By: Michael DePietro
Last month, audiences worldwide finally got a chance to sink their teeth into “Dracula,” a new television series based on Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel. Co-produced by the BBC/Netflix, the series is helmed by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the duo behind the BBC’s critically acclaimed series, “Sherlock.”
Like many of the famous film adaptations before it, the show is not a strict re-telling of Stoker’s original story. Presented across three episodes, each with an 80-90 minute runtime, Gatiss and Moffat utilize key moments and characters from the novel to present a reimagined take on the world’s most notorious vampire.
The series begins familiar enough. Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer, journeys to Transylvania to work out a property purchase for the mysterious Count Dracula (Claes Bang). During his stay at the Count’s castle, Harkin is plagued by vivid recurring nightmares. As each day passes, Harkin’s mental and physical health begin to erode while the Count, at first presented as a decrepit old man, seems to become more youthful. After secretly making his way through the castle’s labyrinthian halls, Harkin makes the horrifying discovery that he is not a guest; he’s livestock.
All of this is told through flashbacks as Harkin, now a sickly, pale figure covered in flies and grotesque sores, recounts the harrowing events to the indelible Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), a bristly figure with a deep interest in vampire myth and lore. Agatha dissects Harkin’s testimony like a criminal profiler, concerned as much with the Count’s psychology as she is looking for ways to stop him. It’s this fascination and ensuing battle of wits that ultimately form the backbone of the series, creating an interesting Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter relationship that serves the show well.
The interactions between the two are well-served by their respective actors. Bang’s Dracula in particular is quite well done. Although not as spooky or menacing as some of the landmark performances throughout cinema history, Bang brings a delightfully seductive charm to the character that is inarguably fun to watch. Likewise, Wells balances a cold terseness with an almost child-like sense of morbid curiosity to create a character that is as intriguing to the audience as it is to Dracula himself.
Yet despite all the goodwill the series builds for itself early on, Gatiss and Moffat are almost bound to lose audiences as they give into their own instincts and begin to stray from the source material.
Make no mistake, Gatiss and Moffat are talented writers, but many of their trademark quirks that made them darlings fail them here. Whereas ‘Sherlock’ is often renowned for its sharp, biting dialogue, many exchanges throughout “Dracula” turn into clunky back-and-forth exposition fests that leave the viewer craving action.
Furthermore, while the series never is in danger of parodying itself, the cheeky, self-aware humor that was so successful in ‘Sherlock,’ at times feels forced in ‘Dracula,’ with Bang having to deliver countless groan-worthy vampire puns masquerading as foreshadowing.
However, the issue that is bound to draw the most ire from viewers revolves around a huge twist near the end of the series. It yields a shift so jarring that it could be (and indeed has been, according to the internet) very problematic for many viewers as it beguiles the series’ promotional materials. Without really spoiling anything, let’s just say that the heavy dose of gothic mood and imagery the series utilizes to great effect early on is suddenly ripped clean away by 3rd episode, leaving something much different than what we started with. While it’s not necessarily detrimental, audiences who weren’t expecting the shift would be forgiven for feeling slighted.
Despite its flaws however, there is a lot of fun to be had with ‘Dracula.’ It’s a smart, seductive re-telling that has a lot going for it, provided you know what you’re getting into. For fans of Gatiss and Moffat, this show will likely have a lot of the elements you would hope for in a vampire show written by the “Sherlock” writers. For people looking for something more akin to Stoker’s original novel however, you may want to look elsewhere.
Feature Image: “Scary Tree” by mister_peterman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0