Horror Bulletin
Horror Bulletin
Dracula (2020) BBC Miniseries
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Dracula (2020) BBC Miniseries

Directed by: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas

Written by : Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Bram Stoker

Stars: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, Corrina Wilson

Run Time: 4 Hours, 30 Minutes

Link: Netflix 

https://youtu.be/8HhctUu4DpU

Synopsis

Part 1: The Rules of the Beast

This miniseries begins in Hungary, 1897.  Mr. Harker is locked up in a convent, and he looks carefully, considering eating a fly, as two nuns enter. Sister Agatha, a nun, comes to visit, and she has read his account of his recent visit to Transylvania. The nun asks why he stopped fleeing Dracula if he was as evil as Harker claims.  The nuns watch as a fly crawls inside Harker’s eye. He’s bald, hairless, wrinkled, and looks a lot like a burn victim.  The nun is here to interview Harker, and she asks very detailed questions. The nun asks if he had sex with Count Dracula. Credits roll.

We flash back to Transylvania. He has hair and looks normal now. The carriage driver won’t take Harker any closer to the castle. Dracula’s creepy driver picks him up and takes him to the castle, where he meets old man Dracula. He’s buying Carfax Abbey, and Harker works for the real estate lawyers. The local people are ”without flavor,” he says. Dracula says to Harker, “I will absorb you,” to become more British. He calls his own castle “the prison without locks,” as it’s so hard to navigate. The evening goes pretty much according to most other versions of the story, as he sees a woman in the room above his, but cannot find the woman. 

The next evening, Dracula looks a little younger, and his English has improved significantly. Harker is determined to find out who else is in the castle. Dracula explains that “No. No one is living here.” As the days pass, Harker gets weaker, and his fingernails and hair starts to fall out. Each day, he searches deeper and deeper into the tunnels of the castle. At one point, Harker opens a bunch of boxes containing dead people, who don’t like being disturbed. He passes out after finding Dracula in a crypt as well. 

Dracula is soon young again, and he instructs Harker to write three letters to Mina, Harker’s fiance. One that he’s about ready to leave, one that says he’s on the way, and one that says he’s almost home. Dracula says that this is so no one will come looking for Harker in Transylvania. Harker is too weak to argue or fight back by this time, so he writes the letters. He eventually runs into the girl in the window, and when she turns out to be a vampire, he finds the cross doesn’t help him.  Dracula ends up staking her just to see what would happen.

Dracula takes Harker up to the highest point of the castle and twists his head around. He’s completely dead, not breathing, and with no heartbeat. He’s undead, but not quite yet a vampire. He jumps off the roof of the castle and escapes by shining reflected sunlight off his silver cross, which burns Dracula. Sister Agatha explains that the other nun, who has sat there silently listening to the whole story, is really Mina in disguise. 

The convent is suddenly under attack by bats. Harker hands Mina a stake, and we see his fangs. He ends up staking himself. Agatha and the other nuns face down Dracula outside. She opens the gate for him, but won’t give him permission to enter. We soon learn that Sister Agatha is really Agatha Van Helsing, from Holland. 

Dracula wakes up Harker; he explains that suicide doesn’t work for vampires. Dracula promises to kill him-- if Harkerjust invites Dracula inside... Which goes badly for the nuns. Agatha and Mina hole up in a room and hope to wait it out for morning.

Part 2: Blood Vessel

Dracula talks to Agatha about books and chess. He explains about his voyage to England aboard the ship “Demeter.”  Dracula begins to tell her the tale… as credits roll.

The captain has nightmares. Doctor Sharma examines a coffin wherein someone was buried alive. They watch the body sit up. 

We flash forward as we go aboard the Demeter, which is onloading seven passengers, some new crew, and a bunch of mysterious boxes of dirt. It’s four weeks to England, so Dracula just joins up with the other passengers. He conjures up a fog to hide the sunlight. 

He befriends an old countess who speaks German, but Dracula says “My German is a little rusty.” After he goes outside and eats a Bavarian man, his German improves significantly. She tells Dracula a story about this dashing young man she met many years ago, and it was Dracula. She becomes Dracula’s next victim. 

There’s a mysterious passenger in room 9 that no one is allowed to see. Lord Ruthven’s wife leaves her cabin that night and runs into Dracula. Doomed! Dracula insists they search cabin 9, but the captain refuses to allow anyone else inside. 

It comes up at dinner that most of the guests were invited, or were recommended by, Mr. Belouer, a translation of the name “Dracula.” They all have connections to this man one way or another. He’s invited select people to be food for his voyage. Most of the crew abandon ship, taking one of the lifeboats. 

We flash back to the previous episode. Dracula let Mina go, but kept Agatha. It turns out that she’s the person in room number 9. Back on the ship, Dracula turns Agatha in for being the murderer. She admits that she’s a vampire, and they get ready to hang her.  She spits blood in his face, and this exposes him to the others. Agatha relieves the captain of command (really?) and starts a search for Dracula, who ran away. The captain says, “You don’t seem like a nun.”

They dump all the boxes of soil except one, which they decide to use as a trap. Ruthven partners up with Dracula and turns against Dr. Sharma, but Sharma’s daughter drinks poison. Ruthven then shoots Sharma, who Dracula wanted to drink for his intelligence. Dracula doesn’t appreciate the help. 

Eventually, there’s another standoff, and more people die, but this results in Dracula being set on fire and jumping overboard. We see Agatha pull off her fingernail, just as Harker did in the previous episode. She’s infected as well, so she tells the captain to take a lifeboat and blow the ship up. 

The lifeboat sails off, and the captain comes in, explaining that he’s going down with the ship.  Except it’s really Dracula in disguise. The real captain is laying on the floor with a bite in his neck, but he’s not really quite dead yet. We finally learn why vampires fear the cross, and it makes a lot of sense in the context of the series, although Agatha says he’s lying about the explanation.

The captain blows a hole in the side of the ship. Dracula hides out in a box of soil as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

Time passes; Dracula breaks out of the box and walks to shore. Helicopters appear with spotlights, and Agatha approaches, welcoming him to England. 

Part 3: The Dark Compass

We see what happened between Mina, Agatha, and Dracula at the end of episode 1. Credits roll.

We jump to 123 years later...

A woman, Kathleen, wakes up and finds Draclua in her house. He’s watching the sunset on TV. He killed the woman’s husband, Bob, and tied his undead body in the refrigerator. He “downloaded” Bob’s memories, so he has some idea about modern things now. 

We flash back to the end of episode 2. We see Dracula at the beach with the helicopters and snipers. He laughs to hear how long it’s been. The woman isn’t really Agatha, but her descendant, Zoe Helsing. Dracula turns into bats and escapes, leaving the others behind. This is how he wound up at Kathleen’s house. 

He finds a coffin full of soil upstairs at Kathleen’s house with a cell phone inside. Zoe Helsing calls and tells him to get in the box. He tricks her in the kitchen and bites her. He starts vomiting, because there’s something not right with her blood. They put him in the box, and now he’s their prisoner. 

They take to some kind of underground facility. 

Meanwhile, Jack Seward meets Lucy and Quincy at the dance club. He keeps getting phone calls from Jonathan Harker. The next morning, he heads to the Jonathan Harker foundation, where they took Dracula. It’s basically Torchwood, but for studying Dracula. 

They show a bunch of people video of divers finding Dracula’s box at the bottom of the ocean and opening it up. Dracula bit the diver’s finger off, which gave him the power to get to shore. It’s never made clear why he went to sleep for all those years.

Dracula isn’t thrilled with his prison cell. “It’s a toilet. I’m a vampire. Why have you given me a toilet?” The cell rotates, and the way the sunlight streams in, they can isolate him in any of the corners. Zoe tries to take Dracula’s blood, but she can’t break the skin. Intead, he cuts his wrist and fills a test tube for her. Dracula immediately realizes that Zoe isn’t really in charge and wants to know who’s funding the institute. There’s someone in charge, and Dracula wants to know who it is. This plot line goes absolutely nowhere, and may have been left in as a lead-in to a sequel.

Dracula figures out that Zoe has cancer, and that’s what was wrong with her blood. Dracula’s been Skyping with a lawyer named Renfield using an iPad in his cell. Zoe asks “who gave him the wifi password?” and then he tells her, “It’s my name.”  No one thinks to change the password. Renfield is Count Dracula’s lawyer, and he’s arrived to protest Dracula’s imprisonment. “Count Dracula has rights!” exclaims the lawyer. 

Zoe drinks the blood sample. Dracula steals Jack’s phone on the way out; he’s been released. The whole imprisonment plot stops abruptly as he’s released. Lucy calls the phone and has a conversation with Dracula. 

Three months have passed. Dracula and Renfield are literally plotting world domination. He’s carefully screening people to drink and steal their abilities. We get several long and really boring scenes with Lucy and her narcissistic friends talking about something stupid for an interminable period. 

Dracula and Lucy go for a walk through the graveyard, and by this time, I was starting to hope that Buffy would jump up and surprise us. Instead, they’re listening for people knocking on their coffin lids from inside. ”The children of the night, what sweet music they make.” There appear to be undead all over the world, and no one but Dracula knows how common this is.

Jack goes to see Zoe in the hospital. They don’t understand why Dracula keeps coming back for Lucy over and over. What’s special about her? He kills Lucy, but promises she won’t be dead for long. Except they cremate the body. That doesn’t stop her, as she wakes up and drains the attendant.

Dracula’s blood gives Zoe visions of Sister Agatha. She knows who is funding the project, and she’s not happy about it. Zoe’s dying, but she leaves the hospital. Jack and Zoe go to visit Dracula. Lucy arrives a bit later, and she’s a mess who freaks out when she sees herself. Jack stakes her, and she turns to dust just like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Zoe runs across the table and pulls the curtain down, just like in the 1958 ”Horror of Dracula,” exposing him to sunlight. Nothing happens. Zoe explains that there are no rules or limitations to Dracula’s power, it’s all just ingrained habits that he’s picked up from vampire legends. The only thing Dracula really fears is death, but he’ll end up living forever in shame of his fear. Then Zoe lays down on the floor and dies. 

Dracula walks slowly into the sunlight. It doesn’t hurt him. He drinks her blood, knowing that it’s poison to him. We assume they both die, but we don’t actually see it happen. The end.

Commentary

Part 1 is very moody and dark. This was always the most interesting part of the original story for me, and it was good that a miniseries could take the time to actually cover all the details. Most Dracula films have to focus on the action and horror, and leave the lot of the details out. The vampire baby was a neat idea. The confrontation at the convent gate was very good as well. The actor who plays Harker did an excellent job. 

Part 2 introduces a few new things. First, Dracula has the best, and most efficient, way to learn a new language. While the first part followed the first part of the book fairly closely (with some embellishment), the part of the book dealing with the Demeter was much shorter, so this section has a lot more new material. The twist at the end was unexpected.

Part 3 brings some really good visuals with the various dream sequences, but they don’t make up for boring teenagers and 90210-style angst that were completely out of place here.  The “let’s study Dracula” angle was really unique and different but went nowhere. The scene with the nine undead people in a single cemetery killed it for me. If there are that many undead everywhere, then Dracula isn’t really that unique. It ought to be relatively easy to find an undead person and study them. Dr. Sharma did it a hundred years ago, why can’t they do it now?

Episode one and two were excellent. I like what they tried to do in episode three, but it focused too much on the young people and not enough time is spent from Dracula’s point of view. The first two were Dracula’s story, and the third seemed to drift away from that. I kept getting the feeling that we were supposed to care about Lucy, but before she died, she always just seemed like a shallow girl obsessed with Instagram selfies. The heavy focus on her detracts a bunch from the story. Part three should probably have split into two more full parts: one for the prison and one for Lucy. As it was part three was just a mess.

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