Review – Fangs for Nothing… (“Dracula Untold”)

Forget the real story of Prince Vlad III, aka Vlad the Impaler, the blood-thirsty and ruthless maniacal sociopathic ruler that impaled hundreds of his enemies (and many civilians) on 15′ pikes for his personal pleasure and means of proving who was da boss of Romania in 1460. Nawww. . . in this movie, he’s a sweet and caring family man leading his rag-tag people away from the nasty Turks, and had to turn into a vampire to save them all! Oh well, so much for the history books.

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Luke Evans is Prince Vlad (aka Count Dracula) who left his dark impaling days behind him when he married his beautiful wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and had a son (Art Parkinson). But troubled is the crowned Prince as those nasty Turks return after a 10 year hiatus to claim their right to “1000 boys as soldiers”. I guess Craig’s List wasn’t working for them. Anyway, Vlad tries to negotiate with Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) for a peaceful settlement, but you probably guessed that wasn’t going to happen as the Turks outnumber Vlad’s army 100 to 1.

Desperate to keep his own son and people away from the Turks, Vlad turns to an ancient vampire living in a  cave named Caligula (Charles Dance). The super old vampire offers a deal: upon drinking my blood you will become a vampire. . . but only for three days. If you don’t drink the blood of another, you’ll become human again. BUT! If you do, you’ll be a vampire forever! Oh, yeah, one more thing, pure silver is your Kryptonite and sunlight can kill you. . . bye!

Vlad takes the deal and has fun wiping out the Sultan’s smaller army single-handily like Beatrix Kiddoe against the Crazy 88’s. Everyone’s happy and a little puzzled on how he did that as the rumors fly. Meanwhile, Mehmed decides to unleash his full 100,000 strong against Vlad; a bit of an overkill, but he’s taking no chances against the undead. Vlad decides to move his people from the castle to the far-away monastery for safety and that’s where a sneaky Turkish ambush occurs.

As many die and Vlad is outed as a blood-sucker, his wife pleads for his life against the fearful villagers. Vlad, wanting to wipe out all the Turks once and for all, pulls a Batman Begins and calls a few of his winged friends for assistance. The Turkish defeat is inevitable, but Dracula must make his vampire decision fast as the third day approaches.

The ending and finale is, well, just plain silly and I’ll leave it at that. This Dracula movie didn’t exactly suck, but I won’t be giving it a ‘thumbs up’ either. This is a movie of firsts: it was written by first time writers, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (both with zero previous screenplay experience) and a first-time director, Gary Shore.

All this translates to the screen with a weak script (little to no backstory of Vlad) and the director chopping-off many of the scenes through this quick (92 minutes) film with hardly a time to let us know this Dracula. Instead of a meaty plot with a rich atmosphere and characters, we have tons of CGI bats, vampire SPFX, a hollow and boring fan-fiction storyline, and smash-edits of the battles. There’s even a dumb catch-phrase of, “Let the games begin” which, after five centuries, never happen!

You would think that Universal Studios, the iconic home of the world’s best known movie monsters, wouldn’t put out such a lackluster movie that’s missing the bite with newbies at the helm! This Dracula is a mis-understood, good-guy hero, that reluctantly took the blood-allegiance only as a last resort, and then gave his life to save others? That’s a far cry from Bram Stoker’s novel, by which it is said this movie was based upon. Ya kidding, right?

Sorry, folks, if you’re going into this movie looking for a Christopher Lee (Hammer Films) or Bela Lugosi (Universal Studios) or even a Udo Kier (an Andy Warhol Picture) and expecting to see a gratuitous amount of blood, neck biting, buxom babes being pursued for their blood, and nasty, evil vampires with an insatiable thirst for staying alive at any cost, you ain’t gonna find it here.

You got your vampire films by the hundreds, but films specifically dealing with the Count are a bit narrowed down. What with the newest edition into the Dracula legend, let’s take a look at the cinematic legend of Count Dracula in film. Now, I can’t go through ALL of them because there isn’t enough space, so I’ll just give you my personal favorites.

Dracula (1931)

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The original and the still the best. Tod Browning’s masterful direction and Garrett Fort’s screenplay (based on Bram Stoker’s novel) with the amazing Bela Lugosi as the undead blood-sucker. Dracula was already a monster (sorry!) hit on Broadway with Lugosi as Dracula, so it was a natural that he play the bad guy. This Universal Studios movie was a gigantic hit and spawned an era of other classic creature features. If you get a chance, you gotta watch the Spanish-language version. When Browning’s team went home at night, director George Melford’s team came in and shot HIS version (different actors, slightly different script) for the south-of-the-border market. It’s really good and, in many ways, better than Browning’s!

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

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OMG, I love this movie! Not only one of Bud and Lou’s best movies (even though the boys hated the script), but you have Lugosi reprising his Dracula role with astonishing fear and comedy at the same time! How he was able to hold his laughter in with the antics of Lou Costello is anyone’s guess. You also have Glen Strange as the Frankenstein monster (who DID break-up all the time at Lou) and Lon Chaney, Jr. reprising his role as the Wolfman. The movie is cinematic gold!

Dracula (1958)

Christopher Lee as Dracula. Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Production company: Hammer Films, England. Damn good film. Hammer Films and their reputation for putting out unsurpassed quality movies, did not disappoint here with their first of many Dracula movies. Dark, gripping, and buckets of RED blood that splashed on the screen. . . literally. Combine all that with James Bernard’s legendary “Hammer” musical score, and you have a winner. And, for some strange reason, all the women are beautiful and buxom. Heck, works for me!

Dracula (1979)

Universal Studios decided to make lighting strike twice by re-making their own movie over again. . .but this time with a twist. They cast sexy Frank Langella as Dracula and made the Bram Stoker novel more of a love story than a tale of horror. It worked. The movie, directed by John Badham, had a sleek look to it, a great cast, terrific locations, and best of all, Langella as a blood sucker that made the ladies swoon. . . but for a different reason.

 

Love At First Bite (1979)

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This was the first time the Dracula legend was spun into a full-blown comedy and, believe it or not, it was not only funny, but a box office smash! Tanned and handsome and using dead-pan humor (of course!) is George Hamilton as the Count, who travels to swinging NYC after being evicted from his castle! He falls in love with fashion model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James), but is threatened by a doofus psychiatrist (Richard Benjamin), who happens to be the descendant of Van Helsing. But the more he tries to stop the Count, the more Cindy likes the whole vampire lifestyle! For decades people have waiting for a sequel for this very popular movie and Hamilton is more than willing to reprise the role!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola pulled out the weird-o-meter and filmed this epically strange and visually stunning tour-de-force movie of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman at his oddly best), Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), the precocious Mina (Winona Ryder), and Anthony Hopkins as a crazed Van Helsing. Coppola decided to use old school camera trickery (forced perspective, backwards filming, etc) instead of CGI effects here along with a really bizarre script by James V. Hart. Give Coppola the brass cojones to pull this one off, even though it’s downright odd. Coppola’s version of Dracula’s backstory is especially bizarre to watch.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)

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This is the last movie that Mel Brooks wrote and directed and, though many considered it a flop, it was still a very funny movie with some great performances by Brooks as Van Helsing, and Leslie Nielsen as a goofy Count Dracula. Then you have the lovely Amy Yasbeck, Steven Weber, Harvey Korman, and Peter MacNicol rounding out the excellent cast. You can clearly tell they were having a blast making the movie, as apparent from the DVD’s audio commentary. Brooks still had command of his famous one-liners here along with some hysterical sight gags (the staking scene in the crypt is a riot!) and for my money, this one still works for me.

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

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You want quirky? I got your quirky right here! Imagine John Malkovich as real life 1921 film director Frederich Wilhelm Murnau who is shooting his vampire movie about Dracula (called Nosferatu) in a little Czechoslovakian village. This guy wants realism in his movie, so much so, he’s not telling anybody on the set, the film crew, or the rest of the cast, that his lead actor, Max Schrek (Willem DaFoe) who’s playing Dracula is, in fact, a real vampire! Yikes! Yes, it’s a dark comedy about film making, blood-sucking, and sudden script changes when some of the cast start to disappear. 


Van Helsing (2004)

This is one terrific movie. Hugh Jackman as a 007-ish Van Helsing who tracks down monsters as per the Vatican. He travels with a monk named Carl (David Wenham) by his side who (like 007’s “Q”) supply’s Van Helsing his 17th Century steam-punkish armory. Cool, calm, cracking-wise, and lethal with his weapons, Van Helsing’s sent to stop Dracula (an excellent Richard Roxburgh). Why? Drac is planning on using the Frankenstein monster (Shuler Hensley) to give birth to his millions of bat babies! Meanwhile, Van Helsing meets the lovely Anna (Kate Beckinsale) whose brother is a werewolf! Yes, they’re all here! A cracker-jack script written by director Stephen Sommers who keeps the pace fast, loose, and darkly funny.
Example: Dracula: “Igor, why are you torturing that beast so?” Igor: “Master. . .it’s what I do!”
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