Have you ever read a book that is so bad that it loops back around to being good? Well, Dracula the Un-Dead isn’t one of those books. It’s just plain bad. But it nearly provides one of those “so bad it’s good” reading experiences, creating a sense of bile fascination in the reader over the fact that someone could clearly enjoy a source material enough to write a sequel, but apparently hate it so much that they would write it… well, like this.
According to the afterword, the subject of a sequel was raised between screenwriter Ian Holt and Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew as an attempt to “re-establish creative control over Bram’s novel and characters by writing a sequel that bore the Stoker name.” Given the copyright issues that have plagued the Stoker family ever since the book was first published, it seems understandable that they would want to take the opportunity to create an “official” sequel, but given that it appears to have all been Ian Holt’s idea, it hardly makes for an auspicious beginning, especially when it ended up being published at the same time as Freda Warrington’s “unofficial” (and far superior) sequel of the same title. According to the joint authors: “so many books and films had strayed from Bram’s vision and thus our intent was to give both Bram and Dracula back their dignity in some small way.” I don’t doubt their sincerity, but this sequel has the opposite effect of providing “dignity” to Bram Stoker’s work.
Set twenty-five years after the close of Stoker’s original novel, the sequel centres on Quincey Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker. Having abandoned his law studies in order to pursue a career on the stage (despite the disapproval of his father), Quincey is excited by the London arrival of the Romanian actor known only as Basarab. Through a chain of events, Quincey manages to introduce himself to Basarab and convince him to become involved in a production at the Lyceum Theatre, one that involves the dramatization of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as directed by the author himself.
Yeah… Bram Stoker is in this book. There are also appearances (or mentions) of figures such as Henry Irving, Oscar Wilde, Frederick Abberline, and Henri Salmet, but Bram Stoker’s inclusion is where the main conceit of the sequel comes in. The authors propose that Stoker overheard the Dracula tale from a drunk in the pub and elaborated on it to create his novel. This gives them room to conjecture that Stoker’s manuscript wasn’t entirely accurate and that the “real” story involved several circumstances not included in the original work, including a romance between Mina and Dracula, a different sequence of events involving his death, and a completely new timeline.
According to Holt and Stoker, the justification for writing a sequel is based on the dubious rumour that Bram Stoker was planning to write another book in which Dracula reached America, and is further validated by the incongruity of Dracula’s death when compared to the established rules of killing a vampire — apparently the fact that he was dispatched with two knives instead of a stake is ambiguous enough to speculate that he survived the attack, along with the description of his body “crumbling into dust” as evidence of shape-shifting rather than destruction. Yeah, it’s all pretty sketchy, but the aforementioned change in the context of the original book means they can shape the proceedings as they see fit.
As Quincey learns about his parents’ legacy through the production of Stoker’s play, the original characters of the drama find it increasingly difficult to ignore the signs that Dracula is amongst them once more. These surviving characters (the Harkers, van Helsing, Seward and Holmwood) are now alcoholics, morphine addicts, or in states of deep depression — but never mind, they get killed off one by one as the story goes on. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of including them in the first place?
Despite their cold marriage, Jonathan and Mina try to track down Quincey in order to warn him of the impending danger, whilst Doctor Seward chases down a second vampire, Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary (yes, that Countess Bathory). Turns out that she’s a vampire too, and an even more dangerous adversary than Dracula. While she was still alive she was repeatedly raped by her husband, since why else would a female villain be evil unless she was brutally victimized by a man? Okay, she could be a psycho lesbian, which… hey! Turns out that Bathory is that as well. Wow, now we’re just drowning in unfortunate implications.
It sets up the conflict of the story, which ultimately boils down to Dracula versus Bathory, with the hapless humans struggling to figure out what side to be on. But having rendered the original book suspect, the authors can change it as they see fit and in this version, Dracula is not such a bad guy after all. According to their afterword, he was “a complex anti-hero” who “killed only when necessary and to his mind, for the greater good.” Bwuh? Heck, the reason Bathory wants to kill him is because he’s “a champion of God.” No, I don’t get it either.
Other changes are made, such as the exact time period: Dracula the Un-Dead is set in 1912, and though Stoker’s novel was set in 1893, they’ve pushed it back to 1888, changing several key dates in the story in order to incorporate elements like Jack the Ripper and the Titanic. Since the most definitive element of the original Stoker book was that it was written as letters and journal entries – all of which were carefully dated — it seems a tad lazy to start messing with the established time-line. The much-touted “official notes” that were used in the construction of the story amount to nothing more than a list of names that Stoker had prepared and then discarded for his first draft, and which lead to small vignettes of random people coming across gruesome discoveries that have no bearing on the actual story. They also make the predictable link to Vlad the Impaler — even though there was little evidence of this in the text, the combination of the two figures has become pop-culture osmosis by this stage.
So with a story that changes Dracula from a monster-of-the-night to a misunderstood anti-hero that is pitted against an evil-man-hating-lesbian-rape-victim, the steady dwindling of all the original characters as they are killed off in various gratuitous ways, the insertion of a Dracula/Mina romance that renders Jonathan the emasculated “other man,” and uncovering the real identity of Jack the Ripper, Dracula the Un-Dead pretty much throws everything but the kitchen sink at you.
In the book’s favour, the story is a fast-paced supernatural shlock-horror story that has plenty of blood and gore – if you’re into that sort of thing. That’s not (strictly speaking) what Bram Stoker was into, as all the blood, murder and sexual subtext of his work was… well, subtext. Here we have graphic accounts of torture, decapitation, sadomasochism and sexual molestation. The creeping sense of dread and unseen horror of the original is so completely gone that I doubt it was ever comprehended by Holt in the first place. With extreme liberties taken with both the original text and Stoker’s own biography, not to mention a reimagined timeline and a completely different sense of pacing, tone and style than the original, it probably would have been a more successful venture if all references to Dracula had been removed entirely.
One final thing. Throughout the course of the story, Bathory makes several references to a mysterious master who turned her into a vampire and who hates Dracula more than she does. I’ll admit to being vaguely interested in learning exactly who this was, but it’s never explicitly revealed beyond two sentences: “He knew the mentor’s name all too well. The hate between them was legendary.” That’s all we get from this plot point.
Even on its own terms, the story doesn’t deliver.