“We’re not go­ing to try and tell a his tor­i­cal tale”

Drac’s back and he’s bring­ing an ori­gin story with him. Jor­dan Far­ley re­ports from the Belfast set of Drac­ula Un­told

SFX - - Contents -

If New Zealand is syn­ony­mous with tra­di­tional Tolkien fan­tasy, North­ern Ire­land is fast be­com­ing its sub­ver­sive coun­ter­part – a place where the un­wa­ver­ing line be­tween good and evil is more of a translu­cent squig­gle. Fol­low­ing Game

Of Thrones’ suc­cess­ful mix of blood­shed and back­stab­bing, Drac­ula Un­told is the lat­est slice of in­sid­i­ous fan­tasy to take ad­van­tage of North­ern Ire­land’s pic­turesque coun­try­side, this time for the un­usual ori­gin story of the blood­sucker supreme. Say hello to Prince Vlad – part fam­ily man, part de­mon, all an­ti­hero.

On a damp Septem­ber day SFX is hid­den away from rolling hills and idyl­lic coast­lines while vis­it­ing Drac­ula Un­told’s Belfast set – a sound stage hous­ing Vlad’s or­nate Tran­syl­va­nian cas­tle. Days be­fore this was a room fit for roy­alty, but now it’s in dis­ar­ray. Ter­ri­fied cit­i­zens and sol­diers are crammed in, the walls left in tat­ters after a bar­rage of can­non fire from the 100,000- strong Ot­toman forces cur­rently be­sieg­ing Vlad’s land. Hav­ing re­turned from a mys­te­ri­ous quest, we wit­ness Vlad’s Braveheart mo­ment – a rous­ing ral­ly­ing cry to his peo­ple. But with less than 40,000 troops they’re hope­lessly out­num­bered. The ace up Vlad’s sleeve? He’s the Prince of Dark­ness, of course.

“There’s a par­al­lel be­tween mod­ern su­per­heroes and the abil­i­ties of Drac­ula,” di­rec­tor Gary Shore tells SFX. “Cer­tainly it was some­thing the stu­dio had wished for be­cause they’re build­ing this mon­ster uni­verse of their own, they’re tak­ing the model there. At first I thought it was a bit of a knee- jerk re­ac­tion, but look­ing back at the abil­i­ties Drac­ula ac­tu­ally has be­tween strength and sight and sound and be­ing able to con­trol weather and con­trol peo­ple’s minds and turn into bats… he’s got more mu­tant abil­i­ties than Wolver­ine and the Hulk put to­gether! It was al­ready there in the mythol­ogy so this was an in­ter­est­ing chance to ex­plore it.”

Su­per­pow­ers, Ot­tomans, Braveheart… if it wasn’t al­ready clear, the Vlad of Drac­ula Un­told is a far cry from Bram Stoker’s icon. Univer­sal’s am­bi­tious Drac­ula re­boot is a film that aims to ex­plore the man be­hind the mon­ster by blend­ing hor­ror and epic fan­tasy with the re­al­life his­tory of 15th cen­tury Wal­lachian Prince Vlad III ( later dubbed Vlad the Im­paler), in a way that’s yet to be seen on film.

“I was al­ways in­ter­ested in the his­tor­i­cal story of this man and the dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship he had with his peo­ple and the Ot­toman Em­pire,” Shore ex­plains. “This is a guy who com­mit­ted a mas­sive amount of atroc­i­ties. He’s at­trib­uted to killing any­where be­tween 40,000 and 100,000 peo­ple. The key chal­lenge for me was how do you make a mass mur­derer like­able? We’re very much in­formed by Vlad the Im­paler. It’s not some­thing we shy away from. He’s a guy who’s gone back to his fam­ily after com­mit­ting th­ese atroc­i­ties, but there’s this mon­ster sit­ting un­der­neath the skin. I was in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing that line be­tween the two and try­ing to make the bridge be­tween the his­tor­i­cal fig­ure and this character of fic­tion cre­ated by Bram Stoker.”

Power Trip

For Prince Vlad ( Luke Evans) this mass­mur­der­ing past is a dis­tant mem­ory. He has a loving wife, Mirena ( Sarah Gadon), and his land is at peace. It’s a ten­u­ous peace, how­ever, and one day Ot­toman sul­tan Mehmed II ( Do­minic Cooper) comes call­ing, de­mand­ing 1,000 Tran­syl­va­nian boys to serve in his army, in­clud­ing Vlad’s son Ingeras ( Art Parkin­son). Des­per­ate to save his peo­ple, but pow­er­less to do so, Vlad goes in search of dark forces to even the odds. After a lengthy trek he finds this power in a cave at the heart of Bro­ken Tooth Moun­tain, where the mon­strous Master Of Vam­pires ( Charles Dance) re­sides.

Dur­ing SFX’s tour of the art depart­ment we learn that this jour­ney was once sig­nif­i­cantly more fan­tas­ti­cal, with Vlad en­coun­ter­ing shape- shift­ing Slavic witch Baba Yaga and her chicken- legged cot­tage along the way

“how ex­actly do you make a mass mur­derer like­able?”

and even­tu­ally earn­ing his fangs from longdead Ro­man Em­peror Caligula. Shore tells us th­ese scenes “cre­ated more ques­tions than any­thing ” and were sim­pli­fied with reshoots, but re­as­sures us that the Master of Vam­pires is now “one of my favourite scenes in the film”.

Caligula or no, for Shore Drac­ula Un­told was al­ways about character first, the su­per­nat­u­ral sec­ond. “There’s a great push to make this as character- based as pos­si­ble. We’re mak­ing a big film where a lot has to hap­pen, so to stay fo­cused on character was a great chal­lenge for me. We’re try­ing to tap into this idea of legacy and re­spon­si­bil­ity and what you need to do for the next gen­er­a­tion. For me the best way to take the idea of legacy was to put it in an emo­tional con­text by cre­at­ing a fa­ther and son story. What is Vlad leav­ing be­hind for his son?”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween fa­thers and sons drives the drama. As a child Vlad was handed over to Ot­toman sul­tan Mehmed I as a po­lit­i­cal hostage and raised as a janis­sary – an elite sol­dier serv­ing as the sul­tan’s house­hold guard. Brought up along­side Mehmed II, Vlad quickly rose up the ranks, even earn­ing favour over Mehmed Jr in the sul­tan’s eyes – the start of a bit­ter ri­valry that cul­mi­nates in war.

“Like a lot of things we’ve done it’s fic­tion pep­pered with facts. We’re not go­ing out to try and tell a his­tor­i­cal tale here,” Shore ex­plains. “In terms of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mehmed and Vlad, that’s based on fact. Vlad had gone to live with the Turks as a child and the hope was he’d be­come a pup­pet on the throne and would al­low them to pass into Europe when the time came. So Vlad al­ready had this re­la­tion­ship with Mehmed when they did bat­tle.”

There’s lit­tle ques­tion that Drac­ula Un­told is a risky propo­si­tion for Univer­sal – a rad­i­cal re­boot of a revered character from first- time writ­ers ( Matt Sazama and Burk Sharp­less) with a first- time fea­ture di­rec­tor at the helm. Even Evans, cur­rently star­ring as heroic dragon- slayer Bard the Bowman in The Hob­bit movies, fea­tures in his first block­buster lead. But Evans was al­ways the right man for fic­tion’s first vamp, ac­cord­ing to Shore.

“When we went through the process of look­ing for somebody he had all the things – the gen­tle­manly qual­ity, the dark and brood­ing looks, the abil­ity to play the light, the em­pa­thy, the hu­man­ity. But the big thing for me was I love ’ 60s and ’ 70s cin­ema where you had men’s men, the Charles Bron­sons of the world as lead­ing men. Luke for me is like that.’”

The Bite St uff

Drac­ula Un­told is a film that not only car­ries the weight of cin­e­matic his­tory on its shoul­ders but a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive fu­ture too. With Univer­sal plan­ning an Avengersstyle shared uni­verse for its clas­sic monsters ( start­ing of­fi­cially with The Mummy in 2016, though ex­pect Drac­ula Un­told to be part of the same “co­he­sive strat­egy” if it’s a hit) all eyes will be on Drac’s big come­back. After all, it’s a film that has a lot to prove fol­low­ing 2010’ s failed Wolf­man re­make. But Shore isn’t wor­ried about the past or the fu­ture, only the here and now.

“For me I can only fo­cus on what’s on the page. It’s dif­fer­ent to many of the other Drac­u­las and that goes a long way be­cause there are some ex­tremely ec­cen­tric vari­a­tions on the old myth and the old films, to say the least. I just tried to make a good character story and I think it’s go­ing to ap­peal to a lot of peo­ple.”

Drac­ula Un­told is re­leased on Fri­day 3 Oc­to­ber.

“What do you mean you want me to go inside?”

Some­one missed the memo about what colour to wear.

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