Joy-Lyn's Key to the Castle (everyone has one):
First, I'd like to say this series really did have a lot going for it. It's a shame there wasn't a second season.
I would like to add that Christopher Dedrick, the guy responsible for the music, really should have re-thought that opening theme song... at the very least those painful "Drac-Drac-Drac-Drac-Dracula!" vocals.
Anyway... the pilot episode!! Children of the Night!
The first episode highlights Max at his absolute MOST annoying. His character does improve from here, so bear with him for this episode. They arrive in the as-mentioned-already vague town somewhere in "Europe". There are so many obvious plot devices going already (but then, it's only a half hour show... gotta get right to it). Max is already talking about vampires... and eating poppy seeds. Not the most common of pre-teen American snack foods. Not even for the most health conscious of youths today.
Chris, who in most episodes is my least favorite character in general... actually does okay in the pilot. He's the typical uprooted American kid who has to keep an eye out for his little brother. Who he alternately wants to strangle, and protect like crazy.
Gustav Helsing comes across as more emotionally "healthy" in the pilot. As opposed to the tormented and bereft father that has the occasionally brightened life here and there, who becomes more familiar to us in later episodes. Both aspects of the character work alright, and manage to complement each other in this alternately campy and scary world of DTS.
Sophie starts the pilot as a very sophisticated young adult (possibly in college), who seems to spiral down into a shrieking teenage high schoolish girl by the end of the show. She comes off as the token love interest for Chris. Uninteresting and unoriginal.
As for the sets, I liked the original Gustav home from the pilot more than the externally sterile abode in the rest of the series. The embassy was quite barren. They would have done better to go for quality surroundings as opposed to cavernous size. On that note, why is Chris wearing a bolo tie? That's more of a southwestern look that wouldn't have been "in" dress up wear for an East Coast Philadelphia teenage boy. Especially for an electric guitar playing band wannabe which he dabbles with in later episodes.
Okaaaay! I know! I haven't talked about Lucard yet!!! His mortal guise is hot and sexy! The passionate glance he gives the poppy seeds on his office floor is positively mouth watering (even if his next act is more like something you'd expect at a dog kennel). His vamping out in the pilot clearly needs work. A lot of work. Obvious difficulty with the fangs going on there.
And the Milli Vanilli line, though dated, sets the tone for Lucard's quirky and endearing sarcastic humor for the rest of the series.
And here we go with some more age confusion regarding Sophie. Teen? Or young adult? Your point of view on that effects the appropriateness of Lucard's hands-on appreciation for Sophie's skin. If she's a teen? Ewwwww creepy. If she's a young adult? Oooh Lucard likes! Hubba hubba!
And... perhaps it's a result of not being Catholic... just how easy is it to get hold of holy water anyway? Is that a common item in a ten year old's backpack? Stores it right next to his Pokemon playing cards, right? His carrying a crucifix "just in case" would have made more sense; though we would have missed out on watching Lucard steam afterwards (gee... what an FX loss that would have been).
They had to do some serious waffling with the understood nature of the literary Dracula. We see a bare hint of it in the pilot that we do not see again. The literary Dracula kept female vampires in his home. But as this TV show is intended for family viewing, only in the pilot does a seeming "live-in" female vampire appear. And she dies quickly enough after she does probably the most corpse-like "vamp out" anyone sees in the entire series. It's really bad makeup.
And Gustav's amazing ESP! Wow! He was able to accurately translate Max's desperate "HELP!" on the answering machine as: "The kids are at Lucard's castle... and he's the vampire Dracula I lost track of several years ago!" Instead of: "My young, new-to-Europe relations just got arrested for buying stuff from gypsies."
I'm glad to say following episodes improved. "Children of the Night" is a rough watch otherwise, and likely hopeless in regard to catching the interest of the viewing public.
"A Couple of Points..." from Lacey M.:
Let's hear it for the Platinum Disc Corporation! The DVD set arrived just in time for my blurry VHS tapes to literally stop working.
To this day I am surprised that Dracula: the Series was ever picked up, given the strength of the pilot. The special effects that we all came to know and love were virtually nonexistent. The characters that we love, and love to hate, were boring--except Lucard.
As for the ambiguous family connection, I always figured that Gustav was Chris and Max's great uncle. Then they would automatically address him as "uncle," and his being a sibling of a grandparent would be implied. It worked for me because then Eileen or one of Eileen's parents had the last name of Helsing.
Sophie's relationship to Gustav is far more strange to me. If Joy-Lyn guessed correctly, then Sophie is the first college girl (real or imagined) that I've ever heard of showing interest in a sixteen year-old boy. And Gustav lies about the fact that she "stays here when she goes to school."
The show takes place during the summer. She's running around playing soccer with Chris and Max (and other neighborhood kids are alluded to, "Miss Fair Play here tells the ref it was off-side..."), and playing in a "youth orchestra." The whereabouts of her parents are never mentioned.
Why is Sophie living in Gustav's house? After she attacks her teacher, he immediately recognizes the local woman (who was out walking after sunset, tsk tsk) as Sophie's history teacher from two years previous. Sophie has apparently been there for a while, and he is just that familiar with her schooling.
Granted, they make her a bit of a pill throughout the season, but Chris and Max are no prizes either. Max runs away in "Children of the Night." Chris is incapable of looking after him. Does Gustav offer to take in the "problem" kids of his relatives? Is he trying to make up for some failure with Klaus?
"Before he created this latest identity as Alexander Lucard..." The plot hole that always has me shrugging is how Gustav managed to wind up living in the same city as the Lucard Industries HQ, and the same area as the castle.
Sophie's grown up there, presumably in Gustav's care. Gustav has a local brother, Wilhelm, whom we never see. And the family crypt is in town. At one point later on in the season Gustav tells the kids he's going over to Wilhelm's to celebrate his birthday ("It'll be schnitzel till dawn!"), so he can't be that far.
Dracula must know, either through spies or Klaus or both, that at least one Helsing is a permanent resident in the area. Did he just show up a few months before the pilot and sign the deed to the castle? Did he move there specifically to torment Gustav? It would explain why his company is headquartered in such an ugly office building. Tell me you don't expect something with more panache from Lucard.
Lucard is really the only on-point character in the episode. The Milli Vanilli line, the bulky cell phone, the relatively big hair and dated clothing on mortals all serve the purpose: to give the viewing audience a little bit of reality in the face of absurdity. It anchored the show with enough pop culture to give it a believable feel. Joss Whedon must have seen this series.
Certainly Max having holy water handy in his backpack is absurd. I do give credit that Max is an abnormally-freaky child, but that's just weird. But Gustav being supplied directly by the parish priest makes sense to me (especially if his family's been local for generations). The Catholic grave digger in the second episode recognizes his name.
The Townsends are not Catholic. At least Eileen and her sons are not observant ones. Max later calls Catholic priests "ministers" and "pastors," terms that I am given to understand are major faux pas. And crosses everywhere later aside, at no point do any of the four heroes go into a church of any kind.
"Maybe he's Jewish." It's really a pity that Bedard and Lalonde didn't invent their Deus ex machina, the Cross of the Magyars, in time for the pilot. They could've taken the literary Dracula road, as Whedon did, and gone with where-humans-live-invite-only. It would have been so easy. But then there would have been no blue lightning.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking at where this story went, and where it could have gone, the pilot is a terrible introduction. Whenever I show this cult series to friends, I never start with "Children of the Night." I take a minute to explain the plot, and hit play on the second episode.
Why am I still showing this series to people? How did it develop such a persistent cottage fandom? Why are we all still thinking about it sixteen years later?
A friend put it best after seeing "Van Helsing" at the movies: "I was spoiled by Lucard."
Key to the Castle / Lucard's Home Page / firstname.lastname@example.org