Dracula Untold (2014) – a movie review

Vlad Tepes 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.

hr_Dracula_Untold_2 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.

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11 Responses to Dracula Untold (2014) – a movie review

  1. Glad to hear you liked the movie. With so many makeovers and reinterpretations of Dracula, it’s always a plus if there are still surprises to keep the story fresh.

  2. Priya says:

    I really wanted to see this movie. Sounds like I should. Dracula has been done so many times, it must be difficult to come up with something that doesn’t seem rehashed. I like that it managed to surprise you! (Also, is he?? Still alive?)

    • Delia says:

      Go for it, then. It’s a good movie and I loved the history bits worked into it.
      Yeah, alive and well. I’ll tell him you said hi. As far as I know he’s never been to India before. 😉

  3. The history of Vlad Tepes is interesting. I almost wish that someone would do a straight history movie without the vampire angle.

    Still this one sounds very good.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      I wish the same.
      There is a more historically accurate version you can find on YouTube, it’s called Dark Prince – The True Story of Dracula. Half the cast is Romanian, the clothes and settings are closer to the truth and there’s only the barest hint of a vampire at the end.

  4. Fence says:

    I’m afraid I didn’t like the film. That comment you made about feeling like having already seen the film after you watched the trailer, that’s what I felt the whole way through 🙁
    I found it boring, and it could have been so much better. It is interesting though to read you opinions as someone who is much more familiar with the culture/names etc.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Fence,
      Different people will see the movie with different eyes. I can understand why you felt this way and I think the movie wasn’t without flaws. Still, the history I was able to untangle from it, the names, the gypsy, all enhanced the whole story for me.

  5. Vishy says:

    Beautiful review, Delia! The only thing I know about Vlad is from the vampire books that have read and so it was wonderful to learn the history part from your review. I think the vampire books and movies have done a big disservice to this heroic ruler. I am so glad to know that the movie shows things more from a historical perspective, though some of the things shown seem to be inaccurate. I loved reading your thoughts on Romanian names. I can’t wait to watch this movie. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      I hope you enjoy the movie. I’d love to read your thoughts on it. It’s a good movie but nothing spectacular. Vlad Tepes is a revered figure in Romanian history. Dracula is the fantasy built around this name.

  6. Pingback: Dracula Untold [based on characters from the book by] – Susan Hated Literature

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