DraculaFest continues! Since I’m watching these films in no discernible order–other than their accessibility to me–we now jump to 2014 for Dracula Untold, since it was on the tube!
Now that Cinematic Universes are a thing (thanks, Marvel!), Universal has decided to reboot their classic monster series as a middle-of-the-road, family-friendly action/adventure franchise. (Not that this is anything new; you might remember those goofy Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser and the Rock.) Dracula Untold was touted as the first in a series of films designed to reintroduce the classic Universal monsters to modern moviegoers. So how did they fare?While Dan Curtis stuck to the source material with a vengeance, Dracula Untold burns the book and starts over from scratch. This is not Bram Stoker’s tale, nor does it want to be. The film makes explicit the link between Vlad Tepes and the fictional Count, casting the historical figure in the lead role in order to explain why he became a vampire. It’s not a terrible idea, or might not have been if handled with finesse. I applaud the intent to give us something unlike any of its umpteen predecessors. But Untold commits to neither history nor horror, and the results are muddled at best.
To my surprise, this was not the unwatchable train wreck I’d expected. It’s not all that good, either, but it’s not unwatchable. Luke Evans makes a reasonable Dracula; I get the sense he could have done more with a better script. Sarah Gadon and Charles Dance (aka Tywin Lannister!) provide capable support. But Dominic Cooper in brownface looks and sounds freaking ridiculous as an Ottoman sultan–the main villain, to no one’s surprise. (He should perhaps stick to Preacher, judging from the recent trailer.) We’re talking fodder for another episode of Master of None. It’s really unfortunate they chose this route, as it lends the whole movie a sheen of hilarity. Not what Dracula needs, in this or any other universe.
The plot has more holes than that ominous cave on Broken Tooth Mountain. The battle scenes are silly, often baffling (how did becoming a vampire enable Vlad to mow through hundreds of enemies with a couple of swords?) and far too reliant on low-grade CGI (pillars of bats from the sky? Really?). Still, there’s enough atmosphere here to suggest how this might have worked with more restraint.…And more horror. Look, the idea of a PG-13 Dracula film is dubious at best. The Count’s stock-in-trade is horror. In fact, he’s arguably the preeminent face of horror in Western culture. So tossing the essence of his appeal in favor of a Lord of the Rings Lite origin story just sounds like a bad idea. I understand the need for reinvention. I could almost buy Dracula as a brooding antihero–though that’s even more overdone than vampires these days. But turning Dracula into a noble, self-sacrificing man of the people? Eh. I’ll pass. Film overboard.
I didn’t hate this film. I certainly didn’t love it. And I can’t say I’m a fan of turning classic horror monsters into generic summer blockbuster material. Dracula Untold receives 0.5 out of 2 fangs out–or one broken incisor.
Next up: Time to go classic! Nosferatu (1922), baby!