By Michael Sims
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Dracula will not die. Never mind the stake through his heart. Forget that sunlight turned him into ash. Nowadays, when the fiend comes to his predictably messy end, it's easy to imagine him, like Tom Sawyer, watching his own funeral and chuckling over his upcoming resurrection.
A descendant of Dracula's creator is managing the 2009 comeback tour. Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew, and Ian Holt, a screenwriter and Dracula fanatic, have co-authored "Dracula the Un-Dead." In a behind-the-scenes afterword, they speak of the famous Stoker on a first-name basis -- but after all, he's family. "In the end it was our most important goal with this sequel," they claim, "to right the wrongs done to Bram's original classic."
Repeatedly they harp on this point, yet surely no Hollywood movie has ever taken greater liberties with Bram Stoker's characters. Stoker and Holt upend many of the original premises about Count Dracula. I laughed aloud at their assertion of the vampire's "moral compass."
In this sequel, it has been 25 years since the "death" of Dracula, and the ragtag band of vigilantes who dispatched him are being murdered in uncomfortable ways. Who could the villain be? Quincey Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina from the original novel, is about to inherit the family troubles. Along the way, while trying to become an actor, he meets a theater manager named Bram Stoker, who in writing an adaptation of his novel must wrestle with a mysterious European who thinks he knows better how to play a vampire.
Stoker and Holt dump everything into their furiously boiling kettle of cliches -- bucketfuls of gore, creepy sex, a torture scene that comes across as lesbian vampire porn. They toss in Jack the Ripper, DNA, a plot twist borrowed from "Star Wars," an ancient religiously motivated conspiracy and even the Titanic. They name some characters after actors who played Dracula (watch for references to Christopher Lee, Louis Jourdan and Frank Langella). And they work in a historical figure often mistakenly associated with vampires, Elizabeth Báthory, who tortured and murdered countless young women and whom legend credits with bathing in the blood of virgins to prolong her youth.
But I don't mean to complain that this cheeseburger is not caviar. "Un-Dead" is cinematically fast-paced, flying from London to Paris to Transylvania, and the historical texture is mostly convincing. The primary theme of vampire stories applies as well to authors and sequels. As a character borrowed from the original "Dracula" puts it: "Death is only the beginning, my love."
Michael Sims's fourth anthology, "Dracula's Guest and Other Victorian Vampire Stories," will be published next spring.