I was not terribly optimistic about BBC’s Dracula when it first began to be advertised. In fact, I have not been very impressed by most iterations of Dracula. However, upon seeing its positive reception in my horror head groups on Facebook (The Horror Hub and Horror Flick Fans – thanks, y'all!), I decided to give it a chance and am happy to say I was not disappointed.
The series is composed of three episodes that run for about 90 minutes each, a rather unorthodox but not completely unheard-of structure for a series. Usually, series adhere to the classic tv template of 20-30 minutes for sitcoms and 45-55 minutes for dramas, runtimes that were no doubt established because of the scheduled tv programing that ruled home entertainment before the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. With the democratization of television and filmmaking came more freedom not only in terms of runtime, but also structure, style, plot, and genre, hence the emergence of so many niche and hybrid shows.
Mark Gatiss’ and Steven Moffat’s Dracula puts quite the original spin on Bram Stoker’s 1897 original text and also tips its hat to Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula produced and distributed by Universal, the U.S.’s original horror house boasting titles such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and The Phantom of the Opera. Count Dracula’s first line in the series is “I never drink wine,” arguably one of the iconic monster’s most famous lines; this, in my opinion, was a stroke of genius, as it not only immediately pays homage to the classic, but also makes Count Dracula seem like an old acquaintance because of the familiarity of the line.
Additionally, this Count Dracula was clearly modeled after that of Universal which was played by Bela Lugosi and cemented the stereotypical Dracula look we know so well.
While Stoker’s original storyline was altered significantly, the overall essence of the story pretty much remains the same. The series also retained many of the characters’ names, although the characters themselves and the relationship between them are a bit different. Really, it’s the third and last episode that deviates the most. At the beginning of episode three, Dracula busts out of his coffin, which is underwater, and basically walks to the shores of England. When he surfaces, he is greeted by Dr. Zoe Van Helsing who informs him he has been dormant for 123 years. Thus, Count Dracula arrives in modern times just in time sweep the fun-loving and young Lucy Westenra off her feet; Lucy is one of the characters that is quite different from the novel along with Mina Harker and Dr. Van Helsing who is female, not male (as you can imagine, I was super excited about this).
Dolly Wells’ performance as both Sister Agatha and Zoe Helsing is one of the greatest things about the show; the way she communicates her characters’ high intelligence and cool confidence is truly Emmy worthy. In fact, the most powerful moment of the show is delivered by her at the end of the season finale; Wells as Zoe/Agatha has a beautiful monologue in which she reveals and explains Dracula’s ultimate fear (don’t worry, I won’t give it away). After that, there is some breathtaking cinematography that involves clever shadow work on a broken-down Dracula (if I reveal anymore, I’ll ruin the entire series). Just know that the entire show is worth watching if only for the ending. In fact, Dracula’s ending ranks among my top 10 favorites along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s which is definitely #1 for me (and #10 for Matthew Jackson of Mental Floss).
Lastly, the show truly does qualify as horror with some decently creepy CGI moments and special effects makeups/prosthetics that would hopefully make the judges of SYFY's Face-Off proud.