Friday, June 30, 2017

Worth Mentioning - A Rebooted World of Gods and Monsters

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Universal's monsters get updated. A few times.

THE MUMMY (2017)

This is an era of cinematic universes, where franchises are built out of films that are connected but aren't necessarily sequels to each other. There's the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which separate superhero films with connecting threads built up to the team-up crossover The Avengers and now continues expanding that world. DC Comics are now building their own universe, the Star Wars universe is expanding beyond trilogies, New Line Cinema has their "Conjuring Universe" with the Conjuring movies and their spin-offs (starting with Annabelle), etc. Universal Pictures are building their own universe as well, and this is one I am extremely excited for, as it's a revival of what may have been the original cinematic universe; the Universal Monsters universe. Universal basically followed the Marvel model seventy years before the MCU, making separate monster movies and then starting to have their monsters cross paths with each other in movies like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Now they're going to do it again.

Overseen by producers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan (who has helped the Fast and Furious franchise rake in billions for Universal), the universe Universal is having built about their classic monster properties is called Dark Universe and will be a series of films that bring the monsters into the modern world, each film having a connecting thread running through it that will allow the monsters to cross paths along the way. Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Gill Man, the Invisible Man, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, monster hunter Van Helsing, they're all going to be part of the Dark Universe.

The universe building begins with a new reboot of The Mummy, directed by Kurtzman from a screenplay he worked on with Jon Spaihts, Jenny Lumet, Dylan Kussman, David Koepp, and Christopher McQuarrie. The story begins with the construction of underground train tunnels in London unexpectedly leading to the discovery of a long lost tomb holding the bodies of knights from the second Crusade; knights that had returned to England after invading Egypt. Since 1127 AD, this tomb has head the secret of an Egyptian princess who was erased from the history books. Her name was Ahmanet (she's played by Sofia Boutella), and she was the only child of Pharaoh Menehptre. She was raised believing that someday she would become Pharaoh herself, and she wanted that power. She wanted to be worshiped as a living god. But then that all slipped away from her when the Pharaoh took a second wife, who gave birth to a son. The son became the heir to the throne, and Ahmanet was so enraged that she called upon Set, the god of death, through some kind of ritual involving strung up crows. She made a pact with Set and was reborn a monster. Not only did she kill her family so she could become Pharaoh, she also began to plan to bring the demonic Set into our world through the body of a mortal man of her choosing. Ahmanet's plans were thwarted when she was captured and mummified alive for her evil deeds. Her body wasn't even kept in Egypt, it was carried off to be buried in a massive tomb in Mesopotamia (an area we now know as Iraq), where her sarcophagus was suspended by chains in a pool of mercury, a substance the Egyptians believed weakened evil.

The history of Ahmanet is told by Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, the head of a mysterious organization called Prodigium, which takes over the search of the unearthed tomb in London. Information discovered within the tomb points Prodigium in the direction of Ahmanet's tomb, so Jekyll sends a message/map to his associate Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist, telling her to check out this specific area in Iraq.

Unfortunately, this message/map is stolen from Jenny during a one night stand with American soldier Nick Morton, who uses his reconnaissance assignments in the Middle East to go searching for ancient treasure. This mummy's tomb stuff is right up his alley.

I was already hyped for the Dark Universe movies as soon as I heard Universal was working on this idea. I am very excited to see new versions of the old monsters sharing the screen once again, and can't wait to see how it all plays out. I was looking forward to The Mummy from the beginning, but my interest got a substantial boost when Cruise was cast in the lead role. He's one of my favorite actors, I see everything he does, so now I had even more reason to be hyped.

Nick isn't like Cruise's other franchise heroes - he's not highly capable or skilled and he's not a badass. He's not a great guy, he's out for himself and the fortune he seeks, and he uses people around him to get closer to his goals. This isn't Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher vs. the Mummy, this is a flawed guy who's a bit of a creep. If someone is slower than him in a scary situation, he's even fine with leaving them behind. His flaws give the man plenty of room to redeem himself.

Nick and his reluctant sidekick Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) run into trouble with insurgents while searching the Iraq countryside for Ahmanet's tomb, allowing for the movie to have its first action beat that leads to a drone missile strike. The resulting explosion blasts open the tomb, and soon enough other military men have descended upon the area... with Jenny Halsey in tow.

After 5000 years, Ahmanet is removed from her tomb, her sarcophagus loaded into a military cargo plane for a flight to Prodigium headquarters in London. Things go very wrong during that flight, as anyone who saw marketing materials for The Mummy will be able to anticipate, because the plane crash sequence, which was actually shot in a zero gravity situation, was pretty much the main focus of the marketing. While it's cool to see Cruise and Wallis floating around in a falling plane, it really doesn't come off as something all that impressive visually. It easily could have been achieved through some wire work, so it's really only impressive if you know that it was shot in real zero gravity. This was a sequence that Cruise brought to the table, and it's more fitting here than it would have been in something like a Mission: Impossible, because it's not quite on the level of an M:I spectacle.

Nick dies in that plane crash. But he doesn't. He awakens in the morgue, with visions/hallucinations telling him that he is Ahmanet's chosen one. Bringing her out of her tomb has unleashed her into our world as a supernatural force, and she wants to bring Set along with her through Nick's body. The mummy rises from the plane wreckage to seek out Nick, killing anyone who gets in her way, absorbing their life force to regenerate herself. She decomposed a bit during those 5000 years.

In addition to the visions of Ahmanet, Nick is also troubled by visits from his dead buddy Vail, who became a servant of Ahmanet after being bitten by a camel spider in her tomb and dying from a bite that shouldn't have been fatal. Vail doesn't make it out of the plane, but his spirit continues to haunt Nick in unnecessary scenes that are just in there so we can have more time with this comic relief character.

Bringing Set's essence into Nick will require a ritual involving the Dagger of Set, a ceremonial knife with a jewel in the hilt. So the second half of the film is built around the mummy's quest for this dagger, which is in two pieces - the jewel was buried with one of the knights in that London tomb. Ahmanet needs the dagger, then needs to locate the jewel, and once the Dagger of Set has been put back together she needs Nick. This sends Nick and Jenny scrambling to find dagger pieces before the mummy does.

Complicating matters is the fact that Ahmanet can raise the dead to serve as her zombie slaves, which provides a couple cool moments, including one where zombies swim after our hero during a search of a flooded section of the knights' tomb. Like Imhotep in the 1999 version of The Mummy, Ahmanet can also call upon a sandstorm, which she does at one point on the streets of London. The imagery of sand blasting through London feels sort of shoehorned in, though. Ahmanet doesn't accomplish anything by using this power, so it seems like something that was added in just as an expensive nod to Mummy '99. That's not the only nod the '99 film gets; the Book of the Dead from that movie is also featured in one moment.

Mummy '99's Book of the Dead is in the library at Prodigium HQ in London, a place which also houses such items as a vampire's skull and a Gill Man arm, a hint at future Dark Universe installments. The movie has a stop-over at this location in the midst of the action to do some universe building. Like S.H.I.E.L.D. was at the center of the MCU in the build-up to The Avengers and the scientific organization Monarch connected Godzilla 2014 to Kong: Skull Island, Prodigium is what will tie together movies in the Dark Universe. The scientists and soldiers of Prodigium are monster hunters; the organization exists to recognize, contain, examine, and destroy evil.

Prodigium's leader Jekyll is a troubled man who has to regularly inject himself with a serum that keeps him from being overwhelmed by an alternate personality that threatens to surface - a fellow called Mr. Eddie Hyde, who thrives on chaos and suffering. The split personalities of Jekyll and Hyde are clearly established in this film when Jekyll is late for his injection. One movie into the Dark Universe and we already have Jekyll/Hyde sharing the screen with the Mummy.

Another troubled monster is set up for future Dark Universe movies, but to delve into that one would spoil the climax.

While showing Nick around Prodigium HQ, Jekyll welcomes him to "a new world of gods and monsters", a line lifted from 1935's Bride of Frankenstein, giving a nod to the monster movies of the past while welcoming viewers into this new universe. This introduction to the Dark Universe hasn't been that warmly received, but while it was a little underwhelming compared to my expectations for it and not wholly satisfying in itself, I do get a decent amount of enjoyment out of it.

Although there is a bit of a disjointed, assembly line product feeling to it at times, there are also some very cool moments in there, and the story is interesting. While it has a sense of humor, it's also a darker film than The Mummy '99 and its sequels, which I appreciated because those movies were too silly as far as I'm concerned.

The Mummy 2017 has humor, but not too much. It has large scale action, but that's mixed together with some good horror scenes and horrific visuals. It offers the sight of Tom Cruise fighting monsters, and I seem to be one of the few who actually liked watching Cruise play this character who is so different from his usual roles. The movie could have been better, but it works well enough as it is, and it hasn't put me off of the Dark Universe. I remain very excited to see how this is going to go.

The next entry in the Dark Universe will be a remake of Bride of Frankenstein, which has been written by David Koepp and will star Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's Monster. That's great casting, and the project has the perfect director - Bill Condon, who made Gods and Monsters, a fictional story of the last days of original Bride director James Whale. Condon's Gods and Monsters featured scenes of Whale on the set of the original Bride of Frankenstein, and soon Condon will be on the set of his own Bride of Frankenstein.

Bride of Frankenstein will be released on Valentine's Day in 2019, and beyond that film Johnny Depp has already been cast as the new Invisible Man. To the Dark Universe, I say - bring it on. Bring it all on.


While Universal spent the '90s trying to shepherd a reboot of The Mummy through development hell (an endeavor that finally resulted in the 1999 film), the studio's television department crafted their own classic monsters revival with the two-part mini-series House of Frankenstein, which aired on NBC in 1997. Oddly, the air dates for this mini-series came just after the Halloween season ended rather than during the season; viewers (including myself) tuned in to watch it on November 2nd and 3rd. This really should be on sometime in October...

Taking its title from a 1944 monster mash that had Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Wolf Man crossing paths with a mad scientist and his hunchbacked assistant, House of Frankenstein '97 reboots the monsters by bringing them into the contemporary world rather than taking the period piece route that most other Universal Monsters updates have gone down.

Directed by Peter Werner from a teleplay by J.B. White, both of them quite successful in the television world, this mini-series is set in Los Angeles, where a serial killer dubbed the Midnight Raptor has been stalking the night, tearing victims to pieces. The detective working the case is Near Dark's Adrian Pasdar as Vernon Coyle, and his investigation leads him to a night club called House of Frankenstein, which is full of artifacts from horrific events throughout history.

The club's owner, Crispian Grimes (Greg Wise), is fascinated by the macabre, and he wants a very special artifact to be the centerpiece of his club. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was a record of a true event, and Grimes has been funding a search for the frozen body of Frankenstein's Monster at the North Pole. Working for Grimes in this endeavor is a Dr. Neimann, a character who shares his name with Boris Karloff's mad scientist character in the original House of Frankenstein.

The Monster, played by Peter Crombie, is eventually located and brought back to Los Angeles in a dormant state... But when it thaws out, it awakens, and escapes into the city. An innocent, child-like being, the Monster is then taken in by Armando (Richard Libertini), a down-on-his-luck war veteran who's losing his eyesight, in a subplot reminiscent of the Monster befriending the blind man in Bride of Frankenstein.

While the Monster hangs out with Armando, it becomes clear that there are two other monsters in the city: Grimes himself is a master vampire who transforms into a winged beast similar to a gargoyle, and one of his lackeys is a werewolf. Not a wolf man; when he transforms he just turns into a wolf with bloodshot eyes. The werewolf attacks a young woman named Grace Dawkins (Teri Polo), who goes on to get caught up in a love triangle with Coyle and Grimes while dealing with the fact that she's now a werewolf herself.

Frankenstein's Monster is a creature doomed to suffer tragedy, and tragedy strikes again when Grimes seeks out his fellow undead and lost property. Grimes is causing a lot of trouble for the Monster, Coyle, and Grace, which brings them all together. They team up to take down the vampire master and his minions, using information Coyle has been given by Dr. Shauna Kendall (CCH Pounder). Kendall has not only figured out that vampire exist, she has also figured out what they are and how to stop them. According to this film, vampires are fallen angels. That's why they have wings and can't tolerate religious iconography.

House of Frankenstein '97 isn't the ideal way to reboot the Universal monsters, and it's really only a revival of Frankenstein's Monster when you come down to it, since Grimes isn't Dracula and the werewolf isn't the Wolf Man. Still, it does a good job of mixing together its versions of these creatures and I've always found it to be decently entertaining. Some scenes do feel like filler put in to help the story reach a 168 minute running time, but it doesn't drag too much.

Best of all, as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that the final battle takes place in the House of Frankenstein night club, which happens to be packed full of vampires. Cross and stake-wielding police officers taking on bloodsuckers while Smashing Pumpkins plays on the soundtrack. Thanks to the impact From Dusk Till Dawn had on my youth, I will always have a soft spot for monster action sequences that take place in a club setting, especially if the monsters involved are vampires. Just to be clear, though - this vampire club sequence has nothing on From Dusk Till Dawn.

Maybe this should have been a little better, given the Universal pedigree, the title, and the "two night mini-series event" treatment, but taking it on its own merits I think it's just fine.


Having enjoyed great box office success with the 1999 reboot of The Mummy and its 2001 sequel The Mummy Returns, writer/director Stephen Sommers had been planning to follow those films up with something much smaller. Instead, he got caught up in the world of the Universal Monsters again and soon found himself crafting another high-budget reboot of those classic monster properties. This time, Sommers would be working with several characters from the Universal library, putting them up against his own version of the famous vampire hunter Van Helsing.

In the wake of the 1992 release of Francis Ford Coppola's film Bram Stoker's Dracula, there was some consideration given to making a spin-off based around Anthony Hopkins' version of Van Helsing from that movie. Sommers' Van Helsing is not the result of that idea - Coppola's movie had been released by Columia Pictures. Sommers' is Universal authentic, and has no connection to that abandoned spin-off at all.

Sommers' take on the character is basically a monster-hunting Victorian era James Bond, and is introduced in the way you'd expect a Bond-inspired character to be: with an action sequence. Played by Hugh Jackman, Van Helsing (who has the first name of Gabriel instead of the usual Abraham) is first seen battling the monstrous Mr. Hyde in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, a location that has also housed a famous Hunchback in other stories. Sommers' over-reliance on CGI is clear right up front here, as Mr. Hyde is simply a CG cartoon voiced by Robbie Coltrane.

Rather than the British Secret Service, Van Helsing works for the Knights of the Holy Order, based out of the Vatican. Returning to Rome, Van Helsing is given a new mission by Cardinal Jinette (Alun Armstrong), equipped with gadgets and weapons by friar Carl (David Wenham), and sent back out into the field. It's just like the most formulaic entries in the Bond franchise.

Van Helsing's latest mission is to go to Romania and protect Prince Velkan (Will Kemp) and Princess Anna (Kate Beckinsale), the last in a bloodline that has been fighting against the evil vampire Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) for nine generations. By the time Van Helsing reaches them, Velkan has already been bitten by a werewolf and infected with lycanthropy, turning into a wolf man - and this wolf man transformation is one of the worst werewolf transformations I've ever seen. Not just because it's so CG, but I just don't like the concept - the wolf man literally rips itself out of the body of Velkan's human form. And yet it then just turns back into that human form when it's done rampagaing. So there are just a bunch of torn up Velkan bodies laying around out there, and yet he keeps turning back into himself? It makes absolutely no sense. The concept of werewolves already requires a leap of logic, but the idea of this transformation is a leap too far for me to make.

Also in the mix for this monster mash is Shuler Hensley as a steampunk version of Frankenstein's Monster, who was created in 1887 Transylvania - as we're shown in the opening scene, which is presented in black and white, a nod to the original Universal Monsters films. Dracula had a hand in the creation of Frankenstein's Monster, which is really a byproduct of his quest to bring life to the dead. The reason for this quest is the fact that Dracula and his three brides (Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca, and Josie Maran) have made a whole lot of babies over the centuries, but unfortunately the children of these undead bloodsuckers are stillborn. The brides want their bat-like babies to live. There are so many of them, though, that if these creatures come to life it would certainly mean the deaths of a lot of people.

Dracula and his brides are assisted in their endeavor by the disfigured Igor (Kevin J. O'Connor) and an army of masked trolls called the Dwergi. It's up to Van Helsing (who has a secret origin that is revealed by the end), Anna, the noble Frankenstein's Monster, and the curse of the wolf man to thwart their terrible plans.

There are good ideas within Van Helsing, but the execution is an overly long (131 minutes? Get out of here!), cheesy, melodramatic, over-the-top mess that I can barely sit through. As usual, Sommers' sensibilities just do not jibe with mine. A movie about a Bondian monster hunter crossing paths with classic creatures should be right up my alley, I should love this movie... Instead, it makes me cringe.

Horror fans are concerned about how the monsters are going to be portrayed in the Dark Universe films, but I don't think anything could be worse to me than Sommers' interpretation of the monsters.

At one point, the director has also considered putting a version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon's Gill Man into the film. The creature would have popped up swimming around in a moat, and knowing Sommers it likely would have been a CGI nightmare. I'm glad we were spared that sight.


Released on DVD four days after the live action Van Helsing film was released in theatres, this 30 minute animated short serves as a prequel to Stephen Sommers' film, with the cast of the live action movie providing the voices for the animated versions of their characters.

Directed by Sharon Bridgeman, Van Helsing: The London Assignment leads into an early scene in Van Helsing that had the titular hero battling the monstrous Mr. Hyde at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. To set that up, the script by Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackson) sent by the Vatican's Cardinal Jinette (Alun Armstrong) to investigate a series of murders in 1888 London - murders committed in the Whitechapel district, supposedly by someone called "Jack the Ripper". The murders in this short are depicted in a surprisingly bloody way, given that this is an animated project spun off from a very goofy, cartoony movie.

Using gadgets provided to him by friar Carl (David Wenham), Van Helsing is able to figure out that "Jack the Ripper" is actually Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane), the beastly alter ego of the elderly Dr. Jekyll (Dwight Schultz). Turned into the monster by a serum of his own making, Jekyll / Hyde is killing young women to capture their life force and pass that life force to the sickly old love of his life, making her healthy and young again.

The mixture of Jack the Ripper and Jekyll and Hyde is a clever one, and this is far from the first time that connection has been made. In fact, the concept of Jekyll and Hyde was on the minds of Londoners during Jack the Ripper's killing spree. Robert Louis Stevenson's novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published in 1886 and was such a hit that a stage play adaptation opened in 1888. Just days before the Whitechapel murders began. There was speculation at the time that watching the play caused someone to snap and become Jack the Ripper, much like movies are often used as a scapegoat for violent crimes these days.

Jekyll / Hyde isn't the only villain Van Helsing and Carl have to contend with here, also having to battle undead 16th century guards in the killer's hellish underground layer. That stuff was a step too far into the ridiculous for me; I would have much rather just watched Van Helsing take on Hyde and end the Ripper murders. I didn't need this over-the-top addition.

The London Assignment doesn't play out entirely as I would have preferred, but it's a fun way to spend 30 minutes. I actually enjoyed it more than the live action feature.


When James Bond movies stick relatively closely to the literary source material while also adding to the story and building things up a bit (2006's Casino Royale, for example), the filmmakers call that an "expanded adaptation". The 2010 version of The Wolfman is an expanded adaptation of The Wolf Man 1941 - it has the same set-up and, basically, the same characters, but director Joe Johnston and screenwriters David Self and Andrew Kevin Walker fleshed things out a lot, making the characters and their connections to each other much more complicated.

Being a movie made in modern times, it also gives you some werewolf action right up front, showing a wolf man - but not the wolf man - tearing into a victim in the fog-enshrouded forest of Blackmoor, England in 1891. The victim turns out to be Ben Talbot, the brother of Lawrence Talbot - the iconic character played by Lon Chaney Jr. in the original Wolf Man and its monster mash follow-ups. Benicio Del Toro plays the role this time around, but it's impossible to reach the iconic level of Chaney.

Lawrence returns to the childhood home he left long ago, where his father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) still resides. Lawrence and Sir John have an uneasy relationship; they've never gotten along very well and Sir John had Lawrence put in a mental asylum for a while after his mother died. As the expanded take on this story plays out, there will be a return to the mental asylum.

Also around is Ben's grieving fiancée, Gwen Confliffe (Emily Blunt), a character who was just a local girl that Lawrence fell for in Wolf Man '41. Lawrence and Gwen will fall for each other in this movie as well, but gradually. There is enough character work in this film that it doesn't feel like she's just callously moving from one brother to another, the movie takes some time to show their bond developing.

Ben isn't the only person who has fallen prey to the wild beast that stalks Blackmoor, and the audience knows very well that the beast doing the killing isn't the dancing bear from the nearby gypsy camp. Lawrence finds out what killed his brother when he comes face-to-face with the wolf man himself. The creature attacks him, bites him, infects him with the curse of lycanthropy. Lawrence becomes the wolf man... but the question still lingers, who was the one who infected him? This question is answered later in the film, building up to a wolf man vs. wolf man climactic battle.

The Wolfman 2010 has some great things going for it, most notably the cinematography by Shelly Johnson, who captures a terrific classic horror mood with those foggy shots of the Blackmoor countryside. Another outstanding element is how the wolf man is portrayed - this is a vicious, wild beast that makes a bloody mess of its victims. There are decapitations, maulings, guts are spilled, limbs are lost. The special effects in this film (aside from some moments of CGI transformation) are incredible, which you go in expecting given that the FX department was headed up by seven time Academy Award winner Rick Baker. Baker didn't disappoint; in fact, his seventh Oscar win was for this movie.

I do also have some issues with the movie, however, the main one being the tone. It's dark and downbeat to almost depressing degree. I don't enjoy the scenes between the wolf man attacks very much because it's all so dour, it's not a very fun movie to watch and it took me a couple tries to get through it. It's rare that you can say a genre picture from a major studio was too bleak, but that's how I feel about The Wolfman. The filmmakers did a commendable job on it, but they could have lightened up just a bit.


Origin stories are all the rage these days, and that was reflected in Universal's decision to try to revive the Dracula brand by giving us the origin of the most famous bloodsucker in history. It's an origin Dracula's creator Bram Stoker had hinted at in his novel - that Count Dracula was somehow connected to, and may even be, Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia, a historical figure who was born in Transylvania and is also known as Vlad Tepes / Vlad the Impaler. Stoker had originally been calling his vampire character Count Wampyr, but changed the name to Dracula after learning about Vlad.

Vlad III and his father were members of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to stand against the Ottoman Turks. After becoming a member, Vlad II took on the name Dracul, which means "dragon". Vlad III carried on that name, and became infamous during his time as rule of Wallachia in the mid-1400s for carrying out executions by impaling. Records state that Vlad III had somewhere between 40,000 to 100,000 rivals, criminals, Saxon captives, and invading Ottoman Turks, impaled... So you can see why he got the nickname Vlad the Impaler.

Directed by Gary Shore from a screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, Dracula Untold takes the suggested Vlad connection and runs with it, while playing fast and loose with historical fact.

Played by Luke Evans, this version of Vlad Dracula was one of a thousand Transylvanian boys who were abducted by the Turkish sultan in 1442 and forced to serve in his army. These boys were trained to kill, and one stood out as the most effective killer and fiercest warrior of them all. That was, of course, Vlad.

The story picks up with Vlad now an adult, seeking peace as he rules over Transylvania and raises a son named Ingeras (Art Parkinson) with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon). Unfortunately, Vlad can't find peace. The trouble begins when the helmet of a Turk is found floating in a river with large claw marks slashed into it. Vlad is quickly able to deduce that it washed downstream from the nearby Broken Tooth Mountain, so he and some of his men go up the mountain to find out what's going on there. If the Turks have crossed into his kingdom announced, it's a sign of war. Instead of invading Turks, what they find on the mountain is a bat-infested cave decorated with human bones and serving as the lair of a monstrous creature that kills all of Vlad's men and nearly kills him... but retreats when he falls into sunlight at the cave's entrance.

A monk is able to tell Vlad what that creature was. It's a vampire, once a mortal man who summoned a demon in hopes of gaining power and was instead tricked, turned into a monster, and condemned to live in that cave forever. Or until he finds someone who can set him free. That was easy enough to figure out. Thanks to the monk and some ancient prophecies, Vlad knows all about this vampire within the first 10 minutes and is content to just stay the hell away from that cave.

But more trouble arises. That helmet belonged to just one of several Turks who have gone missing, and the Turks blame Vlad for their disappearance. His usual tribute of silver coins isn't going to cut it this time. Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), who Vlad grew up alongside, wants the same thing the Turks took in 1442 - a thousand Transylvanian boys to serve in their army. Plus one more: Ingeras. Rather than let his son live out the same nightmare he's trying to put behind him, Vlad kills the men who come for Ingeras, despite knowing that he has started a war by doing so.

To fight this war, Vlad will need the power of that monster he saw in the cave. His attempt to recruit the Master Vampire (Charles Dance) doesn't go as expected. Rather than join his army, the vampire instead offers Vlad the chance to have his power, by drinking the vampire's blood. Drinking the blood will give Vlad a tste of the vampire's abilities, but it will come with an insatiable thirst for blood. If Vlad can hold out for three days without drinking blood, he will become mortal again. If he does drink blood, the vampire's curse will be his, and the vampire will be freed from the cave. He will unleash death and destruction upon the land, seeking to get revenge on the demon betrayed him. And some day he will call on Vlad to help him.

Vlad takes the risk. He drinks the blood. And with the strength of 100 men, the speed of a falling star, enhanced senses, and dominion over the night and its creatures - including the ability to transform into bats - he goes to battle with the Turks. As it turns out, the origin of Dracula is a war story with some superhero elements mixed in. This isn't an approach to the concept that I ever would have considered, but I have to admit that the sight of Dracula tearing through an entire army single-handedly is pretty cool.

Wiping out a thousand men at once isn't just an impressive display, it's also a necessity. Dracula has three days to win a war that would be expected to last for months.

Of course, we know that Dracula isn't going to be successful at regaining his mortality, otherwise we wouldn't know the legend that follows this origin. We may root for him to resist the thirst for blood and go back to being the loving family man he was before, but we also know it's a lost cause.

Dracula Untold was the feature directorial debut of Shore, who had previously made short films and commercials. For a first-timer who was handed a budget of $70 million, Shore did a hell of a job. There is nothing within the movie to give away that it wasn't helmed by an established filmmaker, and Shore captured some nice visuals.

When the movie went into production, it was simply a standalone Dracula film, although possibly the start of a new franchise. However, before it was released Universal announced that they were moving forward with the shared monster universe that would become known as Dark Universe, a series consisting of reboots of their classic monsters. That brought up the question of whether or not this new Dracula movie would be connected to the Dark Universe - a series of connected films featuring Universal's famous monsters would surely need a Dracula. The answer to that question was: "Maybe." Some changes were made in case Dracula Untold would be tied into the Dark Universe: after speaking with Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, the producers overseeing the construction of the Dark Universe, the producers of this film went ahead with reshoots that changed the vampire character from the historical figure of Caligula (as played by Charlie Cox), the Roman emperor who may have been a power-mad tyrant, into this Master Vampire played by Charles Dance.

Watching Dracula Untold now, I'm more entertained by it, but when it was first released I didn't like it at all. The idea of Dracula being a noble hero going to war was not what I wanted to see for the character. I want my Dracula to be a creepy, evil bastard like he was in the days of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. This film does not deliver that iteration of the character at all... but taken on its own merits, it's kind of fun.

Ultimately, it was decided that Dracula Untold will not be part of the Dark Universe. It's a standalone film to be enjoyed as such. The thought was that Charles Dance's Master Vampire might have something to do within the Dark Universe, but now he's just Dracula's creator in this specific film. Things are left open-ended for the vampire character because of the reshoots, which does stop Dracula Untold from being completely satisfying within itself, but that's how it goes. The Master Vampire intended to play a game of revenge with Dracula as his pawn, but we're not going to see that game play out.

The Dark Universe is going to have its own Dracula. I hope he's a creepy, evil bastard.

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