Dracula (2020) Doesn’t Entirely Suck

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As a connoisseur of Dracula on screen and having read Bram Stoker’s novel many times, it was my gothic duty to watch the new BBC-Netflix miniseries of Dracula (2020).

Show-runner Steven Moffat told the Radio Times:

“I hope people have nightmares and jump and all that, but it is actually funny. It is actually entertainment. It’s not the kind of horror that harrows you and makes you feel that the world is a miserable, wretched place or whatever.”

And I think this is a fairly accurate review of the series. This Dracula is creepy but a little goofy, kind of like an update of the classic Hammer horror films but for 270 minutes and with fancier special effects.

The dialog can be amusing, such as Dracula repeating the line from the Bela Lugosi version, “I never drink … wine” and making punny use of words like “drained” and “eating.” Claes Bang as the Count gets a lot of snarky lines, which comes off as rather modern 21st-century, not Victorian (or more ancient, which he should be). You’ll either dig that or find it annoying.

Episode one entirely focuses on Jonathan Harker’s experience at Castle Dracula, and this dwells in detail on the horrors he endures, more so than the book does, plus changing things from the book. This is emphasized by framing the story as told to Sister Agatha — in the book, a kindly nun who nurses him, in this series, a vampire hunter.

Episode two is all about Dracula’s ship voyage on the Demeter to England, where he kills most of the passengers and crew. In the book, this is described by a newspaper article and the captain’s log as only a storm and some of the crew mysteriously disappearing (there are no passengers at all).

One significant thematic change is that many of Dracula’s killing bites of men are framed as sexual encounters where the male victims imagine they’re being seduced by their human female lovers at first. Even Sister Agatha makes a pointed comment about this at the very start of the first episode. But there’s less overt sexualization when Dracula kills female victims — it’s sometimes shown as romantic but not as explicitly sexual as with the men (where the men see Dracula as female). I suppose you could see this as heterosexual Victorian men would more easily respond to the seductive appeal of a vampire if it was cloaked in as a familiar female. Although in the book, Jonathan Harker is seduced by three actual female vampire “brides” so there’s no need for subterfuge.

Another subterfuge is of a pair of male lovers, one of whom is killed by Dracula. The surviving partner is baited into attempting revenge on the Count who (since he can read minds) taunts the man for his closeted queerness and for his race. It’s uncomfortable from a 21st-century point of view, but I thought that it worked for Dracula the undead asshole teasing a black Victorian man.

Just when I was pondering these issues and I was almost won over with the other many, many reinterpretations of the novel’s plot, BAM, episode three opens 123 years later, WT-ever-loving-frock! With no real explanation except Dracula ‘slept in.’ massive eyerolls He’s finally reached London, and he meets 21st-century versions of Lucy Westerna, Dr. John Seward, etc. Talk about making things “relatable” for a modern audience, ugh. This was some next-level BS. I could almost buy it if the entire story was set in the current period with only a little flashback to establish where Dracula originated a la a serious version of Love at First Bite (1979), which was an excellent vampire flick. But it makes little sense to spend two-thirds of the series in the 19th century and then fast-forward in time.

Alas, there isn’t much to talk about in terms of historical costumes. The men are wearing late Victorian suits, and there’s only a couple women in the Victorian episodes.

Dracula (2020)

I mean, really, the panne velvet is *such* a cliche.

Dracula (2020)

The rest of the Victorian menswear is standard issue & yawn-inducing.

Dracula (2020)

This is the photo of Mina that Jonathon Harker carries with him. While the frame is a Victorian style, there is nothing Victorian about the image unless Mina is maybe 10-years-old.

Dracula (2020)

Mina again. Yeah, her nun’s wimple was knocked off (don’t ask), but her hair would have been pinned up underneath. This is just crazy town.

Dracula (2020)

Sister Agatha too, plus a side-part. Ugh.

Dracula (2020)

On the ship, newlywed Lady Dorabella Ruthven has a decent enough dress, an OTT hat, but alas, no hairpins even though her husband’s supposedly rich.

Dracula (2020)

Also on the ship, Dracula meets Duchess Valeria.

Dracula (2020)

Whom he’s met before. She was supposed to be 16 or so, & I guess, in a blurry flashback, this dress could possibly be an 1830s-1840s evening gown. Though the hair could be a lot better.

 

What do you think of the latest Dracula?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

19 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    Ruthven is a cryptic reference to another vampire story, John Polidori’s “The Vampire.”Polidori was one of the Byron-Shelley crowd in Italy that fateful time when “Frankenstein” was born. I’ll probably give the new “Dracula” a look, but I’m not expecting much. I originally read the book when I was 10, and have been hooked on stories of the undead ever since.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yep, I liked some of these dialog / written touches. Not enough to make the entire thing worth it, but it did show that the writers did their homework.

      Reply
  2. Alexander Sanderson

    I’ve already avoided this – despite my husband attempting to persuade me to watch it with him. I think it is the images of Dracula’s cliché costume and hair which initially made me cringe (bad Halloween ahoy!) and then I heard him speak in the trailer… eeekkk! I suppose I’m a tad too much of a purist when it comes to the novel, I’m afraid – also I’m terrified of what they’ve done to my favourite character Lucy – If she is not styled beautifully 1890’s then I’ll swiftly lose interest. Huge thanks for the amazing review… a lot of it confirmed my worst fears.

    Reply
  3. Pixel Pixie

    I quite enjoyed the first episode. The second one I felt had inconsistent tone and pacing, but I felt like it was regaining momentum towards the end. The last episode was not enjoyable to me.

    Some of the changes they made were great (van Helsing), but some felt like they were trying too hard and stretching too much (like how Dracula ended up being defeated in the end). I don’t regret watching it, but I probably won’t again.

    Reply
  4. Sharon in Scotland

    I loved Sister Agatha in the first episode, I kept waiting for her to reveal that her surname was Van Helsing. This may have happened in the 2nd and 3rd episodes, but I wasn’t sufficiently interested to watch further………..even for Sister Agatha

    Reply
  5. Lynne Connolly

    I hated it. The first episode was the best, intermittently amusing, but also a bit annoying. The second was boring. I fell asleep. I watched 10 minutes of the third. There was nothing new there, and it was all so superficial, too clever-clever without any real depth.
    Stick to the new version of Christmas Carol, which wasn’t perfect either, but much better than this dreck.

    Reply
  6. MsNomi

    This was hilarious! The count was even more over-the-top tongue-in-cheek than Tony Hopkins’ Van Helsing in the Gary Oldman version. “you’re a monster” “and you’re a lawyer, nobody’s perfect” LMAO! And groovy Sister Agatha…”God doesn’t care”. There have certainly been worse remakes of Dracula (hello, Marc Warren), but even with standard costuming, this one ranks up there with being the funniest.

    Reply
  7. Susan Pola Staples

    I’ll give it a pass. My favourite Dracula was Frank Langella.

    Also if Hollywood wants to do vampire movies, why not opt Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count St Germain series?

    Reply
  8. LisaS

    Saw that godawful habit for what is supposed to happen in the Transylvania region of ROMANIA and gave a costuming Thumbs-Down. Because Romania is Eastern Orthodox and the schema of Orthodox nuns is markedly different from the Roman Catholic Church’s habits.

    Reply
    • Nzie

      It’s also kind of weird because all the Orthodox (and, for that matter, Eastern Catholic) nuns/religious I’m familiar with wear pretty much all black, with interesting, kind of boxy veils, that I think would be pretty brilliant in a vampire story. (I also don’t recognize the habit they did use, which of course is neither here nor there given the broad variety, but I kind of feel that there wasn’t as much variety in the 1890s, either…)

      I saw some article and M&G apparently had kind of a running joke in the writers room about an atheist nun, and then turned her into Van Helsing, who’s Dutch (also a mainly non-Catholic country, but Van Helsing seems to be Catholic). I haven’t seen it but I have an impression that no modern adaptation really wants to get that into the religious aspects, so I’m not surprised they had a Dutch Catholic atheist vampire-hunting nun in Orthodox Romania after all that. But since I’m guessing few people would know the difference anyway, they could’ve had an Orthodox habit and been a bit more likely, and it would’ve looked cool.

      Reply
  9. Charity

    The third episode killed it for me. I found the first two likable / interesting takes, but lost all interest when it came forward into modern times and forced myself to finish it. If I ever re-watch it, the story ends 3 minutes before the end of episode two. :P

    Langella’s still MY Dracula. ;)

    Reply
  10. Bea

    Well, it’s Moffat, so…. if there’s a character history, he’s going to crap on it and then grind the crap in with his heel ’til the character’s turned into complete shite.
    He’s not learned the adage “You don’t have to be different to be good; being good is different enough.”
    I’ll be skipping.

    Reply
  11. darlenemarshall

    Thanks for this. I had it in my Netflix queue as a “maybe” but now that I know more, I’ll pass. I’m still a fan of the Louis Jourdan DRACULA from 1977, though the Frank Langella (1979) version warmed up my blood..

    Reply

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