So I recently got around to reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula and as a result I’ve been on a bit of a vampire kick lately. I watched Nosferatu, which was incredible (I don’t know that I’ll write a review of this one; it’s a legend in the genre and my 500 words won’t do anything to add to the body of meaningful criticism out there). Anyway, this time I decided to go for the complete opposite film in terms of tone, motivation, and overall quality: Dracula Untold.
D U is not so much a horror movie as an action movie with a horror narrative as it’s adoptive parent. The film focuses on the 14th century Prince of Wallachia Vlad “The Impaler” Dracul, on whom the Dracula character is based. Vlad was a pretty interesting guy, and we’ll get back to that shortly. In the film, as in history, Vlad’s kingdom is being threatened by the incursion of Ottoman Turks into Europe. In the film, Vlad seeks out a legendary dark spirit from deep in the forests of Transylvania with in the hopes of gaining the strength he needs to defeat the Turks and protect Europe from a major invasion.
While it is rooted in traditional vampire lore, and based on an amazing passage* from Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula Untold is a whirlwind of clichés and inconsistencies that stack up to little more than a summer popcorn movie designed to fill seats with as little effort or thought as possible. There are such glaring plot holes and contradictions from scene to scene, that I’m sure this is as much a victim of it’s editing as of it’s screenplay.
In one scene, Prince Vlad uses his newfound powers to blow the clouds from in front of the sun and instantly incinerate some rival vampires who are surrounding him. They literally disintegrate into smoke and blood and ashes in seconds, while he has time to slowly turn around and look into the camera sexily while his hair slowly burns off and his skin peels a little. This level of carelessness plagues the film from the start, which is really unfortunate.
The “origin story”, if you will, of Dracula is one that we don’t really have much of in film. Usually, the Count just makes a deal with the Satan for immortality/vampire powers. In the passage below from Bram Stoker, we get an interesting take on how Dracula originated, which differs from the film. Stoker explains, through Dracula’s own narration, that the unholy vampire was born of the evolution from vicious conquering races from Europe, Asia, and Africa who came together in the haunted forests of eastern Europe and the Carpathian mountains and bred with witches, gypsies and other exiles. The literary figure of Dracula was born of viciousness and evil and dark magic and conquest.
Anyway, I’m getting off topic but the point is the movie disregarded all that and went for the clichéd, simple deal with the devil. I think the biggest flaw of the movie is that they aim to humanize the monster. Dracula is a bad guy. We love him as the bad guy. We even root for him. And the historical figure Vlad the Impaler was among the most monstrous people in history. He held a serous grudge against the Turks and butchered and impaled tens of thousands of them. A real horror fan wants to see a monster, not a human. We shouldn’t root for him because of his admirable qualities and his nobility, we should root for him because he guzzled an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with the blood of his enemies.
- Is it scary? 2 – Like I said, It’s not a horror movie, It’s an action movie.
- Originality: 2 – It’s a dumbed-down origin of a very familiar story. Could have been very interesting and original but they went for the easy route.
- Blood: 3 – For a vampire movie with large battle scenes, this was disappointingly dry.
- Believability: 1 – Inconsistencies, plot holes and a shitty script. ‘Nuff Said
- Setting/Cinematography: 5 – I can’t fault them too much here. The setting was what you’d expect- Dark and creepy. The battle scenes were shot fairly well too. Nothing special though.
Final Score: 13/50
The Verdict: Don’t waste your time.
*From Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1897 – Chapter 3, Jonathan Harker’s Journal
Midnight.–I have had a long talk with the Count. I asked him a few questions on Transylvania history, and he warmed up to the subject wonderfully. In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all. This he afterwards explained by saying that to a Boyar the pride of his house and name is his own pride, that their glory is his glory, that their fate is his fate. Whenever he spoke of his house he always said “we”, and spoke almost in the plural, like a king speaking. I wish I could put down all he said exactly as he said it, for to me it was most fascinating. It seemed to have in it a whole history of the country. He grew excited as he spoke, and walked about the room pulling his great white moustache and grasping anything on which he laid his hands as though he would crush it by main strength. One thing he said which I shall put down as nearly as I can, for it tells in its way the story of his race.
“We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin game them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, aye, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the werewolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” He held up his arms. “Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race, that we were proud, that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Is it strange that when Arpad and his legions swept through the Hungarian fatherland he found us here when he reached the frontier, that the Honfoglalas was completed there?And when the Hungarian flood swept eastward, the Szekelys were claimed as kindred by the victorious Magyars, and to us for centuries was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkeyland. Aye, and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard, for as the Turks say, `water sleeps, and the enemy is sleepless.’ Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations received the `bloody sword,’ or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova, when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent?Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkeyland, who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph! They said that he thought only of himself. Bah! What good are peasants without a leader? Where ends the war without a brain and heart to conduct it? Again, when, after the battle of Mohacs, we threw off the Hungarian yoke, we of the Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free. Ah, young sir, the Szekelys, and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords, can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace, and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.”