Dracula Untold review

A Vlad state of affairs

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In keeping with Hollywood's love of origin stories, this latest attempt to bring Bram Stoker's Dracula to the screen sets out to tell how the world's most famous vampire got the bit between his teeth (sorry). Recalling the historical prologue of Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 take on the original novel, Dracula Untold travels back to 15th-Century Transylvania, some 400 years before Stoker's story.

Ruling the land is Vlad III (Luke Evans), Prince of Wallachia and devoted family man, married to Mirena (Sarah Gadon). While we may know him better as Vlad The Impaler, Evans' noble leader isn't seen doing an awful lot of impaling. Rather he wants to keep the peace for his loyal countrymen - which means negotiating with Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), the ruthless leader of the Ottoman Empire.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn't last, though handily Vlad's uncovered a nearby cave where there lurks a vampiric presence (played with lip-smacking relish by Charles Dance). Trading on the myth that Vlad The Impaler was the inspiration for Stoker's Dracula, Vlad then enters a Faustian-like pact with the creature, in order that he might gain powers to help his people. "Sometimes the world no longer needs a hero," he mutters. "Sometimes what it needs…is a monster.”

It's cornball lines like this that push Dracula Untold towards laughable, despite solid-enough work from Evans, who has the leading-man chops down pat. But it's beset by issues: the plot is threadbare, the scares in short supply and first-time feature director Gary Shore can't decide whether to go for Hammer camp or Coppola dramatics.

What really disappoints is just how cheap the FX look (bar Dance's wonderful slithery tongue and the Evans' prosthetics). It's hard to know where the budget went, but it certainly wasn't on the screen. While the set-up practically screams for a sequel, on this evidence it doesn't merit it.

Squandering the talents of Evans, Gadon and Cooper, this latest entry into Dracula's cinematic tomb is likely to neither satisfy horror hounds or drama lovers. The result? Toothless.

Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.