Universal makes a great return to the horror genre with Dracula Untold, a good old fashioned popcorn film, not to be taken seriously but to be enjoyed. Directed by Gary Shore, in what is his first venture into feature films, and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless using characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula the film is a CGI heavy, epically scoped twist on the myth of Vlad Tepes. The movie’s plot is a variation on Faust where the Transylvanian leader essentially sells his soul in order to save his son from the hostile Turks as well as his people.
Vlad Tepes is played by Welsh actor Luke Evans who emotes valiantly as the soon to be cursed leader and Charles Dance as the unimaginatively named “Master Vampire” is menacing as only he can be. Brit actor Dominic Cooper is a delightfully nasty piece of work as the Turkish king who wants 1,000 boys from Vlad’s people to increase his army’s numbers. Sarah Gadon plays Vlad’s wife Merina and she gives her character a serous center which works well for the subject matter. Vlad’s son is played touchingly by Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones, Dark Touch) and the young actor reallys sells his scenes convincingly.
On a side note, English actor William Houston looked so much like the late, and brilliant, Oliver Reed in this film it was almost disconcerting. Back to the film Cinematographer John Schwartzman (The Amazing Spider Man, The Rock) presents the film as a dark almost sepia toned world where any introduction of light is jarring, as it is meant to be. The computer graphics in Dracula Untold looks great and almost seamless. The combination of a good old fashioned film icon combined with a version of the legend that feels almost epic, should keep viewers munching their popcorn as the story unfolds.
This legend of Dracula has Vlad being given to the Turks as a boy to become a soldier in their army. Tepes turns into one of the most famous and feared weapons in the Turkish militia. It is this allusion to the real life myth of Vlad “the Impaler” that helps to build the reputation and motives of a desperate father who tries to “cheat the devil” in order to save his son and people.
Years later, while Vlad rules his country, it is discovered that a Turkish scouting party has been inside the borders of their land. Vlad and his men also discover that the party has been murdered by a monster in a cave. The Turkish army turns up at Dracula’s castle for their tribute of silver and Tepes along with his people are accused of murdering the scouts. As a punishment, they increase the tribute to include 1,000 boys to serve in the Turkish army; something that has not been required for years.
Tepes starts to comply but his wife changes his mind. Vlad then goes to the cave of the monster to strike a deal where he takes on the creature’s power to defeat the Turk king and his army. There is a sort of escape clause. If Vlad can keep from feeding on human blood over a three day time period, he will return to his human form. No harm, no foul.
Audiences who go to Dracula Untold expecting the old fashioned workings of Bram Stoker, Tod Browning, or even Francis Ford Coppola will be disappointed. Shore opts instead to show a film that moves quickly and what could best be termed a “popcorn film.” This is not a serious reworking of a classic horror movie. It is a re-imagining and blending of Faust and the legend of a pretty vicious warrior in Transylvania. The film almost feels like a videogame presentation of the mythology of Dracula. The feature is entertaining if one does not expect to see another tale of the iconic bloodsucker as told before. Dracula Untold opens in cinemas on October 10, prepare to take a mate, boyfriend, or girlfriend and enjoy the film but not to take it seriously, it is on par with the Dwight Johnson version of Hercules, in other words an alternative take on a classic. Do not forget the popcorn.
By Michael Smith
Regal Red Rock Stadium 16 Theatre