Welcome to the Dracula sequel where Mina would likely be played by Milla Jovovich swinging a katana. And the one, evidently, the Stoker family chose to endorse.
See, screenwriter and Drac-enthusiast Ian Holt was trying to conceive an original script that would be filmed as a worthy sequel to Bram Stoker’s masterpiece. Somewhere along the way, he scrapped the script idea and instead approached Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew, to collaborate on a book.
After reading Dracula the Un-Dead, I must say that a film version would have been better. Expensive, certainly, but a movie failing to do justice to Stoker’s legacy would seem much more forgivable than a presumptuous novel.
It’s twenty-five years after the incidents in Transylvania and Whitby when we meet again the “band of heroes” that dispatched Dracula. Jonathan and Mina Harker are unhappy in their marriage, for Mina still longs for “her dark prince” and her husband is driven to drink. John Seward is still dedicated to hunting vampires and is addicted to morphine. Arthur Holmwood has grown cold and plays the millionaire recluse.
These former friends, along with the Harkers’ son Quincey, are in danger once again as another stalker emerges—Elizabeth Bathory, a God-hating lesbian vampire who bathes in the blood of her female victims. In the ensuing conflict, the characters learn that Dracula has indeed returned, and Mina discovers that her tryst with the Count has given her otherworldly powers.
The question to me was never whether the writing was bad, but how bad. I knew I was in for it very early: when Seward is hunting Bathory at her villa, he is perched outside her shut window, in the pounding rain, in a thunderstorm, and can still somehow hear every word she is saying to her minions inside.
Some lines have a special mind-clearing badness that’s downright zen:
“It was as if fate had known her destiny long before she ever had.”
Must… Resist… “Suck” Pun…
Whereas one could call Dracula a horror mystery, this novel is decidedly a horror thriller. Holt and Lil’ Stoker seem to be taking advantage of the original book’s having so many survivors. It means more characters to repeatedly be in serious trouble, and at any given point (besides early on) there are always at least two characters who are about to die. If it weren’t for the prose being bloated with clichés and repetition, you could at least say Dracula the Un-Dead isn’t boring.
Bram Stoker is actually a character in the story. We find him struggling to stage a production of Dracula in order to sell more of his novel. While the events of Dracula are supposed to have actually “taken place”, it turns out that Bram took artistic license with Mina and Co.’s exploits, and his book is criticized by some of its actual persons to be lies. This means the numerous character and historical inconsistencies between the classic Dracula and what you’re seeing in Dracula the Un-Dead exist because Bram was making things up, and Dacre Stoker’s Mina, Dracula, etc, are the real version (If you see something really disrespectful about that, don’t worry—I do, too).
This is a clever trick. It allows Holt and Lil’ Stoker to justifiably rewrite the characters however they want. Their new realizations produce mixed results. On the plus side, the authors impressively take advantage of the fact that the original novel was written in letters and journals that are entirely from the view of the bewildered band of heroes; the Dracula in this version was misconstrued by the heroes in the first book and is not exactly the mindless predator Van Helsing and the others led us to believe.
But boo and hiss to the apparently misunderstood “love affair” that took place between Mina and her dark prince all those years ago. It’s as if Dacre has taken fewer cues from his antecedent’s Dracula and more from Coppola’s movie adaptation. Faithfulness aside, all this does in Dracula the Un-Dead is set it lockstep with every other vampire romance that’s lining the shelves in today’s bookstores.
Knowing who Dracula is 200 pages before his official reveal doesn’t really bother me. But I become very impatient with the knuckleheads in the book who aren’t sharp enough to figure out the true identity of the mysterious character who is the famous actor from Romania.
I’d find this book easier to stomach if I could say Hey, a couple of guys wrote their first novel and it was a campy modern penny-dreadful about Dracula—give ‘em a break. But following the novel’s conclusion are the Authors’ Note and Acknowledgements, where Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt high-five each other for 24 pages. From Lil’ Stoker:
So many books and films had strayed from Bram’s vision—and thus our intent was to give both Bram and Dracula back their dignity in some small way…. I think Bram would be proud that a family member has taken this initiative, and finally done justice to the legacy he created.
To quote a certain Mel Brooks film: “Children of the night—what a mess they make.”