Dracula Extrapolated: Dracula Untold

Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.

 

What if Dracula deliberately chose to become a bloodsucker, but for noble reasons?

Hollywood has a long history of romanticizing Bram Stoker’s gruesome vampire, transforming him into a debonair yet debauched Gothic hero-villain. But 2014’s Dracula Untold (less a horror vehicle than a dark fantasy action film) skews Stoker’s original characterization even further, by making Dracula the actual protagonist of the piece. A brave (if sometimes ferocious) warrior, a devoted family man, and determined defender of his countrymen, he is clearly cut from heroic cloth here.

Fresh from starring in The Hobbit films, Luke Evans portrays the Transylvanian prince Vlad (Drscula Untold perpetuates the error of equating Stoker’s fictional creation with the historical Vlad the Impaler), “Son of the Dragon. Protector of the Innocent.” That latter title is put to the test, by the imperial evils of the Ottoman Turks. Unsatisfied with tributes of silver, the sultan Mehmed demands the surrender of 1000 Transylvanian boys (who will be enslaved and trained as fighters for the Turks). For good measure, Vlad’s own son Ingeras must be given to Mehmed to raise. Vlad violently refuses, sparking a war with the empire (which is already geared to march across Europe).

To save his homeland and its inhabitants from an imminent bloodbath, Vlad seeks out a monster previously encountered atop Broken Tooth Mountain. This “Master Vampire” (chillingly embodied by Charles Dance–Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones) has been trapped in a cave there by the same Faustian bargain that granted him his dark powers. He agrees to let the desperate Vlad taste-test the vampiric lifestyle, but is careful to spell out the conditions of the transaction: “If you can resist [drinking blood] for three days, you will return to your mortal state.” If not, Vlad will become “a scourge on this earth, destined to destroy everything [he] hold[s] dear” (and the Master Vampire will be freed from his prison, to take vengeance against the demon that tricked him long ago).

Vlad takes unholy communion, goes through his momentary death throes, and is reborn as a nosferatu superhero. He now has the promised “strength of a hundred men. The speed of a falling star. Dominion over the night and all its creatures. [The ability] to see and hear through their senses. Even heal grievous wounds.” The Turk-decimating Vlad practically forms a one-man battalion, someone who also possesses the neat ability (the film makes fine use of CGI) to morph into a horde of bats.

The premise of Dracula Untold incites some interesting narrative conflict, as Vlad has to fight not just the Turks but also time (his battles each night must be won by sunrise) and his own unnatural urges. Even as he leads his people in rebellion against the Turks, he struggles to keep his vampiric traits secret from them. When he fails to do so, his countrymen–with classic cries of “Kill the monster!”–put his tent to the torch. This angry mob scene concludes with a unique twist, though, as the not-so-easily-dispatched Vlad emerges from the fiery ruins to verbally chastise the ungrateful uprisers.

Of course, Vlad can’t quite make it through the requisite three days of fasting, but even his eventual slaking of his terrible bloodthirst is given a heroic spin. His dying wife (who was tossed over a cliff by Mehmed’s minions) convinces Vlad to drink her vital fluids, so he will be strong enough to go rescue their son (who has been captured by Mehmed). This sets up a climactic swordfight with the sultan, who cleverly levels the battleground by strewing silver coins (a baneful drain on Vlad’s vampiric powers) beneath his feet. Nonetheless, the undead swashbuckler overcomes adversity and emerges victorious (with the villainous Mehmed suffering some satisfying bloodshed).

For Dracula purists, Dracula Untold might steer Stoker’s original storyline too far off course. Still, the film (directed by Gary Shore, from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s script) deserves credit for its commitment to offering a new take on the hoary figure. Fast-paced and filled with frightfully-framed fight scenes, it’s a quintessential popcorn flick. Entertainment-hungry viewers won’t regret gnoshing on this one one bit.

 

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