As she walks through Times Square, a pale, beautiful young woman in a dramatically elegant black cape, Nadja (Elina Lowensohn) gives new meaning to the idea of New York as the city that never sleeps. A man she meets in a bar asks about her background. "Family money," she tells him in her somber voice. "From Romania." Soon they are making love and he is becoming one of the undead. "Nadja" is Michael Almereyda's droll and stylish vampire movie, an enjoyable black-and-white fantasy that transplants Dracula's family to contemporary New York and allows them to run across Van Helsing and his own extended family.
Nadja has a vision of her father, the Count, dying. Soon an ordinary young man named Jim (Martin Donovan) is informed by his wife, Lucy (Galaxy Craze), that he has to bail his uncle out of jail. The uncle, Professor Van Helsing, has been arrested for murdering a man by putting a stake through his heart. Van Helsing is played by Peter Fonda in a comic performance that towers over the film. His hair flows below his shoulders; he wears tweedy jackets. When he wheels his bicycle into a hallway, bicycle clips attached to his trousers, he has come a long way from "Easy Rider." Van Helsing knows that vampire hunting isn't what it used to be, and neither is Dracula. "He was like Elvis in the end," he tells Jim. "The magic was gone."
While Jim is dealing with his uncle, Nadja is seducing Lucy, leaving her halfway on the road to being undead herself. And the family connections become even more tangled when Nadja finds her twin brother, whose nurse (Suzy Amis) is no stranger to the Van Helsings.
Mr. Almereyda, whose feature "Twister" was an underrated, barely released story of another eccentric family, always gives his films an intriguing look. "Nadja," which opens today at the Angelika Film Center, has luminous photography and includes sections filmed with a toy Pixelvision camera, which allows the grainy dots to show. The Pixelvision sequences, used sparingly for those emotional vampire moments, at times approach the abstract imagery of experimental videos. They enhance the film's eeriness.
But as in "Twister" and his Pixelvision short "Another Girl, Another Planet," Mr. Almereyda's style finally overwhelms his material, and he loses the story's coherence. When both families travel to Carpathia, the journey is confusing and Carpathia looks too much like upstate New York. (Joke or not, it destroys the film's illusion.) At times "Nadja" gets too cute, as it does when the heroine and her brother insist they can send each other psychic faxes.
But it is refreshing to see so much style and life in the old undead tale, and to watch this strong cast with its perfect deadpan attitudes. Ms. Lowensohn (best known from Hal Hartley's "Amateur" and a small but powerful role as the engineer shot by the Nazis in "Schindler's List") is a drop-dead, prima donna vampire. Mr. Donovan (also a veteran of "Amateur" and other Hartley films) is the ideal vampire's foil. And there must be directors besides Mr. Almereyda who know what to do with Peter Fonda, the film's happiest surprise. David Lynch, the film's executive producer, turns up in a cameo as a guard at the morgue where Nadja claims her father's body. His presence says a lot about the style of "Nadja," which may not be totally original but is bizarrely winning.