“Why don’t we re-tell the Dracula myth as sort of a superhero origin story?”
I’d be willing to wager that that’s the precise logic behind the broad, obvious, sometimes silly, and yell still oddly watchable action/horror mash-up called Dracula Untold. Poke all the fun you like, but it’s not every movie that manages to combine vampire horror, fictionally historical war epics, and a very standard anti-hero’s origin story into one 88 minute spectacle, but for all the weird things that Dracula Untold tries to do, which is a lot, one simply cannot say the film is boring.
Think you know all about Dracula? You’ve read the source material 15 times? You’ve seen every adaptation from Nosferatu to that one with Coolio that takes place in outer space? Well, get ready to have your mind blown, because Dracula Untold offers all sorts of alternatives, and most of them are pretty wild. For example, did you know that Count Dracula was actually a Transylvanian prince who only became an undead bloodsucker because he needed those dark powers to protect his citizens from hordes of invading Turks? And that Prince Dracula could have avoided becoming mankind’s most popular monster simply by giving 1,000 young boys to an evil warlord? Yep. All these secrets (and more) can be found in Dracula Untold, which, to be fair, should probably be called Dracula: Origins, since it plays out precisely like every “Part 1″ superhero movie you’ve ever seen.
So if you’re looking to this particular rendition of Bram Stoker’s immortal tale for anything worthwhile in the horror department, I’d have to say “pass.” On the horror scale, this particular vampire ranks better than the bloodsuckers found in Twilight (remember those movies?), but isn’t all that interested in being scary. Aside from a few gruesome kills and a few creepy moments here and there, Dracula Untold has very little need for “horror.” Once you swallow that bitter pill and take the movie as the “Braveheart meets Dracula the Superhero” combination platter that it clearly wants to be, you may find yourself slightly amused by all the goofy Gothic goings-on.
It’s no Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (and it’s a hell of a lot better than Van Helsing), but Dracula Untold can at least take credit for being a slick, quick, and almost willfully silly genre concoction. Luke Evans does a fine job, despite his generic dialogue and patently predictable character arc; Dominic Cooper (Marvel’s Howard Stark) adds another enjoyably sneering villain role to his resumé; the action sequences are suitably insane and overloaded with wacky special effects; and the movie simply never stays in one place long enough to get irritating. Also, Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) pops up for a few scenes, and helps immeasurably, sort of like a dash of salt that makes a basic bowl of soup just a little bit tastier.
The problem is not that Dracula Untold is goofy, anti-canonical (to a wild degree), or seemingly averse to horror; it’s that the film feels like a checklist of themes, characters, and scenes we’ve all seen 50 times by now. (Only this time it’s Dracula instead of Spider-Man or Batman.) Despite some clear and obvious DNA from (at least) three different types of genre film, Dracula Untold never manages to transcend its influences and claim a little territory for itself. As a passable time-waster on a rainy afternoon, you may find some enjoyment, or you may just enjoy laughing at the film, but it lacks that one unique component that turns a “genre mash-up” into its own movie.
Also it’s definitely the only film you’ll ever see in which Dracula says, “I’m worth 1,000 boys and you know it!” That scene right there might be worth the rental fee all by itself.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)
Dracula Untold is on VOD/DVD/BD (US) now.