Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dracula Untold (2014)

Dracula Untold (2014)

Director: Gary Shore

Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Charles Dance, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson

Of course I gave this one a chance, it’s Dracula and I love Dracula movies. True, Dracula movies can be a bit repetitive, because filmmakers always decide to retell the story, so it’s always some sort of variation on Bram Stokers novel, but I love to see these different takes on the story. I enjoy seeing how different creative teams give their own twist to the story, tell it in their own way. Unfortunately, I’d never heard of the guys behind this particular film. Gary Shore, the director, had never made a full length feature film before this one, yet here he is directing this big budget version of Dracula. That of course, immediately raised a red flag for me, because while I’m all for upcoming new directors making films, I prefer it when they've proven themselves via some independent film they've made before tackling a 70 million dollar film like this one. When a new director pops out of the blue like that, well, I don’t know what to expect, but as always, I have no problems in giving them the benefit of the doubt. Well, at least the director behind this film shows his influenced by the right movie; one or two visual references are made to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Same goes for the writers who’d never written a film before this one. So that’s a couple of red flags right there. But the trailer made it look like it had one or two new ideas squeezed in there worth watching. So I gave it a shot. Plus, it was Dracula.

And it’s not just me that has a thing for Dracula films. Like James Bond or Godzilla, Dracula is an icon, a household name that brings the masses to the theater. I mean, it had been a while since I’d seen a line form at my local theater. It’s only household names like Star Wars and Indiana Jones that do this. And so, there I was, making this huge ass line to go see this new version of Dracula, hoping it wouldn't disappoint me. Did it? Well, sorry to say my dear readers that it did disappoint me. Why you may ask? Well, for starters, to me Dracula is something special, a story meant to be treated with care by filmmakers. It’s an ancient tale that has been passed on from generation to generation. Like the titular character in Bram Stokers novel, Dracula movies never seem to die. So of course I hate it when studios don’t treat the story with the proper care. And it sucks even more that Universal Studios has done this because they are the ones known for their famous ‘Universal Monsters’ movies. I speak of course of the classics like Dracula (1931), The Wolf Man (1941), The Mummy (1959) and so forth. If there’s a studio that should have been concerned with making a proper Dracula movie, it was this one. Unfortunately, they've changed Dracula to fit the current common Hollywood practice of softening up horror films. Ugh. I hate this new trend in Hollywood. Why does it anger me so? Well, for starters, we’re talking about one of the famous ‘Universal Monsters’ here; key work being ‘monster’. And here’s the first thing I hated about this movie, this is a monster movie without a monster, not only visually, but also as a character.

I mean, I always saw monsters movies, and this is the way monster movies where for the longest time; as a way to showcase some awesome artistry in terms of makeup effects. Sadly, make up effects works seems to have disappeared from filmmaking. Remember those golden days, when the awesome make up effects work of Stan Winston, Rob Bottin and Rick Baker reigned supreme in cinemas?  Those days yielded such awesome creations as  the ones seen in films like Aliens (1979), The Thing (1982), Predator (1987), Jurassic Park (1993), The Terminator (1984), Legend (1986), Harry and the Hendersons (1987)….I mean, these were films in which make up effects work really shined. And monster films meant make up effects, once upon a time. I always looked forward to seeing how make up effects artist would try to wow me with their work. Sadly that’s all been replaced by CGI…and sadly, it does not have the same effect. It does not feel tangible…or real, not like the monsters we’d see in for example Coppola’s Dracula (1992) now there’s a film that displayed some amazing make up effects work! That was a monster movie! That was a sensual yet monstrous Dracula! While Dracula Untold throws a few homage’s down Coppola’s way, it clearly doesn’t even come close to being as awesome as Coppola’s film. It needed that extra oomph, that extra emotion, that intensity that Coppola’s film had. It seems that Hollywood simply doesn't want to give us truly monstrous creatures, but more on this softening of the horror movie later. 

The thing about Dracula is that the story is a passionate love story; Dracula is always sexual, passionate. He loves Mina, but he is also a monster. Dracula has always been a character with a dual personality, one that displays incredible amounts of passion and love, but one that also displays a horrifying, monstrous side; his vampire side, the side that feeds on human blood. So of course I was let down when I discovered in horror that in this version of Dracula, he has been turned into a family man, complete with scenes of him being all lovable and father like, which was something that was never part of the Dracula story. So that was step 2 of softening up Dracula, making him a dad. See a pattern here? First he isn’t monstrous or demonic or even evil looking, and second they turn him into a dad. Third he wants to save his people. Fourth? The screenwriters found a way to make him actually not want to drink blood for most of the movie! So here we can see how they’ve turned Dracula from anti-hero to outright hero, period. This goes completely against what Dracula is all about. Dracula is supposed to be the bad guy, the one that scares you and gives you the willies. Not the savior of his people, not the loving father. And certainly NOT the guy who goes to church to pray to god for help! For Christ sake, Dracula sells his soul to the devil, how can you have a scene of him going to church to pray to god for guidance, when he is a vampire, and vampires have an aversion to crosses and all things religious?

What the hell Hollywood? So my question is this, why is Hollywood so hell bent on softening up horror movies and icons? Suddenly vampires sparkle in the daytime, zombies are falling in love and turning human and Frankenstein isn’t even monstrous looking? Of course I talk of Twilight (2008), Warm Bodies (2013) and I Frankenstein (2014), and I’m sure there’s a couple more I’m leaving out. Nowadays if a movie is ultra gory it is sent straight to dvd. I mean, had this been the eighties, all those gory Hatchet (2006) movies would have been theatrically released, but not in these ultra conservative days. Today, the only horror movies that are making it to the silver screen are those that propagate superstitious, supernatural, Christian based fears. I speak of course of films like The Conjuring (2013), Insidious (2010), Anabelle (2014), Quija (2014), Paranormal Activity (20017) and the sort. If it’s a horror film that will get people believing demons are real, then it’s okay. But a purely evil horrifying monster that has nothing to do with Christian fears, nope, those are not being made anymore. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a slasher in movie theaters? I rest my case. Even excellent slasher films like Maniac (2012) get the theatrical shaft. And hey, I’m all for a good ghost/demon movie, but damn it, when that’s all that’s being made, you kind of feel like they’re pushing these concepts upon you. Cause, I see these ghost/demon movies as fun horror movies, but I can assure you there’s a myriad other people who think things like the ones depicted in these kind of horror films can happen to them for real and these movies only serve to augment those fears.

Films are a powerful means of spreading ideas out into the world, sure they are a great form of entertainment, but they also function as a way of spreading ideas quickly and effectively and currently, Hollywood wants the masses to stay Christian. Which is why we get Dracula praying to God on this movie, it's why he's displayed as the hero, as the goody little two shoes. This is why we get Superman going to church to ask a priest for counseling in Man of Steel (2013), this is why we’re getting Christian horror movies like The Remaining (2014) and this is why we’re getting this avalanche of Christian films like Left Behind (2014) (shame on you Nicholas Cage!) God is Not Dead (2013) and Heaven is for Real (2014). I mean, even the titles behind these films say it all. Even big time directors are bowing down to this Christian craze, I’m talking about guys like Darren Aronofsky and his Noah (2014) and Ridley Scott with Exodus: God’s and Kings (2014). I’ll go see these movies because I see them as fairy tales, but come on, what the hell is going on in Hollywood? Is there some sort of hidden agenda from somewhere high on up to spread Christian beliefs and to soften up both action and horror movies? Cause if there is, it sucks! For years now it has been going on and now it’s hit its pinnacle with Dracula Untold. Not gonna say this movie is not without its cool moments and visuals, but I will say that this Dracula isn't scary; we've lost the horror movie, the horror movie where that main character is the one that gives you the hibbie jibbies, where that main monster scares your pants off. Where is it? I miss it. I miss the good old days when horror movies where actually scary.  

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5


Roman J. Martel said...

Ok this is a long one, so hang with me a bit.

It's a shame this movie turned out to be so weak. Like you, I was a bit encouraged by the trailers. It looked like they had made a whole film based on the prologue to the 1992 film. I was good with that concept. But it really sounds like they missed the whole point. And yet... I think I see where they were going.

What is kinda funny is that I remember when the 1992 version of Dracula came out and people complained that it was basically a romance novel with Dracula in it. But I think those folks missed the point. You nailed it. Dracula is about passions. He is a man who doesn't get angry, he becomes enraged. He doesn't just want a kiss, he wants your soul. Sexuality is coursing through the story and Coppola really dove into that. Yes, there is romance in the film, but the whole time we are very much assured that Dracula is a creature of destruction and death. Poor Lucy's fate is what really hammers it home. Dracula may love Mina, but he will destroy anyone, especially the innocent to get to her. That kind of selfishness is evil - pure and simple.

But Anne Rice really linked Romance and Vampires together, and the Twilight series cemented the concept. Now vampires have to be sexy, dangerous, but not scary. Basically the bad boy (or girl) that won't hurt you, but is still bad.

It sounds like "Dracula Untold" took this concept and ran with it. Dracula as Hero. It is the demythologizing trend at work too. The blame for that falls on "Batman Begins". The success of that trilogy pretty much caused all extremes of character to be neutered, to be "more realistic".

But in the end, you are right. We go to see monster movies because we want to see the extremes, the monsters, the blood, the sex. That is why I'm in the theater watching something labeled "horror" and not something labeled "romance" or "realistic drama".

And I know this is super long already, but I have to comment about the strange Christian trend in movies. I'm wondering if this is an attempt to bring some kind of "order" to troubled viewers. They feel security in the rules and familiarity of Christianity. So you can make "safe" horror films dealing with these concepts of demons and ghosts because there are clear rules. A lot of people feel that they have no control in their lives right now, especially financially.

I'm with you. I find these films to be not very scary. Some have good jump scares or some good atmospheric moments. But they don't really last. One of the things I love about Japanese ghost films is that the rules don't work. Or they don't make a clear logical sense. It adds to the horror because you don't see a clear way out.

Anyway, like anything else in Hollywood, they wouldn't keep making these if people didn't keep shelling out money to see them. It seems like this is what the public wants at this time. But I'm with you. I'd love to see some nice cosmic horror or inter dimensional terror (that doesn't boil down to a Christian origin - Lovecraft dammit, these screen writers need to read some Lovecraft!)

Anyway you got me thinking with this blog, and I always appreciate that.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, they wanted to do the whole 'Batman Begins' take on things, and judging by the cliffhanger ending they were obviously aiming to start a Dracula franchise. I'm guessing they will, these type of movies make money no matter how bad they are.

Yeah, Dracula is about passions, it's about sensuality and loosing yourself to it, think about all the good versions of Dracula, at heart, they are all an allegory for passion and seduction. The vampire sneaking in at nite into the females bedroom, him hypnotizing her, and in the end biting her...it's all very sexual and this is an angle that many Dracula films have bitten into, Bram Stoker's Dracula included.

And how about that, Dracula was never the hero, he was the anti-hero. In Untold they had no quabbles in making him the hero all the way. I think that the filmmakers tried to make him a hero because of the popularity of super hero films today.

Yeah, the christian trend in movies seems to be some kind of push to get society back into christianity, to reinforce it if you will. I'm of the mind that more and more religion is fading away, so it makes sense that they want to get these concepts and ideas and yes, even these fears back into peoples minds. I'm sad to say they use horror movies for this as well.

Agree with what you mentioned about Japanese ghost films, they are totally different because superstitions and beliefs over there are something else entirely to what people believe in america, it's part of the reason why these Japanese horror films hold and alure and a fascination to american viewers, simply put they are something completely different.

Glad you enjoyed the entry Roman, and thanks for your long comment, I actually love long comments! It means you actually read and thought! Thanks for that!

Jennifer Croissant said...

I think its very difficult to scare people now because audiences know to much about how movies are made (horror or otherwise), i think if a horror movie is at least entertaining then thats about good enough but actually genuinely scaring them is almost impossible to achieve now.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Jennifer, I go to the movies a lot, so I've seen a frightened audience, last time I saw this a truly frightened audience was during The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), again, the fears of christianity were augmented because of the christian themes of the film.

Another occassion I remember audiences being truly schocked or moved by a film was during Seven (), where I heard the audience actually gasp in horror during some scenes!

So yeah, I think audiences still have the ability to give themselves into a film, the film has to do only one thing: be good.


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