I must have been in primary school the first time I saw a picture of Vlad Tepes and that was long ago, before the vampire craze. It was a history lesson and I stared at the figure on the page, the aquiline nose, the hooded eyes, the headgear that looked like something between a hat and a crown, the black hair falling in ringlets on his shoulders. I thought he looked fierce, a true defender of our nation, a great leader, a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire. He punished his enemies by impaling them on wooden stakes. He was a hero among Romanians long before Stoker made him famous.
Years later when I moved to Thailand people asked me if Dracula was still alive and if he really drank human blood. I resisted the impulse to tell them he was alive and well, resting in his coffin in my basement. He does like to visit, just to spice up his menu, I should have said with a wicked laugh. What I said instead was no, he’s just a legend, dead long time ago. But is he really dead? It very much looks like the movie industry keeps trying to bring him back to life.
It’s the 21st century and here he is, resurrected on the screen, given a new name, a new face, and a new haircut – more like Lord Byron than the original ruler of Wallachia from the 15th century. After watching the trailer, I had the impression I’d already seen the whole movie but being a great fan of vampire movies, I couldn’t miss it. To my delight, I was happy to see there were still a few surprises left.
The movie mixes history and fiction into a tale meant to portray Vlad, the Wallachian prince, as a ruler willing to sacrifice himself for his family and country. Vlad had been a political prisoner of the Turks for a few years when he was young, and when a Turkish emissary came asking for a tribute of one thousand boys including his son, it felt like history was repeating itself. Determined to defend his people, Vlad found there was a way to get what he wanted but that came at a heavy price.
I loved the movie. Luke Evans did a great job of portraying the anguish and indecision, and later on determination of Vlad in defending his own. I was particularly interested in the names – Vlad’s wife, Mirena (which sounds a lot like Marina, a Romanian name), his men – Dumitru, Petru, Cazan, Simion, all old-fashioned Romanian names; even Vlad’s son – he was called Ingeras, which in Romanian means “little angel”, although the English pronunciation sounded nothing like its Romanian equivalent. It wasn’t his real name, of course, just like Mirena wasn’t his wife’s real name, but it added a more familiar touch to the story.
If you expect this to be an accurate historical tale, you’ll be disappointed. The history is there but reworked and retold in a seamless way. There are many differences between the real story of Vlad and the way it was depicted in this movie – his wife’s death for instance; the fortress where he and his family sought refuge from the Turks was Cozia monastery in the movie, but while such a place does exist and is indeed quite famous among Romanians, the movie was probably alluding to the palace Vlad had built to serve as a defense point, Poenari. I understand why this name wasn’t used. For once, its pronunciation in English greatly differs from its Romanian name, while Cozia does not. Vlad’s betrayal by his allies was also worked into the story in a way that fit in perfectly – superstitions and later on allegiance to the pack of vampires he had created, both played a role in his near demise but there was also the nod to Bram Stoker’s novel that ultimately saved him from destruction.
Vlad’s reputation as a ruthless killer is the main idea of the story, but while showing a field of impaled corpses might sound gory, I felt the movie wasn’t playing up on the bloody scenes but showed them as a gruesome act done to repel the enemies rather than a thirst for human blood. His transformation into a vampire is shown in beautiful detail without being overdone. I also liked that it was supposed to be gradual and up to some point, reversible, which is something I don’t recall seeing in other vampire movies. The one who gives him that choice, an old vampire portrayed by Charles Dance makes it clear what the consequences are so Vlad is aware of what he has to lose (and gain) if he decides to stay a vampire.
Overall this was a well done vampire movie. The special effects, the colors – gloomy weather, rain – the clothes and background, all contribute to create a version of a story that makes Vlad a more sympathetic character and less of a bloodthirsty driven monster. The open ending leaves room for more to come and I look forward to watching the sequel.
This is a perfect movie to watch for R.I.P., a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.