as he sets the stage for the film. Kilmer is actually pretty good throughout, at his best when he is allowed to be human and not simply a cardboard cutout with a pulse. This doesn’t happen often, mind you, but was nice to see. Bruce Dern plays an eccentric town sheriff, Bobby LaGrange, who seems very keenly interested in Baltimore’s writings and all too willing to try to co-write a book with the struggling writer. Not soon after, Baltimore experiences the first of many dreams that involve a young girl (played by the solid Elle Fanning), a strange inn at the outskirts of town (tended to by Don Novello of all people, who played Father Guido Sarducci on SNL) and a growing feeling that something might be off about the whole affair.
Now, on its surface, this would be a fine setup for the film and they wouldn’t have needed to go into much more than that. Use the dreams as a jumping off point but fill it all in during waking hours. But instead, the dream stuff becomes the primary focus of much of the action to come, with its strange, soft fuzz feel and herky-jerky transitions from green screened shots to more practical ones. Oh! And did I mention that Hall Baltimore’s ‘spirit guide’ through all of this is Edgar Allan Poe? Not making it up. This some mention of parallels between Poe’s muse and Baltimore’s daughter and, no, no, can’t continue with that. As good of a job as Ben Chaplin does in the role, it is just abject silliness. There is very little one can do not to be slightly amused with Edgar Allan Poe serving as some kind of dream tour guide, or something along those lines. It is just beyond the pale silly and removes any kind of tension you might’ve felt up to that point.
As I mentioned before, there is a bit of gonzo nutsy stuff to be had in the film’s later moments but honestly, its greatness is mired in the mish-mash that leads up to it so you darn near miss it. This happens at a few other moments earlier in the film where I nearly missed some great camera work, a well constructed image or other cool goings on because of my dealing with the onslaught of ‘dream-fuzz’, screwy logic or just plain unfocused thinking. So all in all, it is not a complete failure of a movie, but certainly not one that makes a whole lot of sense and further, doesn’t really deliver on what it should have been. I’d be more disappointed but really, it isn’t offensively bad and I guess just an exercise on the director’s part to work out a dream he’d had on screen for our, ahem, benefit.