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Vlad revamped

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Dracula Untold (15)
Running time 92 minutes

About once a decade, the dark and loathsome figure of that legendary bloodsucker Dracula rises from the grave of film productions past and makes a frightening new appearance upon the cinema scene.
Previous reincarnations have ranged from the rotting, rat-like copse of Nosferatu (1922); the faded elegance of Bela Lugosi in the ’30s; the sexually-charged Hammer Films version of the ’60s and finally the more youthful and violent versions of modern times.
Like all good stories rooted in our barely-hidden world of nightmare, it really doesn’t matter what you do with the Dracula story, it’s almost certain to strike a chord with the audience.
Dracula Untold, an American production but with British actors, returns to the origins of the legend – the shadowy figure of Prince Vlad of Transylvania, known to most as Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad (played by Luke Evans), who really did exist in the 13th century, is battling against the advancing hordes of Mehmet (Dominic Cooper), the Ottoman lord whose empire stretched from the plains of Persia to the outskirts of modern Europe, along the cultural fault line that is the Balkans.
Dracula Untold reveals how the prince, faced with invasion and the unmeetable demand to give up his own son to Mehmet’s service, decided to seek help from the dark power of a vampire (Charles Dance), cursed to live in the remote mountains of his land.
But, like many a bargain, there was a price to pay – you get extra power to defeat Arabs, the vampire gets a soul to pay for his own freedom from the mountains. Vlad defeats the Arabs, but loses his soul and his wife (Sarah Gadon) as an additional price for the life of his young son.
It’s a dark and almost inevitable tale of how Faustian deals are tilted in favour of the bookie, and is well directed by first-timer Gary Shore, who is helped by $100m of good US money to pay for excellent special effects.
For some reason, critics in the US have generally panned the film, without really saying why. Looking at it objectively, it doesn’t have the blood-soaked horror of a slasher horror movie, nor the historical range of a fantasy such as The Hobbit (in which Evans also appeared). To an audience sated on computer-generated special effects of monumental proportions these days, this might seem a small- scale film, lacking in ambition.
Still, it’s neat, tells a good and interesting story without unnecessary fuss and noise, and allows the actors – especially Dance as a revenge-seeking neck-chewer – to use their talents to the full. Evans, no doubt using his Celtic origins to inject dark remorse and dread into the role, portrays the prince as a tortured soul, faced with an impossible choice.
Presumably on the basis of his role in this film, Evans in now engaged in a remake of the classic ’80s horror, The Crow, and features in the title role, which is quite a compliment. Well worth a look.

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