Dracula Untold Fails as Horror, but Fares Better as Superhero

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Dracula Untold opens 10/10/2014

“Dracula Untold” is PG-13. If you’re hoping for a gory, bloody-squirting everywhere fang-fest, that simple sentence probably tells you everything you need to know. If, however, you’re not particularly a horror fan but like over-the-top action with a little tongue-in-cheek humor mixed into your violence and don’t take liberties with history as being sacrilegious, you might enjoy it.

Or, to put it another way, this is Dracula, the superhero. Ponder that. I’ll wait. 

Before you get all spastic about the lack of sparkles and shaved chests on werewolves (while the rest of us old school Universal Pictures horror buffs cringe at the same thought, and anything involving Kristen Stewart), take a deep breath and change your perspective a little. What other possible way can a movie studio possibly depict Dracula? He’s been done as the classic European gentleman bloodsucker, he’s been a blaxploitation caricature, and he’s been used to sell breakfast cereal.  It’s been done.

So rather than recite Bram Stoker again, first time director took aim at Vlad Tepes, the real life Prince of Transylvania who brutally mounted his enemies on spikes to sow fear among his enemies, thus earning the nickname “The Impaler.” Luke Evans, a veteran of the Fast and Furious and Hobbit franchises, plays Dracula, the noble hero of his tiny kingdom in opposition to the vastly larger and stronger Turkish Army. He’s shown as a devoted family man, willing to go to war rather than let his son and a thousand other young boys of his kingdom become slaves to the Turks and sacrifice nearly everything for his true love, Mirena, played by the very lovely Sarah Gadon.  It sounds so sweet, doesn’t it? Well, the Master Vampire, played by Game of Thrones’ Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance in a role David Carradine would have loved, grants Dracula the gift…or curse…of vampirism. Historical chocolate mixed with dark fantasy peanut butter. Tasty, right?

Well, my fellow critics seemed to uniformly dislike “Dracula Untold.” I think they’re looking at it wrong. Nobody does PG-13 horror that’s going to be any good. However, if you treat this like a superhero movie—which you should—I think you’ll be much happier with it. Evans is enjoyable, doing a loose impression of a young Antonio Banderas. As Vlad the Super Strong he’s a one man army, smashing Turks with reckless abandon. As Vlad the Batman, who morphs into clouds of bats, he’s almost campy. I think it might have worked better to keep to the history books. Go all-in with Vlad the Impaler, showing just how far a man could go to gain and maintain power. Leave the horror thrills to Bela Lugosi or Tom Cruise. I was mildly disappointed that there were no references to a Black Lagoon or that nutty ol’ country doctor Frankenstein, M.D.

The story is paint-by-numbers, but the pictures are sharp, the effects are solid, and the cast has chemistry than many better-reviewed films I’ve seen. My screening was in two dimensions only, thankfully, so that’s two stars right there in my book. Batman has been doing Dracula’s gimmick for years, so seeing it turned around the other way, having Dracula play the superhero, seems almost a no-brainer. It’s not a bad first effort at a big feature for Gary Shore, and I’m intrigued by the possibility of a sequel set in modern times, which was strongly hinted at near the end. It may not be gory enough for the vampire fans or historical enough for period piece snobs, but I was decently entertained. I’ll give Shore props on originality and technical execution, but it just lacks…

Bite. 

Grade: 
3.0 / 5.0