Say goodbye to sparkly vampires–here there be monsters.
Only two years have passed since Twilight ended, and whether you loved it or you’re busy thanking God that it’s over, you can’t argue that there have already been a handful of monsters and monster movies that have wiped it clean off the map. From Pacific Rim’s Kaiju and World War Z’s crazed zombies, to the MUTOs and Godzilla himself from Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, we’ve practically been left thinking, “…Edward who?”
Just in time for Halloween, we’ve been gifted with yet another one of these fantastically spine-chilling and pungently terrifying turns. The vampires of this month’s Dracula Untold aren’t exactly of the romantic variety–and if audiences were skeptical of the film’s vanilla-looking anti-hero, that doubt vanished the moment the lights dimmed.
The Gary Shore retelling of this classic monster flick starts off horrifyingly enough: a brief narrative history of our title character reveals blood-stained battle scenes and crumpled bodies hung on tall spikes–the work of the terrible Vlad Drăculea, Prince of Wallachia and a feared warrior (also totally a real person, in case you weren’t creeped out enough already). Years later during a time of truce, Vlad is confronted by the Turks who have come to collect their annual “peace offering” of silver and slaves. Along with their usual demands, they announce that their Sultan has requested Vlad’s young soon be brought to him and raised as a warrior, threatening the kingdom with destruction unless Vlad does as he’s told. Desperate and emboldened, Vlad’s anger gets the better of him and he kills the Sultan’s men to send a message. Knowing his people will now be decimated if he does nothing to protect them, he makes his way up into the blackness of a mountain-top cave to strike a fatal deal with the Master Vampire inside (a deliciously grotesque Charles Dance) and become a monster himself for three full days. That’s three days to win the war with the powers of hell at his disposal.
Oh–except, there’s a catch. He can’t drink human blood during that time or he’ll turn into a full-blown vamp…which proves exceptionally difficult. Within the first 24 hours, Vlad tries to chow down on his wife’s carotid (C+ for effort).
The film had its exceptional moments: Director Gary Shore did well playing on audiences’ petrifying fear of the dark, using claustrophobic nighttime scenes and huge clouds of frenzied bats to force audiences back into their seats. But the saving grace of this would-be horror flick lies in its villains. Because the vampires in this film are hardly shimmering, angst-filled teens–they’re beasts. They hunt, they lie in the darkness, waiting to pounce. Their rumbling growls fill the hollows of walls and castle turrets. They’re creatures straight out of a nightmare in a sea of superhero films and comic book scripts, but they work. As Vlad’s son deftly remarks, “Sometimes the world doesn’t need another hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster.”
Evans plays Vlad remarkably, while the supporting cast does a laudable job of keeping an otherwise rocky film from flying off the handle: Dominic Cooper does his duty in his role of the Sultan, making you hate him in five minutes or less, and Charles Dance plays up the creep factor remarkably well for a man used to playing a Lannister. There’s still a good amount left to be desired in the character of Vlad’s wife Mirena. Sarah Gadon tries her best with the lines she’s given, but Mirena still comes off as cloying and textbook damsel-in-distress. Chalk it up to cliched writing, perhaps.
As far as monster movies go, Dracula Untold hits all the right marks. It’s exhaustively predictable in some parts, but leaves just enough to the imagination that, when the real nightmare is revealed, it’s terrifying enough that you might just sleep with one eye open for a few weeks.