My editorial policy on horror is that I try to review things I enjoy rather than things that I think are terrible. This isn’t a difficult policy to maintain – I’m easy to please and, as I am fond of saying, I like most things! However, even a jovial fellow such as myself has his limits, and on rare occasion I feel the need to give vent to mockery or frustration. In other words, buckle up.
Another of my stated policies is that I am robustly pro-Dracula and pro-vampire. Variations on one or both of these themes are among my very favorite movies (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for example). My threshold for enjoying a vampire movie is lower than it is for most subgenres of horror cinema. Therefore, in order for me to trash a vampire- or Dracula-based movie, it has to really go out of its way to piss me off.
Congratulations are in order, then, to Priest, a particularly stinky pile of garbage cranked out in 2011 (a time period that was a bit of a rough stretch in horror generally, but that’s a post for another day). Now, on paper, I should have absolutely loved Priest. It’s stuffed full of big, loony ideas about totalitarian religion and politics, it is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and it has some genuinely cool set and costume design. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, none of the ideas stuffed into Priest are remotely coherent or play out in ways that make sense. Huge elements of the plot are poorly explained or not explained at all. To boot, the whole thing is drenched in circa-2011 CG effects, which makes the whole affair, bestial vampires and all, appear both cheap-looking and expensive-looking at the same time (Priest had a budget of $60 million, so take that as you will). From what I understand, everything I actually enjoyed about Priest is better-fleshed-out in the Korean comic it’s based on, so maybe pick that up instead of the film if you’re curious.
Big, crazy ideas aside, it’s possible to screw up the classics – and there is, perhaps, no horror story more classic than that of Dracula. The list of terrible Dracula-based spinoff movies is extensive, and ranges from sci-fi fare (Dracula 3000) to re-imaginings of Vlad’s realistic/historical roots. It is in from this latter metaphorical coffin that two abominations recently arose that are worth discussing: Dracula Untold (2014) and Dracula: the Dark Prince (2013). Dracula Untold was Universal’s attempt to bring Dracula into the shambolic and ill-fated “dark universe,” which was to be the Universal Monsters answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the concept never got off the ground – to extend the metaphor, it sort of exploded in the hangar). Thus, it was plagued by reshoots and it’s difficult to know what sort of movie may have existed before studio meddling; still not a very good one, if I had to bet. Perhaps the most surprising part of Dracula Untold is its crypto-Islamophobia. Its portrayal of Turks as, essentially, boy-raping, effete Muslim tyrants. Dark Prince, on the other hand, is stuffed as full of goofy ideas as Priest, despite being ostensibly rooted in history. It introduces us to magical weapons, a tale that spans centuries, and enough invented Draculoid mythology to fill two or three volumes the size of Bram Stoker’s modest original.
Also, take note: the Dracula of Dark Prince is more Legolas than Lugosi:
As films like the Underworld franchise prove, vampire movies are incredibly hard to truly screw up. The raw components of the myth are so evocative that you can usually either paint by numbers or stylize and embellish the basic formula without the whole affair stinking to high heaven. Priest, Dracula Untold, Dracula 3000, Dracula: the Dark Prince, and many other movies prove that, unfortunately, there are filmmakers who are ready and willing to put in the effort necessary to make truly terrible vampire movies.