31 October 2019 3070 Views

Happy Halloween! But a very Unspectacular Dracula?

by James Murphy

So, BBC Dracula trailer: Live, Launched..or rather..Living Dead?

I have some Reservations..


DRACULA. I get it. There is an unending need to reinvent him for each generation. Because he is the definitive villain.

As Christopher Lee put it; ‘Dracula is aristocratic; hypnotic; he is demonic; he is erotic‘.

Lee (RIP) was among the most distinctive and celebrated of actors to play Dracula, indeed one could argue he defined the aesthetic of the character onscreen every bit as much as Lugosi?

Gary Oldman then truly reinvented the perception of the lore; his performance in Coppola’s 1992 film about the vampire restored real menace but also injected raw sexuality (thereby perhaps also explaining Ken Branagh’s ill fated attempt to do same with Frankenstein a few years later?).

My point is there are plenty of things one can do with the myth, the world, the man, from Bram Stoker’s source novel.

It is very much a coded tour of Ireland, I think (Bram says Transylvania but may as well say ‘Dublin’: Dracula’s tone is VERY Irish, right down to the emotional blackmail / sending you notes signed ‘D’ after he has bitten you / surprise at his own behaviour being seen as evil, by others, when he just wants to make you feel comfortable as a guest).

The brand was always ripe with subtext, prequel possibilities and hints that one could tell stories in the same universe without depending solely on the eponymous Count. Hence, Kim Newman, Dacre Stoker and various writers have, with some success, given us compelling sequels /spin-offs, without tainting the source material too much. I’d still love to write the definitive ‘When Dracula met Carmilla’ story.

Van Helsing, as Dracula’s nemesis, also has life as a pulp hero in his own right (that Hugh Jackman film from 2004; a pitch originally passed between Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson and Tom Cruise).

And then, there’s the endless debate about whether one can view the vampire as some sort of misunderstood fallen hero. That arguably gave us Twilight and that sort of thing. So it’s not too contrived a coincidence to now see Robert Pattinson play Batman, a vigilante hero who lives in a Cave, harnesses the power of noble birth and money to create fear and wears a scary cape.

In short, there are ALWAYS places to go with this property and zero copyright protections as I understand it, given it is now public domain? Obviously if one copies someone else’s distinct take on the whole piece, then the law suits can swoop down. But otherwise it’s open season and one can take liberal bites and blood-suck the ££$$ potential.

As for this new take? Well, whilst a trailer, especially a teaser trailer, cannot reveal much..I remain completely in the dark (!) as to why this new BBC Dracula has been commissioned, what it offers or how it will appeal in any way to a mass  (!) audience?

There are lots of images of Catholic Church types: Nuns, Priests?

And a lingering shot of a crucifix.

Fine! Except that I thought we were all being cautioned against the use of Catholic /Christian imagery, even in fiction, nowadays? Might upset the Atheists?

Had they been REALLY radical, a shot of a Mosque might have signalled they are keeping the material in period yet also broadening the scope for the multi-cultural age. Would make canonical sense, too, given Dracula’s association with ‘Vlad the Impaler’? But no. Too radical. Might upset rather than integrate Muslim interest, right? Fine.

Except that this is the same BBC who apparently, were too cautious to give us a Grail Quest in their (initially brilliant, ultimately repetitive and irritating) MERLIN series a few years back. Was it too Christian /Catholic /offensive? We may never know. Maybe they just did not want that story-line. But what is fascinating here is that one gets a free pass to use Christian /Catholic imagery, at will, in what is a ‘horror’ product but not in the Saturday family teatime adventure serial counterpart. Most odd. Read between lines all you wish there. I need not spell it out. Coz you are not thick.

Could Dracula itself BE mainstream family fare, albeit with some jump scares? Maybe. No reason why not, though graphic horror warnings on trailer bode..ill. They might up the sexuality to a prurience level (remember, this new take on the vampire comes from the writers of Sherlock who made Irene Adler an aggressive Dominatrix, for no reason).  There will be stunts. Action. Some awkward comedy? Remember the original book, though deemed Gothic horror, is in effect also an adventure /pulp novel via epistle. Could be Indiana Jones vs Dracula (they did that once in the young Indy tv show..no joke). Perhaps Doctor Who can have a go?

Ah yes, that Timelord. THAT is the REAL selling point here. The show will be written and run by Moffat /Gatiss. Both of those fellas gave us some of the best plots and stories in whovian history. I have never doubted that and indeed have objectively praised them both. I drew the line, however, at either of these guys being trumpeted as creative visionaries on a character or branding front.

JEKYLL! SHERLOCK! DOCTOR WHO! DRACULA! Moffat, involved in all. That’s your first connection. Second? He did not INVENT any of those! And Sherlock, especially, did well as much from its over-marketed, ready made imagery, as from anything integral to the actual pitch from the writing team? Indeed, some of the writing toward the end of that series verged on smug, self satisfied..crap. Sorry!

As for Gatiss, I have, again, praised his vision on occasion. League of Gentlemen is a work of genius. And he devolved that, cleverly, into Little Britain, with his script editor’s hand guiding the material to a wider, younger audience. But he is also a shameless fanboy, who is part of that Edgar Wright /Simon Pegg zeitgeist whereby one gets praised for simply knowing about pop culture and working that into a script.

Mark is set up now as some sort of resident expert on James Bond. Fine. Except it’s not fine when the words ‘blunt instrument’ are both written in and delivered by Gatiss in a Sherlock script. No! Stop it. This is not one of your Lucifer Box fan fictions, Mr Gatiss. No doubt, of course, he will be presented as a quasi academic expert now on all things Dracula. He and David Walliams probably will present some sort of ‘On the wings of Dracula’ retrospective for BBC digital content? Nice companion to the forthcoming radio show, ‘Little Brexit‘ (fellas, really..did you HAVE to do that? Why not just give us Come Fly with Me, series 2?).

Once again, fine. I know Gatiss LOVES his Hammer horror films. But then, so did Tim Burton and whilst Burton never directed a Dracula film, he instead expanded the imagery he grew up with into a distinctive, auteur vision via Batman and the like. Gatiss, like many in house approved BBC /other UK media outfit personnel, will be given a pat on the back, it seems, for simply liking, summarising and giving what looks to be a fairly timid, conservative reinvention of the Dracula myth?

What REALLY is the difference between that and say, the perfectly adequate (but wildly inappropriately timed, given it was Christmas and not Halloween?) 2007 BBC take on the Stoker book? The teaser gives away little if anything to show how or why one would expect anything new here. Other than a bit more gloom, fog and ambiguous religious imagery when the nation already feels so good pre Brexit botch election. Now THAT might happen..a Brexit joke. In Dracula. ‘All those foreign vampires..go back to Transylvania..off with ya!’. Do NOT rule it out. 😉

Dracula will be released in due course. It might then change my mind about why it’s been commissioned. Meantime? HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 



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