In 1984, the diabolical mind of Wes Craven introduced the world to Freddy Krueger.
In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Krueger was heinously cruel as he mercilessly sliced and diced through the teenage population of Springwood, Ohio.
Freddy would lose much of his menace though as each film in the franchise was released and much of that was due to him uttering catchy one-liners at every opportunity he could. He became more of a clown than a creep until Wes Craven returned with New Nightmare which brought the series back to its original tone and roots.
What plagued the Freddy character is what makes Netflix’s Dracula series such a farce. Produced by the BBC and having aired on British television before hitting Netflix this Sunday, Dracula is Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s take on Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel. Gatiss and Moffat were once the guiding forces behind Dr. Who and Sherlock. That isn’t a positive here though. It is actually very counterproductive.
Dracula is a mash-up using Stoker’s tale as the foundation for an original story that resembles a three-part waggish episode of Dr. Who rather than anything Hammer Films or Universal Pictures produced, even though there are subtle winks here and there to those classic films.
Dracula is not a ruthless, cold, no-nonsense undead bloodsucker. Instead, he is a whimsical court jester with more one-liners than a comedian at your local comedy club. He has more in common with James Bond than Vlad the Impaler. He goofs on his victims so much and so often it actually sabotages the entire production. You cannot take Dracula seriously…and you should for the series to work.
Because it is 2020 and some Hollywood types think they are being clever and progressive when all they really are is lazy and uninspired, Dracula’s nemesis is gender swapped…just because. Although Van Helsing was a male in the novel and the films, Gatiss and Moffat have decided to transform Doctor Abraham into Sister Agatha. Although Dolly Wells is fantastic as the hawkish nun, it isn’t long before she falls into the ridiculous modern day female lead character trope of instead of working with the supporting male characters against the enemy, she is browbeating and berating them like grade school children because in the minds of some writers that is how you create a strong female character everyone can look up to. What they don’t understand is it isn’t progressive at all to bring other people up by tearing others down. That gender swapping established characters is tantamount to hitting the ‘Like’ button on a social media post. Unlike creating and introducing new characters who can start a fresh legacy, reverse engineering established characters is nothing more than industry virtue signalling and if the recent box office flops are any indication, audiences are finally seeing through those shenanigans.
Where are Ripley, Sarah Connor, Alice, Selene, Xena, Katniss Everdeen or Buffy the Vampire Slayer when we need them, eh?
While producing Dracula, Gatiss and Moffat have come down with M. Night Shyamalan- itis. They feel the need to constantly display just how clever they are by introducing “shocking” twists and turns no matter if they make sense or have any impact at all. The second episode, in which they fill in the novel’s blanks as Dracula travels to England aboard a Russian ship, amounts to nothing more than a pointless murder mystery of sorts in which Dracula, who is supposed to be a ferocious, insatiable vampire, toys with his food when there really is no need to bother or reason to do so.
Once again, it all comes back to Dracula’s character, which despite some awesome special effects, generates more laughs than scares. There are voracious scenes of gore, violence matched with screw-ball humour. There is this awkward imbalance that just stakes Dracula right in the heart.
Bang is no Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi either. He is at his best when he is subdued and restrained. That’s more unnerving because we know the true beast that lurks inside sorta like Anthony Hopkins was as Hannibal Lecter. He appeared to be sophisticated, charming and refined until the façade crumbles and the savage, inhuman monster came out to play. Lee knew that. Lugosi knew that, when the role was being taken seriously. Bang needs to call Sherlock and Watson and get a clue but he was probably just taking direction from Gatiss and Moffat who got the character all wrong to begin with.
Dracula’s three parts are like mini movies. They clock in at a punishing 90 minutes each. As a horror fan, I had enough of the zany and wacky exploits of Count Chocula at about the 120 minute mark. Dracula, like Freddy Krueger, had lost his bite and my interest. This Dracula just sucks.
Dracula premieres on Netflix Saturday, January 4th.
Top Photo: Claes Bang as Dracula. Courtesy: BBC/Netflix.