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Friday, October 10, 2014

Chris's Review: ‘Dracula Untold’ removes everything that makes the legend great

Whether a direct adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, F.W. Murnau’s not-so-sly variation (or Werner Herzog’s remake of that variation), Béla Lugosi or Christopher Lee’s legendary turns, Mel Brooks’ spoof, or horror legend Dario Argento’s recent 3-D disaster, the story of Dracula has been told countless times throughout cinema history. More often than not (probably?), that story has found an origin in the legendary real life figure of Vlad the Impaler, a fascinating character regardless of who is telling the story.

This bad ass

So when Universal Pictures decided to reboot their legendary horror movie monsters (Dracula, Wolf Man, The Mummy, etc.), they chose none other than the immortal vampire, the most famous and resilient of the motley crew, to kick things off. With that, Universal promised a new take on the classic Vlad-becomes-Dracula story with Dracula Untold, the dreaded “dark re-imagining” that Hollywood (and apparently movie-going audiences everywhere are obsessed with these days).

 Well, it may be a new take on the Vlad the Impaler legend, but in the end, it is just another “origin story” variation that audiences have seen countless time before. Given the fascinating and real-life terrorizing figure it is based on, it is incredibly disappointing just how lifeless the film really is. And not in a good undead vampire way, but rather, in a boring and uninspired way – one that is filled with clichés and completely devoid of any real scares.

Vlad, it turns, out according to the movie, is not the bloodthirsty bad guy history and folklore has made him out to be. He is just a conflicted father, husband, and leader who is backed into a corner and does something desperate to save all those he cares about. This is the main fault of Dracula Untold. It took one of the most legendary and fearsome figures ever, real and imagined, and castrated him.

It should be no surprise that Dracula Untold takes on the modern Hollywood blockbuster approach of picking and choosing what it copies from other similar and successful films. It borrows liberally from other horror-action films like the Underworld series, while attempting to duplicate the stylish and exaggerated action of 300.

And speaking of those action scenes, the film’s battle scenes are almost impossible to watch, literally. They are heightened hectic to the point of incomprehension. Every movement is like a blur and shot with unnecessary close-ups and obscured angles. There is one part where the audience is forced to watch the end of fight scene through the reflection of a sword. It just doesn’t work. And while some of the special effects are really well done (Vlad morphing into and out of a swarm of bats especially), the action that surrounds it all is sorely lacking.

The latest to take on the role of Dracula is British actor, Luke Evans, who you may know as the slightly broodier Orlando Bloom. He is fine in the role, but really lacks that spark needed for Dracula. He certainly does not have to possess all the traits we have come to expect from the Prince of Darkness – frightening, mysterious, sly, and seductive – but he does have to be something. Unfortunately, he is as lifeless as the rest of the movie.

On the other hand, Games of Thrones alum Charles Dance does possess many of those previously mentioned traits in a scene-stealing, all-too-brief role as the original vampire. But the less that is said about Dominic Cooper’s Ottoman antagonist the better.

Taking on a legendary character from a new perspective is a difficult and daunting task. But removing everything that makes that character legendary in the first place is not the way to do it. Replacing it with the safe, but increasingly worn out gritty reboot/over-stylized action of the modern studio tentpole makes it even worse.

* ½ out of 5 stars

Dracula Untold opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, October 10

This review originally appeared on Chris's official review page. Check it out and other reviews on

'Dracula Untold' Trailer: 

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