It wouldn’t be a review of a bad vampire movie without saying, “it sucks,” but DRACULA UNTOLD is the origin story that absolutely nobody asked for except creatively bankrupt studio executives. Did we really need the gritty reboot of Dracula? According to Hollywood, this is a great idea worth spending $70 million on. It’s 2014, so focus group testing and contemporary box office trends have proven we need movies in the style of 300 where we switch the time period and add a BATMAN BEGINS style origin story. It’s fool-proof! Too bad they didn’t call this Bat-Dad.
DRACULA UNTOLD tells the “untold” story of a violent warrior turned noble prince, Vlad the Impaler. He’s a really great prince because everybody cheers whenever he says important things or makes rousing speeches. He’s a great husband because he keeps telling his damsel-in-distress wife that she’s beautiful. And of course he’s a great dad because he offers to take his son horseback riding because that’s what good dads do. After an enemy storms his kingdom and repeatedly demands to take 1,000 boys for their army, poor Vlad realizes that there’s only one thing left to do. That decision of course is climbing up a mountain to talk to a creepy old vampire who licks your neck to detect fear. After some exposition about how it’s a curse, Vlad decides to drink blood out of a shell in order to begin his 3 day free trial of being a vampire.
As you can probably guess at this point, an origin story of being a villain needs something to go wrong because that’s how character arcs work in these movies. However, the stakes seem oddly nonexistent given how easily Dracula is able to solve his problems. There isn’t really a moral decision that’s made in this movie given all the advantages our protagonist is able to reach thanks to this “terrible” decision. He can’t deal with the daylight? Maybe he should hang out indoors during the day instead before all the battle scenes that happen in the dark. He’s afraid of telling his people he’s a vampire? Maybe he should let everyone know he’s only using a free trial. Unsurprisingly, the characters who aren’t related to the main character are woefully under-developed and exist only to be killed off as supporting characters in boring battle sequences you’ve seen in other movies before. This is also a movie padded out with shots of CGI armies, sweeping shots of vistas, an illogical script, and terrible “Transylvanian” accents that sound like actors putting on their best BORAT impressions. All in all, it’s an extraordinarily mediocre movie with nonexistent stakes.
When I was a kid, the historical real time strategy game AGE OF EMPIRES was one of my favorite video games ever. Not because it was a cool simulation game that let me create historical empires throughout time, but because I could enter the cheat code bigdaddy into the command bar to spawn a Corvette with a Bazooka. I was then able to laugh in the face of historical accuracy as I drove my Corvette through unestablished civilizations in the BC era while I fired missiles at prehistoric tribes who were armed with nothing but spears and catapults. It was an unfair advantage that dismayed my parents given it was missing the entire point of the game’s educational aspect, but hey, at least it looked cool.
So what does this anecdote have to do with a movie about the origin of a fictional vampire? Well, me playing AGE OF EMPIRES is a pretty fitting metaphor. The entire concept of DRACULA UNTOLD seems to be that Dracula can save his kingdom by fighting armies with bats. That’s right. He can turn into bats, send armies of bats to kill people, and even choreograph bats with his hands. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an origin story of Dracula or not. If your plot can be solved with sending out a bunch of bats, I’m pretty sure that’s not screenwriting. Anything resembling conflict is instantly sucked out of the movie when you realize that you really shouldn’t be concerned when you can just let bats do your job for you. By the time Vlad is sword-fighting in a final showdown, you’re wondering why he didn’t just send out homing bats to deal with everything. I understand that escalation is how basic storytelling works, but by the end of the movie you realize all this bat stuff could have been done while our hero sits on a couch. But given that this movie struggles with it’s length even at a ridiculously brief 85 minutes, it would be the length of a student short film if it acknowledged a plothole this huge. Or maybe it would force the screenwriters to write an actual story.
DRACULA UNTOLD is far from the worst movie of the year, but it’s easily the most pointless and forgettable. It’s a reboot that is the very reason people make fun of reboots. As an origin story, it completely fails to say anything interesting. If all you can say is, “Dracula wasn’t a bad guy, he was just a gritty anti-hero,” there is no reason to exist. As a horror movie, it doesn’t even try to be scary even though it deals with a classic horror icon. And as an action movie, once you’ve seen one army get killed with CGI bats, you’ve seen them all. It’s ill conceived films like DRACULA UNTOLD that give me hope that Hollywood may be brain-dead enough to hire me to come up with bad movie ideas. But hey, DRACULA UNTOLD surely can’t be worse than I, FRANKENSTEIN, right?
DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) [92 min.]
DIR. GARY SHORE
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