The hunger for film studios to reinvent, reboot and rediscover the tale of Dracula is as endless and unquenchable as the thirst for blood that devours the vampire lord himself but as with any iconic figure not all its incarnations are as entertaining and interesting as the others.
Take for example the two recent televisual attempts at the myth of the original bat man Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s modern day invasion The Strain and Cole Haddon’s Victorian retelling of Bram Stoker’s tale staring Jonathan Rhys Meyers both of which started out with diverse perspectives and promising ideas and quickly descended into vampire cliché and uninventive horror making them both yawn inducing yarns.
Thankfully Universal’s latest attempt to bring Dracula back from the dead, entitled Dracula Untold, is far better than both these shows and many other reboots cleverly choosing to abandon Stoker’s story altogether and forge a new legend based much further back in the Middle Ages attempting to explain how Vlad the Impaler transformed into the blood sucking beast.
Opening in 1442 a voice over explains how the evil Turkish Empire enslaved many children of Transylvania including the Prince Vlad (played by the brilliant Luke Evans) who became a fearsome warrior famed for impaling his enemies on the battlefield and leaving them for all to see.
Returning from war and taking the throne of his kingdom Vlad left his violent life behind to become a father to his son and a ruler to his people however when a group of Turkish emissaries turn up unannounced and demand 1,000 boys to fight for them instead of their usual tribute of silver he realises he must become the warrior he once was.
Offering himself instead to the Turkish Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (Dominic Cooper relishing his villainous role) his proposal is rejected and when the soldiers come for the boys including his son he fights back slaughtering them all and starting an all-out war with an army far superior to his own.
Knowing he cannot win Vlad has one last hope that lies within a mysterious cave full of bones that legend tells is the home to a monster that was once a man who made a deal with the devil for ultimate power.
Desperate for that power for himself Vlad confronts the demon that lurks within the dark the Master Vampire (Charles Dance great as always) who offers him his blood and abilities for three days on the condition that Vlad resists the intense urge to drink human blood or else he will be a vampire forever more.
Taking the pact and the vampires powers Vlad sets out to destroy the Turks and save his people however he soon discovers that he might have to fight even harder to save his own soul before he succumbs to his hunger and loses his humanity for eternity.
Balancing brilliant action and battle set pieces with a dark streak of horror and the right amount of historical drama Dracula Untold works wonderfully well and first time director Gary Shore has enough vision and talent to not only craft a first rate film but fill it with some beautifully brutal artistic moment’s such as the fight seen through the eyes of a dying solider in the reflection of his sword watching Vlad decimate his colleges before finally having the coup de grâce delivered to his corpse.
The action is epic and the effects well done with some new concepts in regards to how Dracula’s powers work most notable in the swarm of bats he becomes at will fluidly moving from one victim to the next in seamless and scary syncopation.
The cast is also top notch especially Luke Evans who embeds Vlad with a pathos and passion rarely seen in retellings of the Dracula legend filling out the motivation and tragic decisions he makes and the sacrifices he faces as he falls from grace.
Charles Dance and Dominic Cooper are both excellent and unrecognisable and Sarah Gadon who plays Vlad’s wife Mirena helps bring a more emotional side to the story of limb slicing and fantastic fang fighting.
Triumphing against the mundane reanimated retellings of Bram Stoker’s tale that seem to fill our cinema screens ad infinitum Dracula Untold’s greatest strength is that it endeavors to be different and not only does it succeed but it finally offers Dracula fans a re-Vamp worth watching.