Luke Evans and Charles Dance impress in an otherwise mishandled origin story
An early title for this latest spin on Bram Stoker’s fanged fiend was ‘Dracula: Year Zero’, which gives some indication of where the writers gleaned inspiration for this origin story: Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel 'Batman: Year One'. Dracula Untold makes its focus the historical figure behind Stoker’s blood-sucking immortal, 15th century Romanian warrior Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler.
Played by Luke Evans - who takes the role by the scruff of its neck - Vlad is not quite the evil-doer his nickname suggests. He’s a warrior, a leader and a family man, out to save his people from the Turkish hoards, led by the sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper, slightly retreading his unhinged work in The Devil’s Double). The script, written by Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, suggests Vlad morphing into the Prince of Darkness is the result of a selfless act: selling his soul to protect rather than plunder.
Dracula Untold boasts some show-stopping performances, not least from Charles Dance, who plays the vampiric presence that Vlad encounters and enters into a Faustian pact with. Caked under layers of prosthetics, and boasting the best tongue since Jabba the Hutt opened his mouth, Dance’s malicious turn adds much-needed colour. Also good is Sarah Gadon as Vlad’s wife Mirena, imbuing her with fortitude and resolve as she watches her man change irrevocably.
More problematic is the feel of the film, it's an underwhelming debut from director Gary Shore. The special effects just don’t seem, well, special; while anyone expecting a scary old time will be sorely disappointed. Po-faced and humourless, the story also feels stripped bare, lacking any real flesh on its bones. Attempting to play to the same crowd as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula did, it never quite gets there. The cast sink their teeth in but the resulting film is surprisingly bloodless.
General release from Fri 3 Oct.