The story of Dracula has been done. A lot. Pretty much every few years a new remake or retelling of Bram Stoker’s fabled vampire story has made its way to theaters. Some are good, but most are little more than a waste of time. ‘Dracula Untold’ is Universal’s newest attempt to reboot the character (and along with him their famous monster franchise), and it is a solid and well-imagined attempt.
Rather than retell the classic story, ‘Dracula Untold’ reimagines the origins of the famed vampire within the historical narrative of Vlad the Impaler (the supposed inspiration for Stoker). Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) a former janissary of the Turkish sultan, with legendary status due to his violent past, finds himself and his kingdom on the verge of war with the Turks. The price to avoid this war is one thousand boys, plus Vlad’s own son, to be sent to the Sultan as future janissaries. Vlad refuses and takes it upon himself to do whatever it takes to protect his way of life. A mysterious creature living high up in a neighboring mountain offers him the means to easily vanquish his enemy at the potential cost of his humanity.
As far as origin stories go this is a well-written film. While it does take awhile for any vampirism to take place the plot more than makes up for it. The difficulty with origin films like this one is that you already know going in where the film is going. Vlad is going to become Dracula. The questions of “will he?” “won’t he?” are meaningless plot frivolities. What makes this film special, and inspire hope for future films in this potential franchise, is the way the character is developed.
Vlad is a sympathetic monster. He does what he does out of love, and even once he is enveloped by evil the character is still too complex to describe in just one or two words. The Universal monster movies have always, deep down, played out more as tragedies than traditional horror films. Of course they are scary films, but they feature flawed, tragic characters. This is an aspect that has been missing from recent previous monster incarnations, and it is a very big positive coming out of ‘Dracula Untold.’
Since this is an origin story the most interesting thing about the plot, besides its fresh new take, is arguably where it goes after the climactic transformation. The film created a new Dracula, now what? Well, in terms of future plots the movie ends in an interesting and tantalizing way. This monster universe is new and fresh. There is not a lot of mythos explained in the movie, though some is hinted at, so it is unclear how things are going to work, but this is an exciting aspect of the movie. It teases rather than overburdening. They could have dumped an entire new franchise into one movie and just continued with whatever stuck, but instead they laid down a decent first building block that looks like it will serve as the foundation for a good future franchise.