Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Warfare, Vampire Attacks, Disturbing Images, and some Sensuality
Directed by: Gary Shore
Written by: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless
Starring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Samantha Barks, Art Parkinson & Charles Dance
Let 2014 mark the year that Universal monsters sunk the level of 80’s slasher icons. It’s not as if these classic horror figures struck fear into the hearts of adults or young people after the 1950’s ended, but there was dignity retained to them (despite a few cheapo TV movies). In the space of less than 12 months, Frankenstein has been turned into a futuristic action-hero fighting gargoyles and Dracula has been blended with his real-life inspiration (Vlad The Impaler) in a dull would-be fantasy-horror epic. Yep, it’s official. Freddy (who died in 3D), Jason (who went to Hell and outer space), and Michael (who became a hobo) have officially been joined by Frankenstein and Dracula. It’s a sad sight to say the least.
Vlad Tepes III was a vicious prince with a well-earned grudge against the Turks. The real history behind this infamous warrior would make for a fantastically dark, gory and awesome movie. Instead, it has been blended with the vampire legend sprung from this historical figure. According to DRACULA UNTOLD, there was a time when Vlad put down his arms and wanted nothing more than peace between his kingdom and the Turks. After the sultan demands 1,000 boys from Vlad’s kingdom (including the prince’s son), Vlad climbs a foreboding mountain on the edge of his land to gain otherworldly powers from an ancient vampire dwelling in a cave. There’s a fault in Vlad’s plan to save his people and his son. He will gain supernatural abilities for three days and then return to his mortal state if he can avoid quenching his thirst for blood in that time period. Since this is the origin story of Dracula and there’s plenty of fractured history involving Vlad the Impaler’s quest against the Turks, it’s easy to see where things are heading.
The first thing that may stick out like a sore thumb in DRACULA UNTOLD is the PG-13 rating. This restriction stifles a good portion of the potential bloodshed. Apparently, a sword going through somebody’s foot doesn’t draw any blood whatsoever and impaling someone from a distance wouldn’t get a couple of their organs popping out. The vampire antics also seem to shy away from the red stuff. The far kinder Vlad The Impaler character (the real life warrior loved to dine while his enemies were struggling on pikes in front of him and fell asleep to the tortured screams of victims below his bedroom) also lends to this toned-down violence. I wouldn’t be harping so much on the PG-13 rating if it didn’t detract from the story being told and it absolutely takes away from the plot here. Not that the movie would have been that much better with a gory R rating either.
Luke Evans is wooden as Vlad. The charismatic quality of this vampire is clearly lost on Evans, who seems unsure of how to play the part. He never seems to fully embrace the role or feel comfortable in the skin of the title character. The only other actor of note is Dominic Cooper. Though he’s proved to be hugely talented in the right parts (his two performances in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE are nothing short of astounding), Cooper recites lines through his second lame bad guy role this year (NEED FOR SPEED being the first). He’s not given much screen-time as the evil Sultan. The rest of the characters may as well have been labeled as Dead Body #1-500, because they aren’t given any worthwhile moments (including Vlad’s wife and son). The climatic showdown also resembles the final fight of a certain summer blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie, but lacked excitement.
With all of these well-deserved criticisms leveled at DRACULA UNTOLD, I’m not completely dismissing it as an outright failure. It’s stupid and dumb, but has a bit of guilty pleasure enjoyment to it. DRACULA UNTOLD is definitely schlock, but like its crappy B-flick counterpart I, FRANKENSTEIN I might leave this on in the background if it were airing on the Syfy Channel late at night. Where else could I see a horde of bats taking down a vast army of blindfolded Turks? It sounds like I’m making that part up, but I pretty much busted out laughing when that scene played on a big screen in front of a packed audience. A couple of legitimately good filmmaking decisions were made too (e.g. a cool bit involving an action scene being shown from a dying man’s eyes that goes pretty far). While some effects look decent enough, a sizeable amount also are rather shoddy. At least, the pacing is quick. The plot almost tries to rush by in order to get itself out-of-the-way.
DRACULA UNTOLD is a stupid B-flick that combines two different stories that don’t blend well together. The PG-13 rating keeps the violence almost bloodless in a DRACULA story of all things. The acting, writing, and pacing are all bad in their own ways. I’m positive there will be one October night a few years down the road where Syfy will be airing I, FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA UNTOLD back to back. However, I wouldn’t necessarily avoid watching that. UNTOLD is a piece of schlock that has a so-stupid-I’m-somewhat-enjoying-myself value to it. All this being said, it’s might depressing that 2014 has disgraced two of the best monsters ever created. Avoid DRACULA UNTOLD in theaters and don’t go to the trouble of buying or renting it. If it does show up as a shitty late night movie on TV, then by all means stick in on in the background. It’s still not nearly as bad as VAN HELSING!