REEL DEAL: Master Of The Undead Returns Home In “DRACULA UNTOLD”

Since the publication of Bram Stoker’s definitive “Dracula” in 1897, one of the most enduring literary and popular characters of our time has been explored in film, animation, literature and music, and is as relevant today as he was when his creator spawned a cultural phenomenon almost 120 years ago. Although Dracula’s presence remains ubiquitous in culture, it remains surprising that the origins of this undead icon have never been explored on film...until now, in Universal Pictures' dark thriller “Dracula Untold.”

While the man history calls Dracula, for all intents and purposes, was actually a real historical figure, just as terrifying to millions of people are the vampires of ancient myth. Found in almost every culture and language on Earth—from the Babylonians’ Lilitu, a succubus who thrived on babies, to the iron-toothed Asasabonsam of the Ashanti peoples of Ghana—the legend of blood-sucking creatures of the night may be traced back thousands of years. But it was not until the 10th century, in Slavic Europe, that the word “vampire” first appeared in modern language.

Producer Michael De Luca, who has brought to the screen blockbusters from The Social Network and Ghost Rider to Moneyball and Captain Phillips, shares what brought him to the journey of uncovering the monster’s origins: “As a kid, I always wanted to know who turned Dracula into a vampire. I wondered, ‘Was he the first? Were there others?’ It was a delicious, unanswered question that’s not been covered, even in Bram Stoker’s novel.”

When a script by the up-and-coming writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless landed on De Luca’s desk, it ignited the filmmaker’s imagination. “I thought it was ingenious,” he commends, “the untold origin story and an unknown chapter of an archetypal character we all know.”

Naturally, our story delves into the mysterious powers bestowed by centuries of superstitious peoples, but this tale of Dracula begins with and borrows from the real-life story of an actual historical figure: Vlad III of Wallachia, aka Kaziglu Bey (The Impaler Prince). Indeed, the writers took many basic facts about the dark ruler and extrapolated them into a fantastic saga.

Vlad III was born in 1431 in Transylvania. As a child, he and his younger brother were sent by their father, Vlad II, as hostages of Sultan Murad II to Constantinople, where they were held for six years and trained in warfare. As Transylvania was located between two empires—the Ottoman Turks and the Austrian Hapsburgs—the young noblemen lived in a time of constant war, and certain sacrifices had to be made.

Vlad III grew to become a ruthless conqueror whose favored method of meting out torture was to impale people and leave them writhing in agony for days. This terrifying fact is what earned him the posthumous nickname of Vlad the Impaler (aka Vlad Tepes). Because his father belonged to the Order of the Dragon—a secretive organization of Christian knights—that fought the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Vlad II took to the name Dracul, which is roughly translated from Romanian into “dragon/devil.”

After his father’s death, Vlad III ruled Wallachia, south of Transylvania, from 1448 until his own death in 1476. Following in his father’s footsteps, Vlad III was also inducted into the Order of the Dragon. It was then that he instructed his men to call him “Dracula,” which means “son of the dragon/devil” in Romanian. Reportedly killed in 1476 fighting the Turks, Vlad III’s head was cut off and displayed in Constantinople…for the entire city to see and fear.

Having agreed to take on the writers’ revisionist story of Vlad III’s transformation, the next step in the process for De Luca was to find a home for the film and explore financing and production options. Historically, Universal Pictures was the first studio to adapt the character for screen in 1931, and De Luca explains that this Dracula would finally be coming home: “Universal just seemed like a natural fit. The studio has this storied pedigree with monster movies, and Dracula Untold pays homage to all the beloved films that have come before.”

Opening across the Philippines on October 15, “Dracula Untold” is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

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