Directed by Gary Shore. Starring Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Samantha Barks, Zach McGowan, Charlie Cox, Paul Kaye, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Dilan Gwyn, William Houston, Ronan Vibert, Noah Huntley, Thor Kristjansson, Ferdinand Kingsley, Arkie Reece. Written by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless.
Bram Stoker’s creation enters the world of George R. R. Martin in Dracula Untold, a supposed vampire movie that features precious little gothic horror, and instead combines Game of Thrones theatrics with epic (but bloodless PG-13) Braveheart-styled battle sequences. Terrific. This is exactly what Dracula fans have been clamoring for.
The intent, seemingly, was some kind of Universal Monster reboot; a short present-day epilogue promises some more monster action in future instalments, complete with a Nick Fury-like character who may or may not be recruiting the Universal-owned Monsters for an Avengers-like teamup. That’s something fans have been hot for since the 1940s, when films like House of Frankenstein paired Dracula with Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, and others.
Unfortunately, Dracula Untold is a near-complete dud that fails to generate even a Van Helsing-like enthusiasm for one of cinema’s most beloved horror icons; it would be a shock if it led to further expansion on the Universal Monster world. It’s more boring, even, than something like I, Frankenstein, though I can’t say it’s necessarily worse than that film. Still, 2014 has not been kind to these classic movie monsters.
First, the (only) good: there’s a brief origin sequence near the beginning of the film that features Vlad the Impaler (played by Luke Evans) and cohorts searching an atmospheric mountaintop cave for rogue Turks, and instead happening upon a vicious vampire creature played by Charles Dance. Later on, Vlad returns alone to strike a deal with the monster.
These cave sequences – which detail how, exactly, Vlad became the vampire known as Dracula – are genuinely chilly and atmospheric, and Dance is pretty great as the creature. I can picture these scenes set to Wojciech Kilar’s memorable score from Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula setting quite the mood (suffice it to say, Ramin Djawadi’s original music here didn’t leave much of an impression). When Dracula Untold is actually trying to be a gothic horror movie, it comes close to succeeding.
Unfortunately, that only amounts to about 10 minutes of screen time. Then there’s the rest of the movie.
Or rather, an extended episode of Game of Thrones that introduces us to the 8th kingdom of Westeros: Transylvania. A prologue narrated by Vlad’s son Ingeras (Art Parkinson, Rickon Stark on Game of Thrones) gives us the backstory: Vlad, once a child warrior for the Turkish Sultan, grew into the feared warrior known as The Impaler and became Prince of the small but loyal principality of Transylvania.
The actual plot of the film, however, is incredibly simplistic: the current evil Turkish sultan, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper, in full Devil’s Double Uday Hussein mode), requests all Transylvanian boys to fight in the Turkish army – including Vlad’s son. Vlad refuses, sparking a war with the mother kingdom – a war that he can only win by striking a deal with the devil and becoming a vampire.
It’s a brilliant plan – as long as the immense Turkish army never attacks during the day (sunlight, of course, will kill the newly-created Dracula). But at night, Dracula can slay ten men per second with a sword, or transform into hundreds of bats and, uh, swarm them to death. Most of his kingdom gets slaughtered in the process, but as long as he saves his son from military duty…
These never-ending battle scenes, which fill the movie in place of a storyline, are well-shot and staged but completely inconsequential (we know exactly where this thing is going) and ultimately turn into a bore. To pass the time, I pictured Bela Lugosi battling waves of Turkish warriors. When did Dracula, of all characters, become an action hero? They’ve taken the prologue of Coppola’s film, thrown in some of Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula, and delivered something that has stripped the character of all his gothic horror-ness. As bad as The Wolfman remake was, at least it got the genre right.
If you always thought Braveheart would be better if William Wallace was a vampire, then Dracula Untold might just be the movie for you. But anyone looking for some bite in their Dracula movie is best advised to look elsewhere.