The well-worn Dracula story is given fresh blood and a new lease on eternal life in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s imaginative new mini-series. Like their work on Sherlock (let’s take its better moments as an example), the new Dracula unfolds between the pages of the book. The creators insert wit and new value while showing a studied appreciation for the Bram Stoker text. They are evident fans of the story and the rich cinematic history it inspired. All of that influences the image here. Told through three hour-and-a-half movies, the story is captivating and makes for a blood-hungry binge worthy of consideration. The earliest success of the year, Dracula saves us from the doldrums of January movie apathy with a banging three-parter that always feels like a sure thing.
Claes Bang makes a compelling Dracula, known for his prior work primarily in The Square (2017), the Danish actor compels with hammy but never off-putting delivery: every time he says he does not drink… wine. His story begins as an elder with a voracious hunger and he ages down as the show unwinds. The first segment, the smartest of the bunch, delivers us Jonathon Harker, played by John Heffernan, charismatic and slightly naive. Interestingly, he is relaying the story to a couple nuns. They ask him if he got this way through intercourse with Dracula. His memories play before us, like Interview with a Vampire (1994), as he recounts his entrapment in the ever-shifting castle and how he was ripened to feeble old age while making Dracula all the more powerful. Two very interesting unique aspects: Dracula considers Harker to be his Bride and the nuns turn out to be a Helsing and Mina in disguise! When these reveals are made, it’s evident that the show creators are playing with a full deck. That they are creating a spin-off story of a high individual caliber that respects its own source but wishes to modernize and adapt it for the streaming market.
Inevitably, Dracula shows up to the coven where Harker is being held and interviewed, fearful his bride has escaped his custody. Some great new interpretation is allowed here. A block of nuns squares off with the great literary figure. It plays out with bold sexual tension, that Dracula is always an erotic figure is never overlooked. The camera and image hold close to their cinematic inspirations. Whether the bat-like careening camera of the intro or the Hammer Horror-like restructuring of the classic, the new show asserts its own value upon the image of its inspirations.
The second episode still stays close to the text but stretches the material out and broadens it for its own uses. It follows the travel between Transylvania and London, as Dracula and Sister Agatha (that is, Helsing) are aboard. It becomes a fun and independently spirited kind of murder mystery, where only we and Dracula know he is the killer on board. This is where the show finds its own inherent value, the most flavorful new meat to sink our teeth into. As Dracula stalks the old-world ship, considering the aspects of the boarding passengers he’d most like to take as his own through consumption, it plays as really fun camp. The characters come to life and are all given room to breathe or to die horrifically. It’s sexy, fun, and smartly developed. This flows wonderfully and fits the established context like a glove.
From here, the streaming ship hits the rocks, so to speak. The show gets extremely weird and overambitious in its new value by the third episode. This is too far in to spoil the turns it makes, but it brazenly tosses the established goodwill overboard. Now, it is still fun, but consists of more varied results. Claes Bang has done all he can to this point, overperformed the expectations of a modern take. Here, he can not always stand up to an occasionally flagging script that modernizes with reckless abandon. Yet, still perfectly watchable, and ultimately entertaining, Dracula‘s iffy late moments do not deter the crafted love letter to its creators favorite monster.
A fresh, fun reworking of the classic tale, Dracula makes smart timing of the early year, being the first truly notable product of the new decade. It shows that Mofatt and Gatiss may have gas left in the tank. We should welcome their play in genre formats. If they’d like to take on another classic monster and make it their own they ought to feel more than welcome. It’s too rare to find good horror so early in a year. Let’s consider this a great exception. Dracula is a blood-curdling winter treat that rewards your investment.