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“Dracula Untold”: Bite On!

Dracula Untold

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Vampires are the most well-known creatures in the world of supernatural fiction. Every year or two, we’re treated to a new movie or book that redefines these beings and their origins. Whether they’re hideous, supernaturally beautiful, sparkling or somewhere in between, it’s hard to imagine pop culture without these seductive monsters lurking among humans while craving their blood. The Twilight Saga gave us the story of a vampire family. The Southern Vampire Mysteries showed us what happens when vampires “come out of the coffin” and get involved with humans. Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles shows us how vampires view themselves and mortals over decades and centuries of unlife.

All of these stories, however, bring to mind the first and most famous of the un-dead: Dracula.

Universal Pictures’ Dracula Untold, released this past Friday, retells the legend of Dracula’s turn from Prince of Transylvania to Lord of the Undead. Luke Evans tackles the role of Vlad the Impaler, whom later becomes Dracula. Our story opens with an explanation of how Vlad gained his moniker as “Lord Impaler”, with all the gory imagery the name implies. His father gave him to the Sultan of Turkey as a tribute on his tenth birthday and Dracula came of age learning to fight and kill as a member of his army. Eventually, Vlad leaves the Sultan’s army behind and returns home where his people crown him prince of Transylvania. The kingdom remains in peace for ten years until Vlad and his men find a Turkish helmet washed downstream from Broken Tooth Mountain. Knowing that scouts are the precursor to an army, Vlad seeks them out only to lose two of his men to the creature in the mountain, Caligula (Charles Dance).

When the envoy from Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) arrives, Vlad offers silver as tribute but the Turks demand 1,000 boys for their army. In addition, Mehmed wants Vlad’s son, Ingeras, to join his household as Vlad did before. Vlad’s wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), begs him not to turn over their son but Vlad tries to put his people above his personal feelings to keep the peace. He tries to reason with his foster brother, who refuses, and is forced to kill the envoy when he returns  for Ingeras. Knowing that his people can’t withstand assault from the Turkish forces, he returns to the mountain and demands that Caligula share his dark magic. Caligula warns Vlad that such power comes with a terrible cost but Vlad is willing to pay any price in the name of protecting his people, illustrating how the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

The film’s strength lies in the Dracula’s relationships with his cast. His men are loyal to him without question even when he’s being reckless. Vlad and Mirena are deeply in love and she supports him even through his transition into the monster we know. The bond between Vlad and Ingeras is the relationship that sells this movie and makes his descent into monstrosity heartbreaking. Vlad resists the dark urges of his new powers in order to remain the man his people revere and that his family loves. He discards his humanity in small pieces and, finally, one large move to win a war he didn’t start against a former friend. The film further excels in the use of excellent visuals for Dracula’s powers. Heightened senses along with inhuman speed and agility make Dracula more than a match for his enemies. He even wears a cool semi–leather trench coat in his fights that is little out of place but Evans succeeds in infusing the anti-hero with the right mix of heroism and toughness to carry it off.

The film’s over-reliance of Dracula dispersing into, and reforming from, a cloud of bats is a weakness that, while not detracting from the overall movie, seemed a little lazy. Older stories give him the ability to shift into mist or smoke and the sole use of bats is overdone when used a mode of travel and an offensive fighting style. Charles Dance’s Caligula is extremely underused but the film leaves room for a sequel where he gets more than a cameo. Dominic Cooper’s Mehmed II serves his purpose as a mustache-twirling villain but a little more respect for the friendship he and Dracula shared might have made him matter. This movie is rumored to serve as a reboot for the Universal Monsters franchise and, overall, this is a solid start.

The Verdict: See this one as soon as you can for great action sequences, a solid story and good character development.

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