Last month, Blumhouse Productions’ The Invisible Man was released to rave reviews before becoming a box office hit, making it the single most successful classic Universal monster movie to be released since the Brendan Fraser Mummy films from the late ’90s/early 2000s. It’s no secret that the film was crafted out of the wreckage of Universal’s failed Dark Universe franchise, specifically that of the planned Invisible Man film with Johnny Depp. The success of this new version of The Invisible Man, however, did beg the question as to what would be next for the Classic Universal Monsters given how successful this smaller, scaled-back version of The Invisible Man was. Earlier this month, we received an answer to this question. Universal’s next crack at their Classical Monsters would be a Blumhouse Productions adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel Dracula, and the fit is probably far better then anyone realizes.
One could easily make an argument that one of the key reasons why films like Dracula Untold and The Mummy (2017) failed to meet Universal’s expectations was that they fundamentally misunderstood these properties’ fan bases and source material. Just about every good version of The Mummy that exists usually takes the form of a tragic love story that often subtly condemns western imperialism and its literal looting of other cultures, leaving things ambiguous when it comes to which characters were in the right. On the other hand, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy turns Sofia Boutella’s titular character into a generic evil witch who wants to bring the Egyptian God Set into the world because reasons and dedicates a significant portion of its runtime establishing what was meant to be the Dark Universe’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde preaching about the nature of evil and destroying it. That’s about as far removed from what the original films were about as you can possibly get. To say that the film might have missed the appeal of the entire Mummy franchise would be an understatement.
Dracula may very well be the single most adapted fictional character in history. He has appeared in films, comics, television shows, plays, and video games of various quality since he was first created by Bram Stoker in 1897. Since then, portrayals of the character have turned the otherwise-basic vampire into something akin to a vampire god. His lore has been written and rewritten dozens of times, with many often trying to rework the character into something more than he ever was in the source material. What ultimately gets lost as a result is the simple truth that Bram Stoker’s original novel was something more akin to a murder mystery story that happens to have a supernatural edge. In addition, it also established many of the formula tropes that Blumhouse Productions uses in just about all of its horror films to this day.
The novel itself is broken down into roughly three parts. The first part deals with Jonathan Harker first encountering Dracula, finalizing a real estate with him and gradually realizing that he is a prisoner in the castle and probably doomed. The second portion of the novel is where many of the traditional horror tropes were established that Blumhouse borrows so readily from. It primarily focuses on Dracula preying on Lucy Westenra and the other characters trying to figure out what is wrong with her. It’s a subtle, slow-burning process that, at first, has otherwise everyday-characters go through the logical steps to try and figure out what is ailing her. Like many Blumhouse horror films, the characters do not immediately jump to a supernatural conclusion, blaming the occurrences on literally anything and everything else. The audience/reader already knows that something supernatural is going on and is just waiting for the characters to catch on to this as well.
Eventually, the characters bring in Abraham Van Helsing, who stands in as the expert on all things supernatural and figures out the mystery. Likewise, many of Blumhouse’s films have a similar character who helps the main characters solve the mystery and/or fight off whatever is haunting them. This eventually leads to the third part of the book where the characters have more or less figured out what is going on with Dracula and all that is left for them to do is hunt and take down the monster, which is generally how the various Blumhouse horror films end as well. So one could easily make the argument that the reason why Blumhouse Productions is the perfect studio to make a new Dracula film is that they’ve been making them for years.
It also helps that the story itself seems tailor-made for a Blumhouse Productions budget. Jason Blum has had a lot of success as a producer over the years by keeping his budgets low and the scares based more on sound and quick visuals as opposed to over-the-top gore, which is not at all unlike how Dracula‘s more disturbing parts were written out. As mentioned earlier, Dracula is a novel that plays out more like a murder mystery that is written in an epistolary format from the point-of-view of several main characters. As an unintended side result, the majority of the horrific things that happen to the characters either occur right before the main characters show up to witness it or right after, leaving much to the imagination. For example, Lucy Westenra is a character who gradually dies after repeated visits from Dracula that leave her paler and weaker. There is nothing expressly gory about this because the vampire isn’t wasting a drop of her blood and is consuming every last bit of it. In fact, the only real indication that we get that blood is being drained from her in the novel is that her skin is losing its color and doctors discovering fang marks on her neck. This subtle approach would be perfect for a Blumhouse project as other studios would probably demand buckets of blood for these scenes.
Something else that tends to get lost in other adaptations of the book is that Dracula is actually a small-scale story. Projects like Dracula Untold, Van Helsing, Helsing, Castlevania and other direct adaptations of the novel have a tendency to blow up the story and turn it into a sprawling epic affair with a large cast of characters and stakes that are often implied to be apocalyptic. The original novel, however, only focuses on a handful of characters in a few locations. We get to know these locations very well thanks to the writing but just about all of the novel’s events happen in Dracula’s castle, the insane asylum, Lucy’s house, and Carfax Abbey. Likewise, Blumhouse Productions horror films usually only take place in a handful of locations in part to keep the budgets low. The only thing that might stand in the way of Jason Blum keeping the film in his traditional budget range would be the period piece details. However, none of these locations are necessarily period-specific and could easily be transposed into a modern setting for a more modest budget.
In the end, however, this is all speculation. Blumhouse Productions may be the best studio for this job out of sheer experience but that doesn’t mean the film will work. The company has rarely had a financial failure but it certainly had has its fair share of duds over the years and only time will tell if Dracula will be one of them. It also brings up the question as to whether or not there is even a point to do a straightforward adaptation of Dracula given how influencial the source material is but that is an argument for another time. For now, I feel comfortable in saying that Blumhouse Productions is easily the best company to make Dracula scarry again.