For a long time now, we’ve heard about a project based on Dracula but focused upon just one story element. The film? The Last Voyage of the Demeter, all about the doomed schooner whose unwittingly brought the Transylvanian vampire from his homeland to England. For time director David Slade (30 Days of Night) was attached, with news that Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Bloodrayne) would star. Both may yet take part, but now Neil Marshall is listed at IMDB as directing. Mr. Marshall’s previous credits include The Descent and Dog Soldiers as well as the episode “Blackwater” from HBO’s Game of Thrones.
And a new actor has been offered the lead. Viggo Mortensen, best known as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy but with an impressive string of credits on top of that–including The Road (with Kodi Smitt-McPhee of Let Me In fame), A Dangerous Method (in which he played Sigmund Freud) and David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Although at the time of this writing Mr. Mortensen has yet to accept the role, the fact they offered it to him gives some indication of what the filmmakers hope for in terms of finished film.
More than one article describing the project makes a comparison with Ridley Scott’s original Alien. One can see why. A small band of ordinary working folk, stuck on a ship far from help, watching a hidden monster on board take them out one by one. The whole premise sounds promising. Yet at the same time, one cannot help but see it as a trap.
Simply, we know how this story ends.
In the book, the ship beaches itself at Whitby harbor in the northeast of England. The only person anyone finds is the captain, lashed to the wheel with a crucifix. Dead. His ship’s log indicates crewmen began to vanish soon after setting sail. More, a few reported seeing a stranger. Always at night. With burning red eyes. At last the Romanian Mate checks the cargo–boxes of earth. He soon runs screaming from below decks and leaps into the sea, declaring this a better fate than what awaits!
Film versions of Dracula deal with this incident in various ways. The Bela Lugosi version includes a survivor–poor mad Renfield, following a storm-tossed passage. The silent classic Nosferatu portrayed an iconic moment from many a vampire film since–the Mate finding the Count who rises straight up in a manner both impossible to forget or to think natural. The 1979 film with Frank Langella actually began with the ship crashing near Dr. Seward’s asylum, with young Mina Van Helsing going out and finding the sole survivor–a handsome Count Dracula. Dan Curtis directed a made-for-t.v. adaptation from the pen of Richard Matheson. In it, Jack Palance’s Dracula simply stood on a beach next to beached schooner–the captain’s dead body almost over his shoulder. Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992 treated the whole thing in a dreamlike manner, amid shots of Gary Oldman’s wizened Impaler growing younger as he fed–splashes of blood across the sails intercut with wolf howls and chanting music.
Still, we all know how the story ends. Making that compelling can be a problem, and may be a major reason the project has remained in what might be termed development purgatory–not quite hell, but with all the elements still coming together.
Certainly one major change seems obvious. The novel never hinted at any female character anywhere near the ship. So who is Ms. Rapace intended to portray? Will there be flashbacks, explaining her character and how she fits into the overall story? Or, more daringly, might we see her aboard the Demeter itself? A stowaway? A woman passing herself off as a man (historically this did happen many times)?
Other possibilities–could more surprises await? Might somebody escape, via a lifeboat? If so, what might happen to them? Is Renfield or some other ally of the vampire also aboard? Who might they be? In the book it seems each victim is simply drained, then tossed overboard. Might the Count’s presence more closely resemble an infection? Different people growing weaker and weaker, at the same time maybe obedient to the Dracula’s will?
Screenwriter Bragi F. Shut has the job of fashioning a finished script. For better or for worse, his only other major film was Season of the Witch (2011) but he did a lot of work on the television show Threshold, which also dealt with mysterious goings-on at sea.
Are you looking forward to this? What do you hope to see when and if the movie finally arrives in cinemas?