Dracula: The Undead

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Dracula: The Undead — Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Dr. Chopper goes to Whitby: Literary horror-show ensues.

A few years ago, the spoof metal band Bad News recorded a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody. The point of the joke was to be deliberately awful, and it reached a crescendo with a guitar solo so wincingly bad that it could only be the work of a genius. And, surprise, surprise, the Bad News cover was overseen by none other than Queen’s Brian May himself.

I mention it because I can’t think of any other sensible explanation for this book - the Brian May in this case being not Bram Stoker, but his great grand-nephew, Dacre. Perhaps the Stoker literary genius is, like its creation, immortal, and lives on in the frame of his diluted bloodline. Unlikely, and it would only make sense if said inheritor were also possessed of an unusually well-developed sense of irony, and a mind to mock his more famous Irish ancestor the way Brian May once mocked his own guitar solo.

As I say, unlikely.

Mr Stoker has been co-opted by a “well-known Dracula Historian” called Ian Holt. I wonder if this is the same Ian Holt who scripted Dr Chopper, a 2005 straight-to-video release whose IMDB plot summary is: “Five young friends head out to the country for a weekend at the family cabin and run afoul of a group of motorcycle riding madwomen led by the sadistic, knife-wielding plastic surgeon, Dr. Fielding.”

Having read Dracula: The Un-Dead, I have a sneaking suspicion it just might be the same Ian Holt.

Now if the sound of Dr. Chopper makes your heart sink, then look away now, for that is, at best, the level of wit and sophistication you will find in this novel. This is a toweringly awful book: a veritable tour de force of witless, guileless, inanity — so bad that, perversely, it is entertaining: you will find yourself boxing on, propelled by the simple disbelief that anyone gormless enough to write this mush had the commercial acumen, tenacity and perseverance to bring it to market.

Despite the imprimatur of “Stoker family authorisation", in no sense does this novel even faintly resemble the fictional universe, style, world-view, sophistication, or literary outlook of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is written without sympathy for that book or even the genre from which it comes, however hackneyed it may now be. I doubt that Dacre Stoker (hitherto a modern-day pentathlete, apparently) really contributed to this novel, and his great grand-uncle certainly didn’t (the suggestion that this storyline was somehow crafted out of notes left by Bram Stoker is absurd), but even if he did, consider how interested you’d be in “MacBeth II” written by a distant relative of William Shakespeare.

As it happens, I had re-read Bram’s Dracula a fortnight ago, so it was fresh in my mind. While it’s a little flabby in places, in the main it is beautifully staged and elegantly written and manages its horror through unease: being epistolatory, the novel unfolds through contemporaneous records of protagonists who didn’t know what is going on: there is therefore a creeping dread. The horror — and sexuality — is almost all implied, and mostly metaphorical. Scarcely a drop of blood is shed in Bram Stoker’s novel.

Would that any of this were true of this book. Fat chance. Lesbian sadomasochistic murder — I’m not kidding — commences on page 14, and after a hiatus of leaden plot exposition (and shameless revision) for the benefit of those who might have forgotten what happened in the original Dracula, this sequel settles into a lumpen, tepid bloodbath of gore, impalation, amputation, disembowelling, eye-put-outing, flesh-charring, and so on (quickly it becomes a blur) thereafter. I’m not being prudish here - there are certainly books which I’ve found so repellent I couldn’t go on (Justine, for example), and this wasn’t one of them - my objection is simply that this is poor literature: dull, monotonous and unimaginative, derivative and devoid of narrative interest or significant characterisation. It pales in comparison with the Gothic beauty and psychological horror of Stoker’s original. While professing undying love and scholastic commitment, neither author seems to have the remotest conception of what is so good about Dracula.

It’s also clumsily written and miserably sub-edited. Arch-villain Countess Bathory appears to be able to move instantly between London and Paris (and between Highgate and Hampstead cemeteries, though I think that may just be poor sub-editing) and at one point is given a superhero-like power of flight, which she uses to instantly fly from Paris to London, whereupon she boards a horse-drawn carriage and heads, in a hurry, for Whitby in Yorkshire (Whitby being just as far from London (as the vampire flies) as Paris)! When she gets there the great vamp-on-vamp showdown (!) is conducted via - and how I wish I were making this up - a sword fight. Honestly. And best not talk about the “Darth Vader” moment. Again, I’m really not kidding. Go on, you’ll never guess.

I could go on. You sense the authors very definitely had a screenplay in mind, with plenty of CGI, wire work and Matrix-style visuals - a long-awaited big budget follow up to Dr. Chopper, perhaps. Heaven help us if that’s the case - though you have to wonder whether it’s not publisher’s hype - or wishful thinking - to shift some copies of this horrid book.

If one of them shifts into your shopping trolley, don’t say you weren’t warned.


See also