There’s no sense retelling a story if you’re just going to tell it the same way it’s been told before, is there?
Remakes and retellings and reimaginings are everywhere right now. On a whole, I’m a fan. I love seeing a classic story or legend given a new setting or a new twist. To me, that’s the whole joy of retellings—putting a new spin on what you’re telling. Otherwise, it’s pointless. I’d rather just read or watch the original.
When Dracula Untold came out in 2014, I did not go see it in the theater. I’ve regretted that ever since. Vampire movies and shows are the only horror movies I can handle! I was only just becoming a Luke Evans fan. I didn’t know anybody who had seen it; it came out right around one of my kids’ birthdays, and I just let it slide.
When it came out to rent on Amazon Prime, I finally watched it and adored it, because this isn’t just another movie version of Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula. This is an origin story of how Dracula might have come into existence. And it’s got the coolest twist on becoming-a-vampire I have ever seen.
Vlad (Luke Evans) rules a happy, peaceful kingdom. His wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) love him. His people respect him. But he has a huge problem: the Turks are demanding tribute again. Years ago, Vlad’s father paid this tribute, including sending his only son to live with the Turkish leaders and serve them. The Turks taught Vlad to be a warrior, and he exceeded all their warriors in his ferocious cruelty. Now, he works hard to put those memories behind him, to live in the peaceful present.
Turkish hotshot Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) brings all Vlad’s bad memories back in full force. He’s here to demand a tribute of not only money, but the kingdom’s boys to train as soldiers. Including Vlad’s son. Vlad knows exactly what his son and the other boys will face, and he refuses. In one swift, startling burst of violence, he slays the party of emissaries come to collect his son. And he knows there is no turning back from this. He’s committed himself and his kingdom to war.
Local legends tell of a deadly power hiding in the mountains that can destroy whole armies. Vlad knows his own small army will never withstand the onslaught of the Turks, so he seeks this power, deep in a cave filled with creepy spiders and bats and crushed bones. And he finds the Master Vampire (Charles Dance), who offers him hope.
This is where the story twists in a super-surprising way. Which I’m totally going to discuss here, so if you haven’t seen this movie yet, but want to, go watch it now and then come back to read the rest of this article, okay?
The Master Vampire says he can give Vlad unimaginable power that will help him save his kingdom, but it will last only three days. If Vlad drinks the vampire’s blood, he will become like the vampire, temporarily. He’ll be able to turn into a wolf or a flock of bats, control creatures of the night, move with lightning-like speed, and be virtually unkillable. If he does not give in to the thirst for human blood for those three days, he will return to his human self, and can go his merry way.
The first time I saw this, I got so excited when we hit that twist that I’m pretty sure I shrieked out loud and bounced up and down with glee. Because that is utterly new and amazing. I had kept thinking, through the first part of the movie, there was no way this good, loving ruler would willingly become a vampire on purpose. Become one temporarily, to save his family and his kingdom? Yes! It was completely logical, and I loved it. It’s one of the best new twists on vampire lore I have ever encountered in the 20+ years I’ve been watching and reading vampire stories.
For three days, Vlad lays waste to his enemies. He slays hordes of them. Whole armies fall before his terrifying onslaught. The trouble is, they keep coming. No matter how many armies he destroys, another one marches up over the horizon. You know poor Vlad is doomed; this is an origin story for Dracula. He’s going to have to become a vampire permanently. But your heart breaks for him when he finally gives up his humanity, even though he does it to save his son.
Dracula Untold is nothing at all like what I would expect of an origin story for Dracula, and that’s exactly what makes me love it.