Release Date: 3rd of October 2014
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Director: Gary Shore
Starring: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Charles Dance, Art Parkinson
One of the most enduring villains in cinema, Dracula has more than two hundred film appearances across history. His name instantly conjures thoughts of sinister and seductive aristocrats and things that go bump in the night. Now, thanks to the craze of unwanted origin stories that’s sweeping Hollywood, we get to see his early pre-vampiric years in Dracula Untold. What follows is a ho-hum fantasy film with a toothless interpretation of a classic horror character and some elegant sets.
Following years of brutality in service of the Ottoman Empire, Vlad ‘The Impaler’ Tepes (Evans) has settled down to life as the benevolent ruler of Transylvania. His oath of fealty to the new sultan is tested however when he is ordered to donate all the boys in the city to the Turkish army. With the blinged up might of the Ottomans at his door, Vlad visits an elderly vampire in a cave to ask for help. Given supernatural powers for three days, Vlad must resist his thirst for blood; otherwise the transformation is permanent and his damnation eternal. Of course, there wouldn’t be over two hundred stories about a man who was a vampire for a long weekend so the end result is never really in doubt.
As is often the case with prequels and origin stories the plot of Dracula Untold is stripped entirely of tension. It’s never a case of will he drink blood, it’s just a lengthy wait for when he drinks blood. Worse still, we spend all this time waiting for the classic movie monster to emerge but the filmmakers soften and humanise him to such an extent that he’s leeched of all menace. Vlad never really becomes the Prince of Darkness famous from countless books and movies; he’s just a man doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. To make matters worse the whole film is essentially the first five minutes of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film of Bram Stoker’s novel stretched out over an hour and a half. A more accurate title than Dracula Untold might be Dracula Told Slower.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad, first time director Gary Shore shows some visual flair. A bullet-time inflected prologue of medieval combat frozen in time is particularly striking, while scenes of Vlad’s homelife are bathed in a beautiful autumnal glow. There’s a slickness to the filmmaking throughout and clearly Shore has a good eye for a captivating image; he brings out the best in the wonderfully ominous sets and costumes. Yet the film is still inert on a story level, this is all stake and no sizzle (I make no apologies for my pun); it looks pretty but rings hollow.
Some stories are best left untold. Dracula Untold is one such film. .