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“Dracula Untold” from Universal…Happy Halloween?

Am I being insane anticipating this release? I’m open to the possibility, because my excitement could end up wildly off-base. Even the trailer leaves plenty of doubt, so it’s not simply the promotion. So, what is it? A little early Halloween fever? Maybe. And just what exactly is the upcoming “Dracula Untold”, from first time feature director Gary Shore, attempting to do? It almost looks like a superhero movie, but it’s obviously not marketing itself to the “Twilight” tween crowd. A full length Dracula origin story focusing on Vlad the Impaler(one of the oft-claimed inspirations for Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula novel)? No less than Francis Ford Coppola gave us a nice taste of that with his ambitious “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in 1992. But this time it’s the whole meal. Will it work? Universal has shelled out 100 million for production alone, so the hopes appear high.

Now, I’m no dope. This beast was originally slated for August, which is a traditional summer dumping ground for releases that the studios are uncertain of. But Universal reconsidered, and dropped it into mid-October instead(it opens wide on October 17th), to capitalize on the oft-lucrative Halloween market. Why am I just a little stoked for this then? Here’s 3 reasons:

1) The Universal Legacy: Do you consider me a friend? Then you are aware how wild I am about the Universal classic horror films from 1931-1948. Truth be told, I’m more of a Frankenstein guy, which was Universal’s go-to monster 8 times during that stretch. But it all began with “Dracula” on February 14th, 1931. And although no one will ever usurp Bela Lugosi’s iconic portrayal of that character over four score ago, there have been many fine interpretations since by such marvelous actors as Christopher Lee, Frank Langella and Gary Oldman. I’d also like to tip my hat to the late William Marshall and his work as “Blacula” from 1972. Luke Evans, as Vlad, has some mighty big fangs to fill!

2) Sarah Gadon: Okay, I’m infatuated. She’s a stunningly gorgeous, 27-year-old Canadian beauty, and methinks she has a big future ahead of her. How did Ms. Gadon first catch my eye? Funny, you should ask. Through her fellow Canadian, and my favorite film director, David Cronenberg, of course. In fact, Sarah has officially completed a Cronenberg hat trick, plus one. She was Emma Jung to Michael Fassbender’s Carl in 2011’s “A Dangerous Method”. And then Elise Packer to Robert Pattinson’s Eric in 2012’s “Cosmopolis”. She’s also one of the principals in David’s upcoming fall release of “Maps to the Stars”, which just won Julianne Moore the Best Actress Award at Cannes. Then, throw in the female lead in 2013’s “Antiviral” from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, the feature debut of David’s son. No, I haven’t seen “Antiviral”, because I fear I’ll find that Brandon’s not a chip off the old block. But Sarah Gadon sure looks stunning in those promotional photos for it! Ms. Gadon portrays Mirena in “Dracula Untold”, the wife of Luke Evans’ Vlad.

3) Timing: “Dracula Untold” opens exactly a fortnight before Halloween, perfectly timed for appreciating the macabre. It’s where I cut my cinematic teeth, after all. It also arrives 4 days before my next birthday, and it’s shaping up to be a fun, little pre-celebration treat. But I’ll hold onto my wariness too. A decade ago, Universal Studios attempted a big budget blockbuster with 2004’s “Van Helsing”, starring Hugh Jackman as the title character—Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire hunter. It failed to gross its budget domestically(worldwide numbers were more solid), and the top critics massacred it. I’ve avoided even giving it a shot. Will “Dracula Untold” be more akin to that? Or will it be a fleshing out of what FFC touched on in 1992? We’re weeks away from finding out. Happy Halloween, indeed. And maybe a Happy Birthday to me!

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