Friday, October 17, 2014

Dracula Untold Review and Discussion

Well, I was really excited to see Dracula Untold, and I got to this week. It was mostly what I expected.

There were plenty of action and battle scenes, some romance, and Luke Evans looked hot in armor. As far as plot goes, it is sufficient but not anything that left me wowed. Mostly, it was just a fun vampire flick that focuses on the transformation of the character from a damaged man who had a dark past because he was a soldier who was warped by his training under the Ottomans, to a strong man who chooses darkness for the right reasons- to protect his family and kingdom. And for a fictional movie that's all fine and it works.

The problem I had with the movie, though, was that it actually isn't just straight fiction. it is based on a real person who actually lived, and was the inspiration for the original Dracula novel. Even the book loosely based the story on the actual person, and so it's no stretch for the movie to do the same. But where the traditional Dracula story paints Vlad as a true monster, this movie romanticizes a person who in reality was about as sick as they come. And that felt...weird.

The real Vlad the Impaler:
  • Was the on-again, off-again ruler of Wallachia.
  • Impaled his political enemies
  • When he wasn't impaling enemies, ordered anyone who defied him to be burned, skinned, nailed, buried alive, strangled, or to have their limbs, genitals or facial features cut off.
  • Sentenced others to work off their transgressions by building a fort for him. The work was so grueling and the conditions so harsh, that most of them died from this sentence as well.
  • Took steps to make impalement an even slower, more gruesome death than it had been already. (Used rounded stakes instead of pointed ones, oiled the stakes, used horses to pull the person down on to the stake, etc.)
  • Impaled women and children- sometimes mothers and infants shared a stake.
  • Did spend time as an Ottoman hostage, and did likely witness impalements while under their care. However, did not start his bloody career while under Ottoman supervision. His tortures and murders began with the people in his own country who were political rivals and other noblemen who opposed his rule. Then he took what he had learned by terrorizing his own people and used it to wage a psychological (and physical) war against the Turks.
  • To effect that goal, staked the enemies he conquered in battle and created a field of corpses for his enemies to witness.
  • Is rumored to have rounded up the poor of Wallachia and offered them a feast to show how generous he was. Then locked all the doors and burned the building down, effectively "fixing" the poverty and homeless issues in his kingdom.
  • Is rumored to have nailed hats to the heads of emissaries that refused to remove their head ware in his presence. Cause, I mean, how dare they.
  • Is rumored to have impaled a high ranking member of his own government for complaining about the smell of all those staked corpses rotting all over the place.
  • Poisoned wells in his own kingdom to kill off invading Turks. 
  • Burned his own villages when retreating his army, so that the Turks that pursued them would have nowhere to rest.
All in all, this doesn't paint a picture of a man who actually cared much for the people he ruled. He wasn't just cruel to his enemies, he ruled his own people with terror and an iron fist. And that makes it hard to watch a movie where a real person like that has their despicable history glossed over to make him more appealing and sympathetic. In Dracula Untold, Vlad is made into a man who just wants to protect his own from an evil that he is familiar with from his childhood, and his failing in the movie is that he tries to do so by making a deal with the devil. He means well, and he does save his people, but he ultimately fails because you can't bargain with evil and win.

Hey girl...I heard you like tormented heroes, so I impaled a village for you.

 So, I guess as a complete fiction, the movie would just be really cool for me. As something partly based on truth, though, it feels sketchy. Do I want Vlad the Impaler to be sexy? Do I want to in any way idolize a psychotic individual who went down in history as a butcher? Its weird. It's like someone in the far, far future making a fictional movie in which Hitler is portrayed as a man who only killed Jews for some noble reason. Would we want someone to make that movie? I doubt it.

So that was my take on it. I liked the movie, but it also made me feel creeped out. Not because the vampire scenes were so scary, but because the idea of finding a torturer, murderer, and despot sexy is just a wee bit unsettling.



Michele Hauf said...

Yep, you nailed it for me. Hard to find him sexy (though, man, is Luke Evans sexaaaaay!) when he's impaling people left and right. I didn't buy the romance between him and his wife, though. Just didn't seem to have the chemistry. I did like the action scenes. Loved when he conjured the bats to do battle. And the battle on the silver coins was inventive, though I did have to wonder how many traveling armies on the war path carried that much heavy coin with them. ;-)
But as the beginning of the Universal Monsterverse, I look forward to what might follow. We probably haven't seen the last of Dracula yet, and that is not a bad thing.

SkyRhino said...

Yes. The Universal Monsterverse...interesting to see where that will go.
And I liked the silver coin battle as well. Original idea.

Anna (VampChix) said...

I haven't had a chance to see this yet, but date night is sometime next week so hopefully I won't have to wait too long. I've heard and read more than a few critical reviews of the movie but this is the first that gave a real reason (thank you, Angie). Most just criticized the fact that its primarily a re-vamp (haha) of the classic Dracula tale without anything new to offer so I ended up questioning their expectations because seriously, this isn't reinventing the wheel or anything.

I'm not surprised that they went the misunderstood Vlad route because that seems to be the most popular option. Either the filmmakers focus on the fictional epic romance or they make it a true horror movie by showing the reality. It's one or the other but never both. When they opt for the romance I have to pretend the guy didn't exist in history or it ruins the whole movie. If they take the historical path I expect violence and action with nary a seduction in sight or it creeps me out that I'm lusting after a serial killer. I guess they figure it's the only way to get female fans into the theatre.

I am hoping the movie does well enough that they continue with plans to expand the Monsterverse, although if that is the plan then they probably shouldn't focus so much on romance. The Monsters in question are creatures of horror, after all, and any romance was doomed or cursed.

On the flip side, I do enjoy the occasional sexy vampire:)

Thanks for the awesome review discussion! I look forward to updating my comments after I see the film.

Margaret Carter said...

On the whole I agree with you. (I haven't seen the movie yet; I'm waiting for the DVD from Netflix.) The Romanians, however, do regard him as a national hero, so it can be done. Fred Saberhagen's Dracula series makes him a romantic protagonist without ignoring his ruthlessness, although the worst of it isn't included. The tacit assumption seems to be that some of the most gruesome atrocities were invented as propaganda by Vlad's enemies. Also, Saberhagen implies that Vlad Dracula has learned better in some respects since his breathing life ended.