‘Dracula Untold’ revisits the most famous vampire of them all

Vampire stories have become so prevalent in the horror movie genre, right up there with zombies, that it was inevitable the top blood-sucker of them all, Dracula, would be revisited.

Gary Shore, who has directed commercials for popular brands of products, along with the writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, have put together as their first major major feature the movie “Dracula Untold.” Unlike previous Dracula films wherein the vampire has been around and fed off the blood of humans for centuries, “Untold” focuses on how this person became a vampire in the first place.

The notion that author Bram Stoker based Dracula on Vlad III of Transylvania — also know as Vlad the Impaler — has been speculative. There is a passage in chapter three of the “Dracula” novel that makes references to the dark times in which Vlad lived, and later Dracula’s nemesis Van Helsing is quoted as believing Dracula came from that era.

Shore, Sazama and Sharpless build upon that speculation and portray Vlad / Dracula as a more sympathetic character than history has.

In the 1400s, the Turks were the conquerors of territories and exploited Transylvania by claiming 1,000 of the country’s boys, enslaving them and training them to become killers for their army. Among those taken by the Turks was Vlad, who would grow up and become the feared and legendary Vlad the Impaler.

As an adult, Vlad (Luke Evans) has returned to the Castle Dracula and is a beloved prince in his homeland Transylvania. There has been a fragile peace with the Turks and it is a time of prosperity.

While out patrolling in the wilderness near the castle, Vlad and some of his soldiers come across a Turkish helmet. Fearing the Turks are sending out spies, they investigate and end up inside a cave on Broken Tooth Mountain. There they tragically encounter some sort of savage being. The shaken Vlad returns home and soon learns from Brother Lucian (Paul Kaye), that what they found in that cave was a man who had made a pact with a demon that of course betrayed him, leaving this man cursed to living in the dank cave for eternity as a vampire.

Shortly thereafter, Transylvania’s Easter festivities are interrupted by messengers for the latest Turk Sultan, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), who announce that the ruler is renewing the decree that Translyvania give up 1,000 of its boys to be trained for the Turkish army. This order also includes Vlad’s son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). Since Vlad and Mehmed grew up together, the prince believes he can talk his old childhood buddy out of this ruling.

But Mehmed (Cooper at his strutting, villainy best) brushes off any alternative proposal by Vlad, even insisting that Vlad can always have another son, replacing the one he will be giving up.

Vlad barely gets home when a half-dozen Turks arrive to claim Ingeras. In addition, they foolishly taunt Vlad, a fatal mistake.

Knowing that Mehmed will be sending a vast army he and his people will not be able to repel, the desperate Vlad returns to Broken Tooth Mountain in hopes of harnessing some of that power from the cursed vampire residing in the cave.

The  vampire is played by Charles Dance, and he sees this as an opportunity. If he can pass on his vampire curse to Vlad, he will be free to escape the cave and carry out revenge on his betrayer. Vlad must drink some of the vampire’s blood, which will give him enormous power, but only for three days. However, if Vlad succumbs to the what will be a ravenous appetite for blood in those three days, he will become a vampire for eternity.

“Dracula Untold” now presents the challenge of whether Vlad can defeat the Turks in three days and whether he can resist the temptation of drinking blood. Also, Vlad needs to stay out of the sun.

Evans, who was the lethally calculating Driver in the 2012 blood-fest “No One Lives,” presents Vlad as a man who has managed to maintain a perspective on his ultra violent past and now savors the peaceful life with his wife Merina (Sarah Gadon) and son. He is a strong and wise leader of his people. Backed into a corner, he must risk it all to save his people from an unyielding force. Evans has a commanding screen presence and adequately conveys a man tormented by the forces that lead him to making such perilous decisions.

“Dracula Untold” is beautifully shot among a dark and foreboding backdrop. Unfortunately,  the battle scenes are choppy and hard to follow. It is earnest in its presentation, and aside from Vlad, Merina, Ingeras and the Vampre, the supporting characters are basically scenery with little to make them memorable.

The movie’s ending also points to this being a reboot of the Dracula franchise.

 

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