Movies

Movie Review

‘Dracula Untold’ offers a new take on Vlad’s back story

Luke Evans stars in “Dracula Untold.”
Universal Pictures
Luke Evans stars in “Dracula Untold.”

“Dracula Untold” is Gary Shore’s disinterment of the immortal revenant’s story, and it’s not so much untold as rewritten — if not by J.R.R. Tolkien than by some clever 12-year-old overstimulated by “The Lord of the Rings.” This version not only looks like Peter Jackson outtakes, but adopts the same narrative of a wicked empire threatening a peaceful kingdom, with a champion of good compelled to employ evil means to defeat the enemy — and somehow avoid becoming evil himself.

Because, when you come right down to it, Prince Vlad III of Wallachia (Luke Evans) was not such a bad guy. True, he didn’t get the nickname “the Impaler” by being nice to kittens. History tells how on one occasion he planted a field with 20,000 skewered victims, some still wriggling, to scare off invading Turks.

But that was back in the day. Now he just wants to retire and spend more time with his family.

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Those Turks, however, just don’t get it. They’re back and are demanding a thousand children, including Vlad’s son, whom they will brutally raise to become ruthless janissaries. The same thing happened to Vlad, which explains a lot. Just goes to show you shouldn’t be quick to judge a person, and that everyone has a story.

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And so Vlad goes to the cave where the Master Vampire (Charles Dance) dwells and agrees to a Faustian deal to become a vampire. If he can go three days without drinking human blood, he can use all those vampire powers — familiar from the “Twilight” series and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” — in wiping out the Turks. Then he can go back to being the kind of normal human being who impales 20,000 people in one day.

Though derivative, “Untold” does possess a certain visual élan, with images reminiscent of medieval tapestries, Caspar David Friedrich, and, inevitably, “Game of Thrones.” And the vampire genre would not be so hard to kill if it did not possess some archetypal power that can be applied to the present day. Is this an allegory of the War on Terror? Of the rise and fall of capitalism? But those are stories yet untold.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.