Review: “Dracula” sucks the life and potential from a unique interpretation

Courtesy of IMDb

By Madalyn Watson | Arts & Life Editor

Despite a variety of interpretations linked to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, several constants about the character always seem to remain. He fears the sunlight, mirrors and the sign of the cross. He cannot enter your home unless he is invited. He sleeps during the day and drinks the blood of the living at night.

The BBC and Netflix’s miniseries “Dracula,” however, adds twists to this original story as it attempts to analyze the characteristics of the bloodsucking vampire in a close retelling of his tale.

Created by Mark Gattiss and Stephen Moffet, the same makers behind the more successful reimagining “Sherlock,” this limited series consists of three feature-length episodes that aired on the BBC One network on January 1 and were broadcast consecutively over three days before being available to stream on Netflix January 4.

The terrifying look at the infamous vampire begins very closely tied to the plot of the book in the first episode, “The Rules of the Beast.”

A man who appears to be sick and dying narrates the episode as he recounts his stay with the infamous Count to two nuns in the convent where he sought refuge.

The audience discovers the man was British lawyer Johnathan Harker (John Heffernan), and that he visited Count Dracula’s mansion in Transylvania under the pretense that he was helping him get his estates in order to move to London.

The aged and decrepit Count (Claes Bang) claims Harker must stay with him in his home for a month so that he may “absorb” the English language and culture from his presence.

Rightfully creeped out by the Count, Harker spends his days getting lost down the corridors and hidden passages of the “prison without locks” as he searches for another living being in the castle.

Without spoiling any of the departures from the original story, the second and third episode take place in entirely new settings and have completely different tones. Although all three of the episodes come together to create a somewhat cohesive story, the first and second episodes are the true highlights.

The second episode “Blood Vessel” follows a Clue-esque plot as a variety of characters are forced into isolation with a murderer among them. This episode is truly where Dracula shines as he devours his prey with the backdrop of a mystery that could have been written by Agatha Christie.

The success of the thrilling and terrifying first two episodes is buried alive as the third episode “The Dark Compass” attempts to wrap the story up in a neat little bow. I very much enjoyed the first two episodes, which made the uninteresting plot of the third episode so much more disappointing. The episode focuses more time on characters the audience doesn’t care about in a setting that feels unsuitable as Dracula searches for his bride.

Although I despised almost everything about the third episode, however, the last five or so minutes of it are inarguably shocking, yet poetic.

Even with an underwhelming conclusion, the actors Claes Bang and Dolly Wells (who plays a gender-bent Van Helsing) kept me interested until the credits. While both were incredibly amazing actors on their own, their realistic and intriguing chemistry carries the plot.

Another complaint I had throughout the episodes was the effects. Since “Dracula” is about the undead, there was bound to be violence, gore and scares, but most of it is disappointing and comes across as someone waving a cheap Halloween mask in my face.

It was still terrifying, but I found myself wishing they showed a little less, or at least had better monsters to reveal. At first I tried to defend it, assuming that fantastical effects like these were hard to make appear realistic in a television series. Then I remembered “The Walking Dead” exists and unfortunately looked much more realistic.

Without a doubt, the heart of the series is the psychology of Dracula. Who he is, what his intentions are and what he fears most are all thoroughly questioned in the series, mostly by Wells’ character. Understanding a villain, or in this case a monster, is the key to making the audience care about the story, and “Dracula” was very successful at that.