ShOR 365: Dracula Untold

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

I’m cranking out the reviews today. Whoop whoop. Granted, these are all built up from not posting them though, I do really feel like I’m hitting my stride with these reviews. If there’s anything you’d like to see in my reviews, please comment or tweet the site on Twitter. This binge is here to not only give me the experience of writing reviews but it’s also here to hopefully introduce you to films that may not exactly be in your repertoire and I’m always up for comments and suggestions so hit me up!

I think most everyone knows the legend of Vlad Tepes. If not, you know him by his nickname “Vlad the Impaler”. Those of us who’ve taken any type of literature class have another name for dear old Vlad: Dracula. The story of Dracula dates back to the late 1800s with Bram Stoker’s novel but there have also been many Hollywood adaptations dating back to the 1920s with Nosferatu. Besides cute, little, animated films, the latest deep dive into Dracula was 2014’s Dracula Untold.

Luke Evans plays the titular Vlad Tepes. He is the prince of Transylvania and he has brokered ten years of peace between the Turks and the Transylvanians. This era of peace is inexplicably broken by a mysterious, dark entity that haunts Broken Tooth mountain. Vlad discovers this is a vampire (Charles Dance) and, in a bid to save his people and his son, he seeks out the vampire to give him the strength he needs to defeat the Turks. The Master Vampire tells him that if he can resist the urge to drink blood for three days, he will return to being a human. If he drinks a human’s blood, Vlad will turn into a vampire for eternity and will release the Master Vampire into the world as well. Of course, Vlad accepts.

Instead of taking the plot from the novel, the filmmakers decided to create their own origin story for the famous vampire. Does it work? Not really. Does everything else work? Score, casting, special effects? Yes. So, in all, it’s not a really good Dracula film but it’s a pretty decent vampire film.

I adore Ramin Djawadi. He is perhaps one of my most favorite composers besides Hans Zimmer and John Williams. All of his music is iconic. Just look at Pacific Rim or, better yet, Game of Thrones. His song “Mhysa” from the third season of the series is still my most favorite piece of music ever. It comes as no surprise that the first thing I noticed in the film was the score. Djawadi has such a knack for integrating choral voices with orchestral instrumentation. As a former choir nerd, it makes my heart happy. Not to mention the choral inclusion elevates the score to a rich darkness that this film needs. The studio really made the right choice in picking Djawadi. I don’t feel that anyone else could have captured the yearning and the darkness and the internal and moral struggle that Vlad experiences throughout the movie. It’s a roller coaster ride from start to finish that is punctuated with soaring voices and beautiful intensity.

On the topic of beautiful intensity, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Evans in this film. Oh, my heavens. There is something about him in this role that really captured my attention and hurt my heart all at the same time. Dracula is not a very sympathetic character. He never has been. But, Evans really dug deep and gave it his all in this film. He portrayed Dracula as a man driven by love instead of hate or any other negative emotions. Even when he finally fulfilled his destiny of becoming a full-fledged vampire, there was anguish and sorrow behind those dark brown eyes. He didn’t want this life for all eternity. He wanted it to save his family. He couldn’t save Mirena, his wife, but he saved his son and was willing to die once he had accomplished that. It was so beautiful and well acted. I need more of him as Dracula. I really do.

Another thing I need more of is Charles Dance as the Master Vampire. Please? Just make a sequel because I need it. Dance is perfectly icy in this role. But, then again, when is he not icy? However, here, it’s eerie and scary. They couldn’t have chosen a better master. He carries the role with a poise that is as intense as Evans’ and that’s saying something for Evans’ performance. Not everyone can stand toe-to-toe with Dance but by golly, Evans does with finesse. You can tell Dance revels in acting opposite Evans.

The third thing that really stood out to me with this film was the special effects. I am a sucker for them and they were well done in this film. Stylistically, the special effects were similar to those in Snow White and the Huntsman but, for some reason, it worked better here. Maybe it was because Dracula Untold was a tight ninety minutes instead of a draggy two hours. Who knows. Either way, the bats gave me chills and when Vlad changes into a flock of them for the first time, I almost got chills. I love great special effects. Give them all to me. Please.

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