Frequently prominent in Bryan Enk’s Blood Daughter are two framed photographs, one showing a group of four men, the other a woman. These are in fact images of principal characters from two films that Enk made back to back as a college student: Dracula (1993) and Dracula Returns (1994). Both shot cheaply on VHS (!) in and around the campus of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, these were amateur reinterpretations of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, marking the beginnings of Enk’s filmmaking career. They also left their legacy – for over the years, Enk has continued to take up Stoker’s ideas with short films like Mina Seward (2001), The Curious Case of R.M. Renfield (2006) and The Final Voyage of the Good Ship Demeter (2012), and in his latest feature, the ‘blood daughter’ of the title is played by Alexandria Johnson, who was born during the production of those first two films, and who now appears as an adult alongside her father Chuck Johnson, himself reprising the rôle of Van Helsing some three decades after he first played it.
In other words, Blood Daughter is Enk’s earlier Dracula films revisited, reunited, reimagined, refracted, sequelised, abstractualised and updated – looking back to Enk’s incunabula (and back further to those works’ literary origins), while also tracing the postmodern fallout from so much intervening time, where Jonathan Harker (James Aaron Tecumseh Sinclair), now working in a law firm together with other survivors from the earlier films, repeatedly hires women who resemble his late beloved Mina (the woman in the photograph), while Dracula (Jeff Miller) keeps his and Mina’s daughter Abby (Alexandria Johnson) in a tower as a physical reminder of the love that he once had, and longs one day to have again. These characters’ obsessive endeavours to recreate a lost past, set alongside other repetitions (recurring dialogue, nightmarishly looping scenes, multiple fathers seeking daughters), all reflect the film’s own backward-looking fixations and echoic attempts at reinvention, as it unfolds yet another version of a tale that has been told time and time again. Even those who crave escape from these eternal, infernal returns find themselves trapped in their prescribed rôles, merely rehearsing what has already gone many times before.
At the centre of all this is Abby herself. If Harker regularly hears – and we with him – a confidant in his head who improbably sounds like a stoner dude and is emphatically just the one voice, Abby’s imaginary interlocutors, all played by the versatile Johnson, are legion, and seen as well as heard. These include her annoying brother Abraham, and the four men in the photograph from a bygone generation (several of whom, like Harker, appear here as older characters), and a second Abby. Meanwhile the young men and women brought from the ‘village’ to Abby in the Tower also imagine themselves to be Abby. Abby even at one point engages in conversation with ‘Alexandria Johnson’, the actress on the set of Blood Daughter. Lonely and lost in her own company, at odds with herself, and an involuntary heiress to a predatory situation that she finds entirely estranging, Abby is a self-consuming character, feeding on her own fantasy, delusion and trauma. Her dissociated identity represents an extreme example of a condition that afflicts all the film’s Pirandello-esque players, desperate to change the script, to stop lip-synching to someone else’s tune, and to have their own agency in a scenario that seems written by some other, evidently malign ‘Master’. Everyone here – Dracula included – is caught in an enchantment, and in need of light to dispel the dark shadows of their own inherited mythology. Yet even the salvationist sunrise, when it comes, is just another recognisable part of the old story, dawning once more as it always does at the end of Dracula.
Mannered and morbid, fractured and freaky, serious and silly, Blood Daughter is a low-budget gonzo experiment, interweaving monochrome with colour, schizophrenic dialogue with song-and-dance numbers, and past footage with present. It offers up the familiar myth of Dracula as a text rife for deconstruction, and reality itself as a mere intertext, or perhaps metatext. Here, story devours story and madness reigns. Yet for all its enslavement to Stoker’s work and to Enk’s own filmography (snippets of which intrude, like fragmentary memories, upon the narrative), there is really nothing else out there quite like this, except maybe the delirious DIY dreamscapes of Joe Badon. For this take on the most generic of materials is truly sui generis.
strap: Bryan Enk’s postmodern take on the Dracula myth (and on his own past filmography) is full of lost love and loneliness
© Anton Bitel