While you might think there’s nothing left of Dracula’s mythology to be told, first-time-director Gary Shore dives deeper than ever into Vlad The Impaler’s humble beginnings. Dracula Untold seems like a superfluous extension of Universal’s monster canon, kickstarting the Count with another fresh-faced actor, and while the world would have kept spinning had Shore’s film never been greenlit, this year’s revamp plays out in a “no harm, no foul” type of manner.
As expected from a mass-appealing PG-13 endeavor, there isn’t a lick of horror that’s worth a genre fan’s giddiness to be found here, yet batty action sequences bring Dracula’s mythology to life through rarely seen heroism. He’s more superhero than anything now, commanding nature while beating through hordes of soldiers, as Universal seems to be going the Marvel route with their classic horror properties. Dracula is the first of many rebooted origin stories, but his appearance raises one very important question – when will Evans meet up with Aaron Eckhart’s Frankenstein and Benicio Del Toro’s Wolfman for a crossover?!
Just kidding. May the Gods have mercy on our souls if that ever happens.
Dating back to Dracula’s (Luke Evans) human years, we meet “Vlad The Impaler” after he’s been imprisoned by the Turks and formed into a feared warrior. Returning to Transylvania as a prince, he swears to keep peace between his humble city and Sultan Mehmed. When he’s betrayed by Mehmed’s selfish nature, demanding that 1,000 Transylvanian children be handed over to the Turk military, Dracula defies the Sultan and instigates a bloody war. Taking responsibility for his actions, Dracula seeks out a mythical monster in hopes of inheriting whatever dark powers the creature possesses. Damning himself, Dracula becomes a vampiric bodyguard of Transylvania, but the curse takes a toll on his physical form. Can he resist human blood long enough for the curse to lift, or will his voracious thirst be quenched, sealing the transformation for eternity?
Dracula Untold is a pretty ballsy move when you think about it, as the studio secured an unknown director for what could possibly be a universe building (or crushing) monster movie about one of horror’s most legendary names. Universal could have had a catastrophic failure that immediately squashed any future crossover talk, but now I rather like the idea of these horror-action-heroes meeting up. Dracula Untold is flashy, entertaining and fun, despite a decrepit script that defies the laws of human gravity (no, I’m not the lunatic ranting about vampire physics). Horror lovers are going to absolutely hate Evans’ pretty-boy antics, but hell, it’s something different, and the sprawling battle scenes offer loads of medieval thrills that Gothic horror films often gloss over.
With that said, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless deliver an empty script that’s more hollow than a batcave. There’s nothing particularly interesting about Dracula’s initial transformation, and the origin story allure doesn’t pay off in the slightest. Dracula is always an exception to whatever chaos presents itself, with an overall theme that continually hammers home this awkward notion that he’s a really nice guy! No really, before all the blood-sucking and people-turning, Dracula was a family man who stood as a beacon of hope. Unfortunately, his dramatic changes into monster form don’t really contrast against sweeter moments involving his wife and son. Emotional plays are made to emphasize Dracula’s selfless devotion to friends and family, but they’re just shameless attempts to inject heartfelt drama into a dark tale and only serve to express the lackluster spark you’d expect from such a fluffy film.
Shore does manage to conjure some pretty sleek visual effects during Dracula’s battle scenes, as he toys around with the Count’s ability to turn into a flock of bats whenever necessary. While the most magical moments are all revealed during the film’s teaser trailer, the director does enough to ensure that Dracula’s transformations are never lost on the viewer despite how frantically they come and go. The animated effects are seamless as well, and having Dracula’s sonar vision provides an interesting vantage point from the anti-hero’s eyes. Everything looks shiny and brand new for Dracula Untold, as the film uses every ounce of Universal’s big-budget potential.
There’s nothing I can say about Dracula Untold that you didn’t already expect. Gone is the emo-looking ghoul of Nosferatu fame. Instead, we get a Dracula that’s played by a handsome, inviting actor who can draw in audiences with both romantic sex appeal and hardened fighting skills. He might only be PG-13 ferocious, but that’s still ferocious enough when fighting against Dominic Cooper’s spray-tanned sultan, as Dracula battles through some unique demons that we’ve rarely seen the character deal with. The writing may be painfully generic and the awkward cuts to a shirtless Luke Evans may be overwhelming, but with a bucket of popcorn and a sugary soda, Dracula Untold is an able entertainer. Dare I say I’m moderately excited for a true uniting of the biggest names in horror? While that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, it’s much higher praise than I expected to bestow on this film – take it or leave it.
Dracula Untold is exactly the monster you'd expect, trading horror for medieval action in the most acceptably mainstream way, which is not always a bad thing.