DRACULA UNTOLDby Paul Blom / 10.10.2014
For over a century this immortal character has fascinated the word, living and undead alike. The tale has gone through so many cinematic incarnations since Bram Stoker’s Dracula was first published in 1897 – starting with the legendary Nosferatu (1922), followed by Bela Lugosi (1930s) and Christopher Lee’s depictions (released in the 50s, 60s and 70s).
In 1979, two movies were produced on the blood sucking count – a more serious one with Frank Langella and a spoof with Mr Coppertone himself, George Hamilton. While Blacula gave it a ‘blaxploitation’ twist in the early 70s, Hamilton’s Love At First Bite kicked off a barrage of films from the 80s onward that included spoofs, comedies and teen adaptations (even Wes Craven and Eddie Murphy took a stab at a vampire adaptation in the mid-90s).
But it wasn’t until Francis Ford Coppola resurrected the legend with his amazing early-90s recreation of Bram Stoker’s book (starring Gary Oldman), that Dracula’s power and allure was reinstated… but then of course, Mel Brooks had to go and make the slapstick Dracula: Dead And Loving It (!)
And so the legend continues, resurrected again and again in different manifestations and cultural products.
The vampire genre has permeated many sub genres, but inevitably all the stories to the same themes, elements and traditions linked to Dracula, which Stoker inadvertently imprinted on popular culture. Even though a lot of these are based on Romanian folklore (like drinking blood, sleeping in coffins, fear of crosses, death by wooden stake through the heart), the seductive, and romantically dark side of a man who falls for the likeness of his dead beloved, is the stuff of Goth dreams, and still fascinates people.
This new re-imagining intertwines the Romanian historic figure of Vlad Tepes (The Impaler) from the 1400s on whom Stoker loosely based his character of Dracula (which is derived from Tepes’s House of Draculesti).
As a prequel to how Dracula became the way we know and love him, the viewer is presented with a man who has put war behind him, living life with his family and the population of his kingdom. But the Turks return with demands to take children for their army (including his son). The fearless Vlad won’t stand for it and war comes back to his doorstep. But they are no match for the massive Turkish army – so in order to protect his people, he feels compelled to return to a cave where he encountered a powerful but deadly creature. To access and harness this potency he has to make a sacrifice, one paid in blood.
With large-scale war scenes and CGI up the whazoo; pining for his beloved is not yet on the cards. Here he is a fierce warrior with superhuman strength out to annihilate his enemy. But no-one is infallible… and we know a few of Dracula’s Achilles heels.
Naturally, in order to gain the audience’s sympathy as a hero, and not a blood thirsty warmonger turned bloodsucking monster, Vlad’s actions of impaling countless Turks on stakes and turning to the dark side is all for the wellbeing of his family and his nation.
Director Gary Shore is a total unknown (only having made a short film almost a decade ago(?!) Entrusting a huge movie like this in the hands of someone without credentials can be risky, but in this day and age of hands-on producers (like Michael De Luca), competent actors and visual effects teams, a movie like this would be hard to mess up. I would also assume a new director like this wouldn’t be able to pull rank in pushing their vision of the movie in a different direction than the producers intended.
Lead actor and Dominic West lookalike, Luke Evans, also seems like a newbie but has had some proper stage experience and graced the screen in movies like The Three Musketeers and The Hobbit (and is coming up in a revamp of The Crow).
When people run out of ideas they can always jump to the “origins” option as they’ve been doing of late. The time is probably not right for yet another retelling of the traditional Dracula story – whether this was the case here is not important, as viewers up for a high energy historic action/horror will have a blast, while purists will undoubtedly feel they’ve gone too far to embellish both the life of Tepes and / or Stokers sacred creation.
While still a staggering amount of dosh for any venture, it’s crazy how Titanic cracking the $100 million budget mark was a jaw-dropper around 15 years ago, but today is nothing spectacular. It seems that the Dracula tale is so strong that producers can depend on it as a sure way to recoup or make a tidy prophet, or perhaps vampire franchises like Twilight and TV shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries kept the fascination alive.
Some just like the entertainment value while there are many who are absorbed by the allure and living their lives as vampires, with societies all over the world, including here in South Africa. This movie adds to the world of Dracula in an entertaining and sometimes spectacular way, but had it not been produced, that wouldn’t change anything to the literary turned cinematic stalwart that Dracula has become.
*Starring Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Samantha Barks, Charles Dance. Directed by Gary Shore.