Few books have spawned as many sequels, prequels, parodies, knock-offs and out-and-out rip-offs as Bram Stoker's "Dracula." Like an alchemist, Stoker combined a variety of elements -- a Byronic vampire, a historic prince, Victorian mores and sexual repression, a love-torn damsel in distress, and five very different men-turned vampire hunters -- into a classic story, cobbled together structurally through journal entries, correspondence and newspaper clippings.
Now, 112 years after the publication of "Dracula," comes "Dracula the Un-Dead," billed as "the first Stoker family-endorsed sequel to one of the most influential novels of all time."
Written by Stoker's great-grandnephew, Dacre Stoker, in cooperation with historian and screenwriter Ian Holt, "Dracula the Un-Dead" is a sweeping reimagining of Stoker's Gothic novel, taking place 25 years after Dracula crumbled to dust after being pierced by the blades of Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris at the conclusion of Bram Stoker's original.
A quarter-century after the chilling events that brought them face-to-face with the undead, the surviving cast of characters still bears scars from their brush with Dracula. Harker, the law clerk who helped bring the eccentric Romanian from Transylvania to London, is a moody alcoholic, trapped in a loveless marriage with the beautiful Mina, who hasn't physically aged a day since her run-in with her dark prince 25 years earlier.
The couple has a petulant son, Quincey (named for Texan Quincey Morris who was killed in the original). He wants to become an actor, despite the angry protests of his father, who wants a quieter, more anonymous, life for his boy.
Dr. Jack Seward has given in to his morphine addiction, becoming a full-fledged junkie obsessed with the Jack the Ripper murders that chilled Whitechapel in 1888. Arthur Holmwold still pines for his dear departed Lucy Westenra, who became a child-killing monster by Dracula's hand. And an aged Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is trying to stave off death's icy grip for as long as he can, convinced that another battle with evil is coming soon.
Seward's obsession with the Ripper murders coincides with the publication of a strange book. Together, those events bring horror back down upon the original band of heroes. The book is Stoker's "Dracula," a play-within-a-play conceit that sees Bram Stoker learn the twisted tale from a stranger in a tavern. He writes the book as his own creation, changing some of the dates and details, with the hope of staging it at the Lyceum Theatre. A mysterious Romanian actor arrives, intent on taking the role, and the original vampires start getting picked off one-by-one, in gruesome fashion.
Dacre Stoker reviewed his great grand-uncle's original notes and takes a new perspective on Bram's vision. In "Dracula The Un-Dead," Dracula becomes a sympathetic character. Motives for his action in the original novel are explained, and the historical ties to the 15th century Vlad the Impaler are fleshed out.
Bram Stoker had likely heard the name and some of the legend of Vlad Tepes and based his vampire upon him, but it's unlikely he knew much of the history of that prince, which has since been well-documented by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, among others.
While "Dracula" was Victorian in its senses and sensibilities, "Dracula The Un-Dead" is a decidedly 21st century page-turner. The gore is much more explicit, with blood and viscera spilling from its pages. The eroticism, merely hinted at in Bram's novel, is intense. Subplots involving Jack the Ripper, "The Blood Queen" Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and the historical Stoker are intriguing and ultimately satisfying plot twists, though a final historical tie-in in the epilogue feels contrived and tacked-on.
"Dracula the Un-Dead" is a gripping horror story that will appeal to fans of the original novel, though purists may well turn up their noses at some of the historical conceits, over-the-top gore and chase scenes. At the same time, Dacre's novel is sleeker than the original and avoids the often plodding and out-of-character exposition of Bram's story, where everyone seemed to keep a journal filled with lush details and penned lengthy correspondence without any of the unconnected niceties of "other than this vampire business, how have you been?" In a playful jab at Bram's novel, young Quincey reviews a long-winded letter from his father and notes, "The Harker family was famous for their voluminous letters, yet their dinner table was void of conversation."
Dacre's novel reads with the pacing of a Dan Brown thriller, with the twists and turns of a mystery thriller and the violent, haunting terror of a horror novel.
For "Dracula" devotees, the opportunity to revisit characters like the Harkers and Van Helsing feels like a welcome class reunion, and a wonderful opportunity to re-experience the magic of Stoker's "Dracula" from a fascinating new point of view.
If you are a Dracula fan and appreciate the approaches taken by the likes of Hammer Films, Francis Ford Coppola, and dozens of other filmmakers, novelists, comic book writers and others, Dacre's vision will thrill you.
If you're a purist of Bram's novel, you may not care for Dacre's soap opera-style and his resuscitation of Bram's heroes and villain. By the end of the story, the carnage builds like the final scene of "Hamlet," and the made-for-stage happy ending of the original is missing, replaced with a melancholy sadness more befitting the tale of a haunted and hunted man-monster.
Of course, death is never necessarily the final frontier in the vampire realm, leaving the door ever-so-slightly askew for Dacre to resurrect a new generation of bloodsuckers.
Dan Murphy is a local freelance writer and dedicated student of the vampire world.
Dracula the Un-Dead
By Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
416 pages, $26.95