By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Just how many reimaginings of Bram Stoker’s Dracula do we need? Let me count the works from this century: there’s at least a dozen—Untold, Dark Prince, and Reborn are perhaps the closest they can get to the book’s lore. The rest sticks around even after being “killed” so he remains a threat to humanity.
Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) developed this latest take and it’s a curious mix of period drama and Hammer style horror. This three-part series has each episode nearly movie length. Like the novel, it begins conveniently enough with Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) visiting the Count (Claes Bang) and Mina (Morfydd Clark) swearing her eternal love. The nobleman has other plans and his lust for both the male and female gender goes nowhere fast. Either he’s too decrepit to get off, or those tones brought down for Netflix’s broadcasting standards.
Stoker’s Dracula represented unbridled passion. The romantic vampire is better explored in Coppula’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (Amazon Link). This series flirts with it, but never went far enough to make me swoon.
Any authentic scares come briefly. In part one, “The Rules of the Beast,” the relationship between Dracula and Harker feels like its own movie. It goes into better details of the many days spent at the castle. The lighting, cinematography and gothic atmosphere is terrific. It’s as close as the show runners can get to the source material before they finally go off on a tangent. This act one update is not without certain surprises.
When reimagining a classic, no original detail is safe. Either certain characters are gender swapped or killed sooner than later. Those changes are generally acceptable. My biggest complaint is that without bringing the insane Renfield—the faithful disciple of Dracula—early on, this update is lacking. This update is missing a key theme. The famous phrase, “Blood is life,” is repeated and nobody understands its significance. The madman knows the meaning and without him around, nobody gets it.
The second episode “Blood Vessel” almost stands alone. This act fills in all the details not mentioned about the crossing of the boat, Demeter. It’s a whodunnit with the viewer knowing who the killer is. An additional mystery had me trying to figure out who resides in cabin 9. Had the producers included elements of The Shining to this nautical tale, I’d be all over it. The Samuel Taylor Coleridge reference went nowhere and I caught this detail right away because I’m adore the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Aside from the cold nights, the boat never sailed far north to encounter the spirits of the dead, or curse any noble mariners to an immortal life.
The first two episodes are well executed for its general intent. They introduce newcomers to the alpha vampire. A heavy analysis which includes spoilers follow and is separated by a next page break.