Dracula Untold (2014)

DRACULA WEEK

It’s a damn shame that Universal just didn’t have enough confidence in Gary Shore’s treatment of Dracula to warrant it a follow up. “Dracula Untold” is a good enough movie all on its own, but it was also teeming with so much potential for a larger scale sequel that reversed all roles. Where as Dracula is the hero of “Untold” and Dominic Cooper the villain as Mehmed, the Turkish Sultan, it would have been fun to see the descendant of Mehmed, played by Cooper also, as now a law abiding police officer who engages in a new war with the modern version of Dracula. That’s just the writer in me building on head canon, but “Dracula Untold” is a very good interpretation of Bram Stoker’s novel.

In 15th-century Transylvania, Vlad III (Luke Evans), prince of Wallachia, is known as a just ruler. With his beloved wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), Vlad has brokered a prolonged period of peace and ensured that his people are protected, especially from the Ottoman Empire. However, when Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 of the country’s boys, including Vlad’s son, for his army, Vlad makes a deal with a monster that will enable him to defeat the Turks — but cost him his humanity.

Gary Shore prefers to deal with the origin of Dracula as more of a pursuit of heroism that transforms in to a tragic hero tale. Where as the tale of Dracula often involves an ill fated romance, and blood sucking vampires, “Dracula Untold” is a new vision of the origin of Dracula in where he’s a Transylvanian ruler. Luke Evans is great as Vlad, a loving father and husband who is also a brilliant strategist. After accidentally getting Turkish soldiers murdered by a mysterious beast in a cave, Vlad is forced in to combat with Turkish forces that threaten to kidnap his son and bring the kingdom to its knees. The journey of Vlad from a vicious warlord, to someone doing whatever he can to save his family amounts to a pretty entertaining and neat dark fantasy, all things considered.

Normally the whole sword and sandals approach is misguided and ill-conceived (2018’s “Robin Hood”), but Gary Shore transforms the whole epic journey of Vlad in to Dracula in to such an engaging vision. I was so fascinated with Vlad’s embracing of evil and rationalizing the ends justifying the means. Vlad makes all the wrong decisions rather than humble himself, and it leads to the birth of one of the more vicious mythical monsters that ever lived. Director Shore doesn’t depict Vlad as a complete hero, but as someone who makes a literal deal with the devil. If anything what hinders the entire film is that there are so many questions left dangling in the finale of “Dracula Untold.”

Who or what is the master vampire? What does he want with Dracula? Is he friend or foe? Is he stalking Dracula or is he his mentor? Did Dracula spend the rest of his days looking for the reincarnation of his wife Merina? Did his son devote his life to preventing Dracula from entering their kingdom? What ever became of Dracula in the modern age? There was obviously so much that the studio and writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless intended to comb over, but alas, we’re left with the hanging question mark in the final scene. It’s too bad, as Dracula would have made a fantastic dark hero for Universal’s then intended monster movie verse. Nevertheless, “Dracula Untold” is a very good re-imagining of the Dracula tale, one carried by the enthusiastic performance by Luke Evans.