Welcome to the Skeptic’s Corner, my monthly column in which I share my reservations about various books, movies, TV shows, and video games!
I love Gothic horror novels. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are my top three. Commonly referred to as classics, these stories have been told and retold in countless forms for generations. Some renditions are fantastic (like Young Frankenstein), but all too often, it feels like filmmakers and television producers wish to bank more on a name than a concept. So far, this seems to be the case with NBC’s new show premiering tonight titled Dracula.
Set in 1897 and starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, this newest take on the Transylvanian horror shows a few similarities to the original work: it takes place in the same year, has a title character who is a vampire, and a supporting cast whose names come straight from the classic novel.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Dracula is posing as an American in England, where he’s fighting his greatest enemy, the Order of the Dragon, who wronged him hundreds of years before. He’s made it his mission to get revenge, but things get a bit complicated once he runs into Mina Murray, the fiancée of young reporter Jonathan Harker. Mina, as fate would have it, is a dead ringer for Dracula’s long dead wife, who was burned at the stake by the wretched Order.
What with Stephanie Meyer’s raging success, Twilight, and all of the subsequent vampire-themed TV shows and young adult novels it has spawned, I’m sure you can figure out where they’re going with the show. If you guessed “Dracula falls in love with his wife’s look-a-like, thus threatening his entire scheme!” you would be right. Because clearly we need another story about a forbidden love between a vampire and mortal woman!
But that in and of itself isn’t what has me bothered. Sure, it seems a bit overdone and unoriginal at this point, but what’s worse is that it has almost nothing to do with the original Dracula. The bug-eating lunatic, Renfield, is now an attorney; Mina is a love interest; and Van Helsing, the wise philosopher and scientist, is working alongside Dracula.
Why is this a problem? Because, yet again, Hollywood has decided to dash to bits the brilliance of a classic story. They did it with Frankenstein (it’s common knowledge to most people that Frankenstein is the monster, when in fact, Frankenstein is the man who creates him. The monster has no name, which is part of what leads him on his rampage), and now they’ll continue it with Dracula.
What’s so disappointing is that the original character is a terrifying monster. He doesn’t have a conscience or morals, and he sure as hell would never have fallen in love. He sought to subvert the Victorian way of thinking in almost everything he did. The consumption of blood is reminiscent of the Catholic Eucharist, but in Dracula’s case, it serves only to keep his physical body going at the cost of his soul. To get to the men of the society he hates so much, he goes after their women. He doesn’t fall in love with Lucy Westerna or Mina Murray. Instead, he recognizes them as perfect representations of the ideal Victorian woman: chaste, pure, devoted, innocent. He slowly casts his spell over Lucy until she finally becomes a vampire like him. This new Lucy is a voluptuous, ravenous sex fiend and kills the very children her Victorian ideal would have insisted she protect.
To have this Victorian monster have a romantic (and likely sexual) relationship with a woman because he has feelings for her is unheard of. Perhaps if they had changed the setting as they did with the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, they could have pulled it off more effectively. We have, after all, made some progress since the 19th century in regards to women’s sexuality.
But that isn’t what they’ve done. Instead, they came up with a storyline bearing little resemblance to the original and, rather than market it as an “original” or “unique” series, decided to slap on the name Dracula in the hopes that name recognition would be enough.
Ultimately, NBC’s Dracula could be a riveting tale (though with so many vampire/mortal relationships in pop culture at present, it’s hard to say), but for me, it’s been ruined by calling it something it simply isn’t. They could have easily told the exact same story with the exact same characters and, with unique names, made their own thing. But they didn’t, and that’s why I have my reservations.