When you think of Dracula what words spring to mind? Fangs, probably. Blood-thirst, definitely. But revered, fair, and peaceful? Absolutely not.
However, this is how Luke Evans describes his character Vlad Tepes, the man who becomes the infamous vampire in ‘Dracula Untold’ an epic new origin story in cinemas this week. The film, set in 1462, is rooted in historical fact before the fantastical element is introduced, and it posits that the man who would be known throughout history as Vlad The Impaler, was a misunderstood family man.
“[Vlad Tepes] was entitled ‘Vlad The Impaler’ by his enemies,” explains Luke Evans on set in Northern Ireland, “By the people who didn’t like him, because they wanted to turn him into this vile human being. But the truth of the matter is that he was revered by his people.”
Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia lived from 1431-1476, ruling over a large area situated north of the Danube and south of the Southern Carpathians, in what would become Romania, from 1456-1462. He was held hostage by the Ottoman Turks from aged 13, before returning to his people to rule later in life. Like his father, he was a member of the Order of Dragons, a fellowship of knights sworn to defend Christendom from the Ottomans.
When Sultan Mehmed II raised an army against Wallachia, Vlad took on the full might of the Ottoman empire, killing thousands in battle. The Prince had a reputation for being a cruel warrior, with a penchant for impaling his victims, and none of this is glossed over in the new film.
Above: An engraving of Vlad from the 18th century
The film’s striking opening sequence sees Vlad’s backstory played out in vivid 3D tableaux, showing fields of bodies impaled on spikes, but Evans says the film’s anti-hero has many shades to him, both good and bad.
“[Vlad] led a very peaceful nation for a very long time,” says the Welshman, “Granted, he did do some very blood-thirsty dark things, but he also loved his wife, he reared a family and he was incredibly fair to the poor people in his nation.”
It’s this loyalty to his family and people that sees Vlad make a deal with the devil in ‘Dracula Untold’, setting him on his dark path to immortality. It’s not the devil as such, but rather an ancient vampire, played by Charles Dance, who lives in a mountain cave in Wallachia. Vlad needs the strength of a monster to defeat the Ottomans, led by Dominic Cooper’s Mehmed II, so he turns to the dark side.
“You do feel sorry for [Vlad],” explains Cooper warming himself with a coffee on the freezing cold Belfast set, “Because you understand where this evil has come from, and the necessity for it in the predicament he’s found himself in. There’s no other way, but for him to become this… thing.”
Obviously, this is where ‘Dracula Untold’ veers from fact into fiction, joining dots between the man Vlad and the myth of Dracula, the legendary monster dreamt up by Bram Stoker for his classic Gothic horror novel.
“He’s an interesting man,” Evans adds, “And it’s really interesting to portray someone who lived so long ago, in a contemporary light that people can understand and relate to.”
“I want them to get Vlad. Not just see him as this dark force from the Middle Ages.”
From the ultimate villain to anti-hero. It’s a brave reimagining for Stoker’s vampire, but one that finally sheds light on the truth behind the legend.
‘Dracula Untold’ is in cinemas this week.
Image credit: Universal Pictures