Here’s the thing about vampires: They’re not only cool to begin with but they are also afforded endless opportunities to further their coolness. This is where they differ significantly from werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster. I mean, if proms and singles’ parties were held in the realm of paranormal creatures, vampires would be the ones getting all the hot dates, leaving werewolves weeping into their wine and Frankenstein’s monster tinkering with the bolts sticking out of his head. But I digress.
The vampire in “Dracula Untold” is even cooler than the rest, if you can believe that. Directed by Gary Shore, who used to make commercials before this debut feature, “Dracula Untold” is fresh, sexy and does not feature teenagers with fangs. No, the whole package seems designed for a more mature audience who grew up collecting Marvel comic books and loving Batman — and boy, will they get this Dracula.
Luke Evans stars as Vlad Tepes, a prince in 15th-century Transylvania. Like most of the rest of Europe, Vlad’s country has suffered much at the hands of the Turks, but during the first scenes, he’s celebrating 10 years of peace with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and friends. Alas, the festivities are cut short when news comes in that the Turks are back, and they’re demanding 1,000 Transylvanian boys to become slave soldiers in the Turkish army.
Vlad himself is no stranger to the slave-soldier system, and the scars that crisscross his upper body bring back awful memories. What to do? Vlad seeks help from a zombie-like creature lurking in the mountains (Charles Dance), who presents Vlad with a bowl of blood, promising to endow him with vampiric superpowers for a full three days. The catch? Vlad must refrain from drinking human blood or succumbing fully to his new Prince of Darkness identity during that time, or he may never walk in daylight again.
The outlandish action is expertly executed with a generous dash of originality. Director Shore isn’t interested in splashing blood about so much as coming up with creative alternatives to wipe out the Turkish Army. Vlad has command over about 10 million bats, which swoop down and pulverize the enemy like a winged battalion from hell. It’s an elegant tactic and astounding to witness — never before has Dracula been able to take center stage of such mega proportions, or wielded power on such a grand scale.
Vlad Tepes is based on a real-life Transylvanian prince, and not a nice one at that — consider his nickname: Vlad the Impaler. In his prime, he wiped out entire villages with the end of his spear. Interestingly, the film does its mighty best to justify Vlad’s past brutality by stressing his wonderful vampire qualities. These include, firstly, wiping out the Turks single-handedly, and secondly, refraining from taking bites out of his loved ones’ necks.
Laying out the groundwork for a new Dracula franchise is undoubtedly a virtue, too, because as far as bloodsucking alpha males in dark capes go, Vlad is as good as it gets.