You know what is a terrible title for a movie? Dracula Untold. The reason is pretty self-explanatory. If you are spending $100million to tell the story of a widely popularised folk legend and horror figure, and an odd $30million more to market the shit out of that story so people are very aware that you are telling said tale, then the story is no longer UN-BLOODY-TOLD. Also, what part of the Dracula legend is ‘Untold’? Besides Bram Stoker’s original 1897 novel, there have been some 79 films over the past 100-years that have been about Dracula and his real-life inspiration Vlad the Impaler. That seems like a tale pretty well fucking told to me, but sure, slap an ‘Untold’ tag on there to make it appear only slightly more reasonable then, say, Dracula 2000, Saint Dracula 3D or (my personal favourite) Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary.
Moving on, Dracula Untold (?!?!) follows Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), a prince of Transylvania who is trying to leaving his reputation for being a brutal warrior during the Crusades behind as he leads his kingdom through 10-years of relative peace. Problem is, that peace is largely bought from the ruling Turkish empire led by Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) and comes to an end when he demands 1000 boys to join his army – including Vlad’s son (Game Of Thrones’ Rickon aka Art Parkinson ). Naturally, Vlad takes that news about as well Katniss does at giving up her little sister as Tribute. That is to say, slaughters a bunch of people and starts a war/revolution. The problem is, Vlad’s army pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of Turks who are now marching on his kingdom. To gain the ultimate power to save his people he seeks out a dark legend, an immortal vampire (Charles Dance) living in an ominous yet convenient cave. Although he gains incredible abilities – like being able to take on one thousand men – his thirst for blood leads to the origin tale of the Count Dracula legend.
There are more cons then pros to Dracula Untold, despite a promising dark and epic trailer. The major issue seems to be that the plot is taken largely from the Castlevania video games. That’s it. They do little to expand upon the tale besides adding a Bram Stoker-esque flash-forward at the end which eludes to a sequel that will follow the traditional Dracula storyline closely. The dialogue is terrible, with lines like ‘I am now in Hell, so I know there must be a heaven’. The element that hurts the most is that there are constant reminders of how good this film could have been. For instance, there’s a scene between Dance and Evans that is dialogue and dialogue alone. In the middle of a special-effects laden blockbuster that’s rather jarring, but it’s also rather excellent. The two thespians act the shit out the scene and create one of the most interesting and engaging moments in the flick.
There’s a distinct lack of female presence, with Vlad’s wife Mirena the ONLY WOMAN that has dialogue in a cast of thousands Naturally, her sole purpose in the film is to die – gracefully – and further accelerate the storyline of the main male character. Yup, she gets women-in-the-fridged. Abbie Cornish turned down the part (thankfully) and Sarah Gadon steps in to fill her shoes with a wooden and lifeless performance. Evans is a meaty leading man, doing a better job with the material than should be possible. He’s suitably fierce and brooding and bad-ass, but can also scream at the sky in agony with the best of them. Also abs. With Bill Nighy probably unavailable to play the supernatural villain, Dance too is rather magnificent as the stylish and creepy Nosferatu-type figure. Cooper it seems is doomed to be one of the most underused actors of his generation. He’s a brilliant and charismatic performer who is constantly shoved in minor, lack lustre supporting roles with little room to breathe.
The special effects are obviously a crucial element and one of Dracula Untold’s strengths. Never before has vampirsim looked so damn cool, as Vlad first begins to learn about his abilities and is able to teleport and reform with hundreds of black bats. His debut fight as a superhuman is thrilling to watch, with the seamless effects creating a look that is both unique to the big screen and undeniable rad. There are beautiful, interesting shots scattered throughout the film giving you a taste of what this could have been. The problem is that those shining moments are undermined with frequent instances of sheer stupidity. From time skipping forward at unusual paces to straight up ‘WTF’ moments, nothing makes you facepalm more than the reasoning of Mehmed as he tries to overcome the fears of his army. They can’t be afraid of what they cannot see, he says, before deciding to blindfold an entire army of 100,000 men and then lead them into battle BLIND. The image of a marching brigade walking in synchronisation with red rags tied over their faces is truly something to behold. And mocked.
Dracula Untold is a movie defined by its high points – beautiful creature effects – and low points – ONE. HUNDRED. THOUSAND. MEN. WALKING. BLINDFOLDED. INTO. A. FUCKING. BATTLE. To boot, it rocks one of the stupidest titles since 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.