Horror Movie Review #4: Dracula: Untold

Posted: October 11, 2014 in Horror Blog
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In the last ten-ish years there have been only three films (that I can recall off the top of my head) that have been in theaters that stared the character of Dracula. Blade: Trinity, Dracula 2000, and Van Helsing. And all of those were in the early 00’s. Sure there have been other portrayals of the vicious count in some direct to DVD films but in general, in a time where vampire hype is at its peak, the prince of darkness has been vastly out of the picture.  True there was the NBC series last year, but that was canceled after one season, and I also admit that I hadn’t even watched one episode of it (so I don’t know if it was good or not.) When I heard that Universal wanted to bring back the timeless villain though, to the silver screen, I was stoked. As I’ve said before I am a sucker for the classic Universal pictures. I’m also a fan of the original novel by Stoker.  But I honestly had no clue how this was going to go. Many of these “classics” remakes haven’t been quite as amazing as fans (myself included) were hoping they’d be. Van Helsing. The WolfMan. The Mummy. These are movies I wanted to love. I’ve tried really hard to like them, and in fact there are some redeemable qualities to them. But in general there were let downs; something just doesn’t click with the movies.

So when the first trailer came out for Untold I admit I was hesitant. I wasn’t a big fan of how they cut it together (anytime a trailer editor puts the title of a movie in twice I automatically cringe. And it was so unneeded too. But I digress…) and it just didn’t get me as excited as I was hoping. But a few TV spots over time slowly began to win over some anticipation although I kept my guard up in general. And in the end I’m glad I did. This left me with the same feeling the rest of the remakes/reboots did- I wanted to love it, but it just came up short.

This film is basically if you took 300 and replaced Leonidas with Dracula. You have a king/prince who is facing a constant thread of war from an oppressing force. So they do something drastic and face that force head on. There are even moment of imagery in Untold that I swear are taken directly from 300. Drac climbing the mountain and that flowing cape. The fight choreography.  The opening of the film being a retelling of how Vlad came to be. The slow mo. The color palate (except instead of that golden wheat color we now get a palate of grays.) It was actually irritating to me how unoriginal it was. I feel the same way about the first Purge film. Here is a great idea (both in Untold and Purge) and you are just going to staple it on to an already “been there/done that” film.

Untold takes a fairly good concept, which consists of diving more in depth to the lore of Vlad the Impaler who was inspiration behind the fictional Dracula character, and ties the two together. We’ve seen this before in several film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula being the first (and best as far as I’m concerned.) But in that film (and most others) the history is only glanced over. This film was solely dedicated to telling the origins of Vlad Dracul and how he became damned. You can also see some heavy influence from the 1992 Coppola film in this movie and to be honest, I wished they had borrowed more from that movie and less from 300. 

Something I REALLY wish they had borrowed from BOTH of those films though was the daring, and gore. This film, I feel, would have been just that much better had they used a.)more practical effects, and b.) gore. For being a movie about the most famous bloodsucker to ever have lived, there is hardly a drop of blood in this film. And note that we go through intense battle scenes, and deaths, and vampire attacks- all of it. And there was hardly any of the red stuff. One of the best things about the The WolfMan remake was the brutality of the kills. I wished they had stuck with that mentality with this movie. I don’t know who said “let’s make this a bloodless Dracula film” but they should be fired. I can live with the PG-13 rating, and you can have quite a bit of blood in a PG-13 film. But they should have gone there; they should have been more graphic and daring.

Other things that were really off putting in the film was the sense of logic. That goes for characters as well as physics and abilities. Now… I understand that this is a vampire film. This is a world not set in our reality. But some things are just not negotiable. The main thing that irked me being Mirena’s death. She fell. From, like, HUNDREDS of feet to her death. Dracula did not catch her. And yet she was still “together,” and still alive even. No. Just no. If someone fell from that height they’d be nothing but mush. Yet there she is, holding a full “last conversation” with Dracula about how he needs to drink her blood and damn his soul in order to save their son from the Turks.

And even though I understand that this is 1400’s and belief in magic and monsters is present in this era, but Dracula and his men believing that the creature in the mountain is a vampire just went over far too smooth. In fact that happened a lot, and I feel like it was just to speed the story along. Scenes seemed skipped through and rushed together in order to move along. Like all of Drac’s people suddenly believing he is a vampire. When did that happen? They never said a word. Then all of a sudden it’s “I TOLD YOU”, and “IT’S TRUE!” and they try to kill him. At that point in time only the Turks thought he was a monster. Nobody from the village had said or seemingly had noticed anything.

Other, random things, that I thought were troublesome-

*Everyone knowing how to deal with a vampire and… no real reason behind why.

*The feeling of Drac not truly being “damned.” Dracula is supposed to be one of the most evil of the classic monsters. He is essentially a living demon. You never get that here. He can’t look at crosses but he doesn’t hate God here. Actually there is no real explanation of vampires hate for God. If we are supposed to assume that this Dracula becomes the God hating Dracula (in some way shape or form) that we know, how? In this film he seems rather religious. So to go from, “yeah it’s all good” to “GRAH I HATE YOU AND ALL SYMBOLS” is just weird.

*Heavy focus on silver, but never explained as to why it hurts vampires. Also, just randomly the Sultan attempts to use a stake… when he has a full silver sword. Also no explanation as to why stakes would work.

*Dracula controlling the bats. Now this one… I can kind of forgive. The reason being this is kind of a nod to the novel. Dracula has “all the powers of darkness” and can control such things. So I understood why he could. But in the film it’s plays out like a superhero discovering his powers and… it’s weird. Just like his sudden ability to transform into bats. It made me think of Superman learning to fly in Man of Steel.

*My biggest complaint of all is that it is NEVER scary. Once. Not in the entire film. No horror aspect to it what so ever. At least The Mummy and The WolfMan had some legitimate scary and/or creepy moments. I really feel like this should have expanded and lasted longer and gone into Dracula’s early years of being a vampire after the war with the Turks. How he had to start attacking villages and what not to sustain his blood lust.  Maybe it skips forward a few years and his son, now the new prince/king of the people has aged a little and he has to deal with his father killing his people. The son deciding that his father has to die and in the end Drac kills his own son, and blames God for all of it. So the first half would have been the action film we got, and the second half more horror. There, bam. That should have been your movie, Universal.

Sigh…

There were, as I said, some good aspects to this film though. One being Luke Evans. His portrayal of Dracula, I feel, was actually rather good. He seemed with it for the most part, and while I would have liked to seen more scary scenes with him, he did “torn decisions” part real well. When he felt pain (internally or externally) it felt real too. It was a good casting decision, and he did a great job breathing some new life into a classic character.

I must say, my favorite two characters were Charles Dance (Master Vampire) and the “Renfield” character (who I don’t know the name for.) Dance does an amazing job, and I feel relishes being this ancient being as much as  Hopkins relished playing Lecter. It was a subtle yet powerful performance and I wished we would have been able to see more of him in the film. Likewise I wish we could have seen more of the Renfield-like character. When he first come into the picture I was not sure what to make of him until he started offering himself and begging Dracula to turn him. Then I knew right away, and as he slunk off into the darkness and said “master…” I was genuinely excited. He reappeared again at the end, and it was a great moment.

The ending, taking place in modern day, I’ll admit I am not sure if I like it or not. It did put a smile on my face, especially once the girl did say her name. And then Dance appearing again, like a vampyric version of Nick Fury. It made me curious as to what was going to happen; what will happen next. Alas, for the moment we don’t know.

In the end Untold was an exposition heavy, overly rushed, gutless film. It plays out more like a prologue to what should be the rest of a feature film, but instead it goes nowhere. It does have some genuine moments. The visuals are great, albeit they seem somewhat borrowed at times from other films, the acting isn’t that bad, and it does leave the door open. Universal is, I guess, wanting to use this film to reboot the Universal Monster universe and connect them all together (ala Marvel style) which will either be a really cool idea or really bad. It has potential, but I’m hoping that Untold was just a rocky start. If Universal wants this to work the films need to be more brutal, scary, and more coherent. They tried to give us a monster in Untold, but instead we got a hero. Next time I want something with a real bite.

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