Sunday 12 October 2014

Dracula Untold by Sazama & Sharpless

Dracula has always had certain leading man tendencies, at least as depicted in the many dramatisations of Bram Stoker's novel. 

For an undead bloodsucker, he has generally been allowed a tall dark and handsome cadaver or, in the case of Bela Lugosi, at least had some natty evening wear.

But in recent decades the world's most popular vampire has been recast as a full blown romantic hero, lovelorn and deserving of our sympathy when he isn't busy slaughtering the innocents (see also Hannibal Lecter). 

This has been the standard template for Dracula ever since Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of the movie, entitled Bram Stoker's Dracula (though it was a considerable overhaul of Stoker's concept) and, crucially, featuring the tag line 'Love Never Dies.'

But this new and more sympathetic version of the Count doesn't actually originate with Coppola, or his screenwriter James V. Hart. Hart had come up with a script which showed the human side of Dracula — so to speak. The Transylvanian prince had lost his beloved bride and was doomed to spend eternity looking for her.

This concept won the script a green light, but Hart — a talented writer who recently did a fine job on Epic — wasn't the first one to us it. That credit goes to the great Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel), one of America's finest screenwriters, an excellent novelist and short story writer, and a master of the horror genre.

Almost twenty years before the Hart/Coppla picture, in 1973, Matheson wrote an outstanding script for a TV movie of Dracula featuring Jack Palance as the Count. Confusingly — but appropriately — it shares a title with the Hart/Coppola version and is also known as Bram Stoker's Dracula. It was produced and directed by Dan Curtis, who had created the cult gothic-horror soap opera Dark Shadows.

Crucially, the Matheson script incorporated concepts from Dark Shadows. Most importantly, the idea of the vampire (Barnabas Collins in the TV series) as a doomed Romantic hero with a great lost love.

As I said, this set the template for the brooding and Byronic, rather sympathetic, user friendly fang-meister who is today's cliche, and features most recently in Dracula Untold, playing in multiplexes now. I really enjoyed this movie — in fact, I have to confess I've seen it twice. 

Dracula Untold is directed by Gary Shore, who has a background directing commercials. This is his first feature, which is pretty darn impressive. It is written by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless. This is also their feature film debut, and again it's an impressive one. The script is imaginative, effective and fresh — they have actually done some historical research and rooted it in some intriguing factual background. Although in fairness I also have to mention some real silliness in the script — like the blindfolded army

 The cast is excellent. Luke Evans (from The Hobbit) plays Dracula, the Canadian actress Sarah Gadon is ravishing as his beloved (and doomed, naturally) wife Mirena, Dominic Cooper is brilliant as the Turkish Sultan bad guy Mehmed and Charles Dance makes a seriously impressive big daddy vampire.

Charles Dance is also the big daddy villain in Game of Thrones. And indeed this Dracula flick is a very post-Game of Thrones version. In fact the notable soundtrack music is by Ramin Djawadi, who also scores Game of Thrones.

The classy cinematography is by John Schwartzman, striking production design by Francois Audouy, lovely costumes by Ngila Dickson (who did The Lord of the Rings) and a special shout-out must go to Joe Hopker for some very groovy hair styles!

Dracula Untold, is a surprisingly good film and well worth a look if you're into horror movies at all.

(Image credits: the posters are all from Ace Show Biz. The shot of Sarah Gadon is from Start News.)

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