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Dracula review: a glorious prison without locks

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*Spoiler-free*

“Food should never answer back.

The duo behind the Sherlock revolution are back to puncture the Dracula story, something they were always qualified to do. Mark Gatiss is a real fan of horror – the League of Gentlemen genius has never hidden his adoration of cinematic carnage. Alongside that love of the beast, he’s always married humour; the trio mixed like platelets, gristle, cells and smiles in his work. Stephen Moffat’s great, great aunt made pies for Sweeney Todd and was also a patient of Hannibal Lecter*.

As such, Dracula appeals to real fans of Dracula and horror in the same way Sherlock appeals to fans of Sherlock. Rather wonderfully, Dracula appeals to new fans just as Gatiss and Moffat’s Sherlock also did. Having said that, don’t expect any of this BBC mini-series to be watered down, the gore here is undiluted, pure, crisp. The story is every bit as dark.

With Bram Stoker’s original text at its core, this BBC production seeps away skilfully, drawing all the bits that it wants and yet remaining the same beast as it thrives off that life-blood. Dracula, played by Claes Bang, is funny, scary, seductive and slightly unhinged. He’s magnetic, a far cry from the bitter and tortured sorcerer Gary Oldman served up in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Oldman’s Dracula was excellent, too, but would be out of place in this version. A cheeky, charming chameleon, with a smile, manners and a flirty look; that’s how this Dracula Bangs and fangs you. Claes is not the only stand out star, but without spoilers, he’s the only one needed to lure you in.

Don’t fear, there are sublime, sickening special effects which are a testament to the makers’ love of horror history. The most engaging of these are practical effects, although even the CGI ones will creep you out with disrespect. None will fly by, believe me.

I enjoy company and I like people.

Then why do you kill them?”

Why do you pick flowers?

Gatiss and Moffat have (as promised) added wicked twists on the Dracula tale. The humour is sharp and when it needs to be, delivered wryly, almost with a wink. Even from the first scene, the show feels new, fresh. Dracula still holds a candle to its old themes of vanity, penetration and mortality, but those flicker like a flame in doing so, dancing without dying.

Early in the first episode, Count Dracula explains to Jonathan Harker that his castle is known as a “prison without locks”. This building snakes deceptively, leaving poor Jonathan lost and confused despite knowing where he is and where he expects to go. It’s a perfect metaphor for the show.

By the final episode, Dracula is nowhere near where you might have expected it to be; Gatiss and Moffat have added their own brand of modern horror to Bram Stoker’s tale and it’s every bit as terrifying. Three, hour and a half long episodes suddenly feel insufficient as they near the end and it’s only human nature to look for more in these circumstances.

Did Dracula end teasing more to come? Almost definitely. 

Or did it? 

If this show has told us anything, it’s not to suppose a single thing. Transfixed for four hours, enthraled to its future. Beautifully bewildered. Join the club.

*That’s unfair, Moffat is a highly accredited and respected writer with a noted history of interest in both horror and comedy. It just wasn’t funny to say up there. Plus most people don’t read asterisks. Well done you.

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