The plot has all the classic elements of a horror thriller film: a vampire who turns into a vulture; a sexy, auburn-haired horse rider who becomes his prey; a screeching score; and blood.
But "The Vulture's Eye," based on Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula," is about more than just blood and guts or obvious scare tactics. The new movie -- written, produced and directed by Purcellville resident Frank Sciurba -- relies on unseen terrors, Hitchcock-style tensions and spooky landscapes.
The homespun production is set somewhere in hunt country, where a vampire masquerading as a horse trainer wreaks havoc on a group of friends vacationing at an estate. It debuts Saturday at the newly refurbished Tally Ho Theatre in Leesburg, a fitting setting for a film shot last year in Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties, including scenes at Napolean's restaurant in Warrenton and Mosby's Tavern in Middleburg.
The film uses real places and people as much as possible, rather than extravagant sets, special effects and stagey dialogue, a practice Sciurba said he has used in his art since his days as a freelance photographer in New York City during the 1970s and '80s.
"I like to deal with personalities and psychological situations . . . and that's one thing about the film that makes it different. It's unpredictable," Sciurba, 54, said from his renovated log cabin home. "In the movie, we hear about the scary things more than seeing them. It's an artistic challenge."
Sciurba's movie will play only one night at the Tally Ho -- audiences are encouraged to wear costumes -- before he launches a promotional campaign to get it into film festivals across the country. "The Vulture's Eye" is the third movie with local connections to be screened at the venerable theater since it reopened Sept. 20, following "Crazy Like a Fox," by Purcellville director Richard Squires, and "A Shot at Glory," produced by actor Robert Duvall of The Plains.
"The Vulture's Eye" was produced on a shoestring budget. Sciurba won't give exact figures except to say he coughed up at least $10,000 of his own money for film and editing equipment.
Sciurba also won't say much about the movie's plot. It is based on Stoker's 1897 classic about a vampire who lives in an eastern European country called Transylvania and victimizes a group of innocent English friends by sucking their blood so he can live. "Dracula" was made into a classic movie in 1931 starring Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi and remade in 1992 with Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins.
Sciurba's version stars actors from Northern Virginia and Maryland who worked for free and whose experience ranges from community theater to roles in this summer's HBO drama series "The Wire" and the 2000 Hollywood blockbuster "The Contender."
His most valuable collaborator, he said, was his 29-year-old son, Christopher, a guitar repairman from Sterling. Christopher synthesized music on his computer to create a haunting score, much of which sounds like a bow being pulled across a violin string.
"I just wanted to freak people out. You're not writing music for people to dance to. You're trying to write music set to the emotions of the characters," Christopher said. "This was a real bonding experience for me and my father. We had never worked on anything creative together before, let alone a project like this."
Frank Sciurba grew up in Rutherford, N.J., but spent much of his waking time in New York City, where he studied drawing and photography at the New York Institute of Technology. He said he often would just roam the streets, snapping candid pictures -- black-and-white only -- of anyone, anywhere.
"I like to shoot people in their natural surroundings. People in New York stick to their own areas and do so many things, so they all look different, like a worker piling boxes on a truck or a businessman on a bus taking notes," he said.
Sciurba worked in advertising during the '70s and '80s but dabbled in screenplay writing and almost signed a deal with ABC for a horror movie about a mummy. He pulled out, he said, because too many writers wanted to change the script.
He traces his love for movies to when he was 5 and saw Walt Disney's "Peter Pan" at the Roxy Theater in New York. He sat in the loge and loved looking down at the audience, he said.
"I was knocked out. Nothing was this good. Life was only about movies."
Sciurba moved to Warrenton 13 years ago because his then-wife wanted to be closer to her relatives in Sperryville. He worked as a freelance photographer for lobby organizations in Washington and about 18 months ago moved to Purcellville with his girlfriend, Martha J. McAteer, the letters editor at The Washington Post.
He said he was happy he had charted a new course outside the clatter of Manhattan, but about two years ago, he started feeling restless about his career.
"I got to the point where if I didn't make a movie, I'd never get to it," he said, "and I couldn't deal with that."
With only a few college film courses as training, he wrote the screenplay in a year. About 300 actors nationwide responded to an advertisement he posted on the Internet, but he held auditions for only about 40 local actors. He had no major distributor -- and still doesn't -- and without the capital, everyone had to work for free, and he had to borrow equipment. Even the blood was made on the cheap: It's a homemade concoction of gelatin, chocolate pudding and food dye.
The film is nothing sleek, but Sciurba said that makes it more sophisticated. For instance, it never shows the vampire as a vulture, partly because there wasn't money for special effects but also because that simply would have looked cheesy, said Tom Basham, a Nokesville engineer who responded to Sciurba's article in a local paper seeking a film crew.
"So instead, we got an ultralight airplane that flies at about 30 miles per hour and duct-taped a video camera to the nose to get the vulture effect," Basham said. "We don't do the metamorphoses so he turns into some goofy thing. It's best to leave it up to the audience's imagination."
For Sciurba, Dracula is a character who can toy with that imagination deftly and protract an audience's anxiety.
"He's no Frankenstein. I've always found Dracula more interesting than some oaf. You're dealing with someone who doesn't deal with brute force but with intellect."