Dracula Untold (2014) – Review

Directed by Gary Shore
Written by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Starring Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper
As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes must become a monster feared by his own kingdom in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.

This is another of those movies that I booked to see on the big screen, but never got around to watching it. I actually booked in to see it twice, but somehow, events prevented me from attending the earlier screenings. As you may already know, I’m not too taken with vampires and werewolves, finding that their apparent romance and passion leaves me a little cold. But I do like a good origin tale, regardless of its basis in fact, or come to that, lore. 
Nevertheless, before viewing Dracula Untold, I was expecting more of a “previously, on Underworld” type feel and the imagery portrayed hadn’t really suggested anything else. Now Underworld may not have a lot going for it, as far as I’m concerned, but at least it features Kate Beckinsale in a latex catsuit for much of the running time. Not so here. Just an angry warrior that likes nothing more than to force a big, pointy wooden stick into your fleshy innards and raise you vertical whilst you’re still twitching, with a look of genuine surprise still etched across your face. Good old Vlad, he does enjoy a spot of impaling. And who could blame him, those blasted Turks were a desperate bunch.

Whether you buy into the notion that Dracula was ever actually a decent sort of chap that loved his family and would do anything for the people he served as Prince, before his unfortunate nocturnal fiddling with things he would no doubt have been better off avoiding is one thing. If you can get over the fact that he was really (and we mean really) a nasty piece of work that liked nothing more than a good bout of maiming for breakfast before some honest quartering and unbridled butchery of the innocent in the afternoon, then alright, you may get more out of this than you bargained for. The rest of us, however, have to just shake our heads whilst quietly trying to cover our sniggers by forcefully trying to open that bag of family-sized Minstrels, rather than pay too much attention to the plot. Ridiculous certainly, but no less entertaining for that undeniable truth.

Supported by Dominic Miller as Mehmed, Vlad’s nemesis, who looks more shiny here even than when posing on the poster for The Devil’s Double, his performance is suitably evil and we would probably have benefited from seeing more of him. This is true also for Charles Dance, who is always frighteningly menacing at the best of times. Here, he positively oozes wickedness so convincingly that you can almost smell the putrid filth of him several rows back.

With a feel of Highlander (swords mostly, but a modern day denouement as well), Underworld (fangs, naturally) and even 300 (fighting against insurmountable odds, capes) Dracula Untold is an original and curious beast, much like the man/vampire himself. Given the power of a vampire for three days (and nights, more importantly), he is afforded the opportunity to take the war against the Turks to them, instead of waiting helplessly to watch his people be routinely slaughtered and/or enslaved. The catch? If he drinks the blood of anyone during that time, then he will be a vampire forevermore. He can handle it though. Right? The insatiable, unbearable, never-ending torment that follows him wherever he goes makes Renton’s crack at going cold-turkey in Trainspotting about as challenging as not walking in front of a bus just after winning the lottery.

Luke Evans’ Dracula is flawed before we even set eyes on him, as is the plot. We already know what’s going to happen to Vlad even before his admittedly honourable venture into those caves to search for the answer that will save his people. With the best of intentions (again, not totally believable in the grand scheme of things, but just about credible enough to get away with here, assuming you’ve never heard of Dracula before) Evans’ performance is satisfying enough to keep your attention where it should be and not down the front of your dates blouse or on that vat of Pepsi you purchased without going to the toilet first. If you buy into the story and don’t expect much more of a nod to Christopher Lee than a palms-raised shoulder shrug, then you might find yourself actually having a good time as the film is entertaining throughout and never undermined by overly cheesy dialogue or wooden acting that never comes to fruition, but might rightfully be expected.

In all, a fairly harmless addition to the vampire canon that doesn’t really care too much about the vampire element and only really gives it attention because it really has to. A Prince that will go to any lengths to save his people is a worthy story to tell, but given the Prince featured here, it was always going to be a tough sell to engage with a legend so inherently evil. Go for the acting and the fighting and you’ll be happy enough. Any more than that, and you’re probably reaching.

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