Netflix's "Dracula" Is a Glorious Hot Mess

Is there any character more undead than Count Dracula? No, really. Since Bram Stoker’s novel first captivated Victorian England in 1897, the story has been adapted over 270 times, more than any other novel in history. The Count has bared his fangs in everything from groundbreaking masterpieces to campy bodice rippers to just...weird sh*t. It’s not hard to understand why Dracula has been resurrected so many times. Violent and salacious, but also rife with psychological depth, it’s a tale that seems made for the screen. 

For filmmakers, Stoker’s Dracula has always worked best more as a set of building blocks to play with than as a strict map. The plot, characters, and themes of the story have been rearranged and modernized in countless ways. But Dracula has become such a pop culture icon that anyone who undertakes another adaptation has no choice but to grapple with the weighty conglomeration of all the Draculas that have come before. 

So when the BBC announced a new 3-part Dracula series, I was intrigued, to say the least.

The project was headed by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, former showrunners of Sherlock, so they already had one smash-hit reboot of classic literature under their belt. How much would they stick to the traditions of previous-screen Draculas and how much would they strike out on their own? Last month, BBC’s Dracula premiered on Netflix, and I sat down to watch, very curious to experience Moffat and Gatiss’s vision. 

3 episodes and a box of Thin Mints later, I’m not sure even they knew what their vision was. It was messy. It was bizarre. And the last episode was sheer off-the-rails insanity. But somehow, I wasn’t even bothered.

What this show lacks in clear, unifying ideas, it makes up for in the breakneck enthusiasm with which it throws itself into every scene. Watching it is really an exercise in ever more gleefully saying “What the f*ck?"  We’ve got stake-wielding nuns! Zombified babies! Naked Dracula! This show is not afraid to be campy and over the top, but that doesn’t mean it's not scary. Far from the defanged, dreamy vampires of the Twilight era, Moffat and Gatiss have managed to make these creatures of the night threatening again. Between the brilliantly gory practical effects and the brutality of the attacks, the show clearly intends to return the Count to his roots as a monster...at least at first.

Dracula’s biggest problem is its inability to decide whether it wants to make its vampire a true demon or an antihero, a portrayal that’s been so overdone in the past couple decades that it’s almost more cliché than the former. When you revamp a pop culture icon, there’s obviously the desire to justify its existence by making it say something. Something about society, about the icon’s legacy, whatever. In this case, Moffat and Gatiss’s message came off underdeveloped and inorganic. It seems like what they really wanted their Dracula to be about was getting creeped out and having fun.

Despite the messiness and some real tonal dissonance in the last episode, this series is still worth a binge. It’s clever, stylish, and atmospheric. Claes Bang, the Danish actor who brings the Count to life, combines the best parts of his predecessors' performances with his own fresh, charismatic take on the role. The other actors, especially Dolly Wells and John Heffernan, give us heroes to root for and work well with Bang to make for compelling character dynamics.

Is Dracula deep? It sort of tries. Is it culturally resonant? Not really. But it is pure, insane, twisty entertainment that keeps you on the edge of your seat. And sometimes, that’s all a show really needs to be.