Film review: ‘Dracula Untold’ fails at both horror and spectacle

Luke Evans as Vlad the Impaler struts his stuff in the woefully unexciting Dracula Untold.

One and a half stars

Dracula Untold Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper. Directed by Gary Shore. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Rumor has it that Universal intends to use Dracula Untold as an unofficial launching pad for its own “cinematic universe” of monster movies, with its signature Frankenstein’s monster, wolfman, creature from the black lagoon and other monster characters to follow in their own movies, eventually teaming up. If so, the series is off to a pretty terrible start, although Untold does copy the most uninspired elements of superhero origin stories, suggesting that the producers have indeed learned something from Marvel’s ultra-successful cinematic universe, albeit entirely the wrong lessons.

Focused on the title character before he became someone worth making a movie about, Untold opens in the 15th century with the man known as Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) returning to preside over a decade of peace in his homeland of Transylvania. That peace is shattered when the Turkish sultan (Dominic Cooper) demands a tribute of a thousand Transylvanian boys for his army, including Vlad’s young son. Determined to protect his people, Vlad ventures into a mysterious cave to seek power from a dangerous monster (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, the movie’s only bright spot), who turns out to be, y’know, a vampire.

Despite featuring the most famous vampire of all time, Untold is not a horror movie and is never even remotely scary; instead it’s a generic medieval action epic on a tight budget, filled with garish CGI clutter and ironically bloodless violence (a movie about a dude named Vlad the Impaler should never be rated PG-13). Although the plot is very loosely based on the real life of Vlad Tepes, it doesn’t have any actual historical value, and its conception of vampire mythology is similarly muddled, throwing in a sort of three-day waiting period so that Vlad can experience plenty of angst over turning into a monster.

Not that the movie imbues Vlad or any of the interchangeable supporting characters with anything resembling real emotions. Evans gives a histrionic performance, and virtually all of his dialogue consists of clichéd badassery. The movie ends with a clumsy setup for the would-be monster universe, but it’s unlikely that anyone will leave the theater excited to see the eventual monster equivalent of The Avengers.

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