Friday, February 20, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #21: Dracula, the Un-Dead

As some of you may have read, I received a hard-cover copy of Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt's "Dracula, the Un-Dead" from my in-laws, Ned and Faith, for my birthday (see "Collectible Time #17"--Jan '15). I've since plunged into the acclaimed and yet controversial sequel and wished to offer an overview of it. It's more than justified since it fits into one of my blog's ongoing posts, incorporating three horror legends, no less, with two in particular at each other's throats (pun intended). In this regard, it's an indisputable "monster team-up". 

On a personal level,  I found "Drac, the Un-Dead" a passionate follow-up to Bram Stoker's classic: rather unconventional at times, though I personally believe that its Gothic trimmings overtake any of the radical departures its authors (one of whom is Bram's great grand nephew) make. 

For one thing, the novel includes many of our beloved characters: Jack Seward (who plays a vampire hunter this time out); Jonathan Harker; Mina Harker, Arthur Homewood and of course, Abraham Van Helsing. Drac is in there, too, but in a clever, deceiving way, and when not conspicuously displayed, his presence is still felt, though acute readers will likely detect the magnitude of his presence far sooner than others.

Exciting new characters also appear, including Quincy Harker (son of John and Mina and named after Quincy Morris, the gallant Texan who lost his life in the original adventure), along with (and indeed most significantly) Elizabeth Bathory, known to horror historians as Countess Dracula. There's also an intriguing thespian (the most renowned of his age) named Basarab, who adds considerable flamboyance and mystery to the story and becomes for a time, young Quincy's idol and mentor. Even Bram Stoker acts as a character in the grand scheme of things, as well as other famous folks of the time, including John Barrymore, in a memorable cameo.

As with the original novel, historic attributes weave throughout the sequel's chapters. This technique also lends an air of credibility to the novel, making it an informative period piece, while yet offering enough gruesome imagery to hold its own with any modern blood feast. 

Also, as with the original yarn, Dracula's influence over Mina is ever present. Though she tries to suppress her lustful recollections of the nobleman, her altered bloodstream keeps his memory alive, as well as sustaining her youth. Her vibrance also reminds Jonathan of his wife's infidelity with the vampire, which has led the poor chap to womanize and drink in the fifteen years since his adversary's alleged demise. 

Stoker and Holt stray from making the count (or in this instance, the "prince") an all-out villain, emphasizing his historic fight against the invading Muslims as a means of Christian preservation. His alteration into a parasitic demon is described as an ironic means with which he can still champion the Christian cause: a way, that is, to fight fire with fire. 

Elizabeth Bathory, on the other hand, is depicted as a merciless, vengeful fiend. Not only are her legendary blood baths referenced (and reinterpreted in ways far more explicit than previously imagined), the authors make her a modern dominatrix: a woman out of time, more suited to the future than the past and dead set on defiling all things pure and sacred. She also pits herself against most of the original characters, including Drac: his legendary mantel her coveted prize. 

Her sadistic shenanigans also tie to Jack the Ripper, which incorporate Van Helsing, who becomes a down-the-line suspect in the White Chapel murders, but his precise link to such remains a mystery for most of the tale.

It's up to the cantankerous Inspector Cotford to solve this mystery and redeem his reputation for not having caught the Ripper. In this respect, the book adapts a Conan Doyle flair for deductive (and sometimes not-so-deductive) reasoning, as the pieces begin to fit. By story's end, clues connect Van Helsing to the core of events and in the process, further establish the adversarial relationship of the sequel's monsters. 

(It should be noted that the novel's Ripper link appears to have influenced a sub-plot in NBC's now defunct Dracula series, though the details of the latter always remained as vague as its principle characters' motivations in that short-lived jaunt.)

"Drac, the Un-Dead" may not satisfy all readers, particularly the purists, but in the presence of so many sequels and offshoots (both literary and cinematic), this one deserves credit for not only springing off the original source, but redefining enough of its elements to become its own entity. (It's also the only Dracula sequel authorized by the Stoker estate, which makes it arguably more official than competing companion pieces.)

Above all, "Drac, the Un-Dead" goes out on a limb to define good and evil. The way it does so may contradict the motives of the original book's characters, but by the time it concludes, it (like its inspiration) establishes an irrevocable distinction between the sides. If that doesn't make this one thematically traditional by the standards of classic horror, I don't know what does. 

1 comment:

  1. Purchased an unabridged audio reading of the book to listen to during my walking sessions. Simon Prebble is the reader/narrator/performer of the presentation. He does a marvelous job of acting out the entire story, breathing life into the various characters. It's quite a worthy experience. I can't urge folks enough to indulge...