Pictured: Claes Bang as Dracula
On the first day of Veganuary, my TV gave to me, twelve nuns a-bleeding, eleven bats a-feeding, ten ghouls a-shrieking, nine corpses twitching, eight demons drooling, seven wolves a-howling, six crosses burning, five fin-ger-nails…
Four goblets of blood, three dead rats, two stakes through the heart and a vampire baby in a bad mood.
Good luck if you were trying to give up meat for the month.
Dracula (BBC1) was dripping with more gore than a raw hamburger marinaded in pig’s blood and garnished with an eyeball.
And that was before the Lord of the Undead decapitated Mother Superior Joanna Scanlan, sending a fountain of vermilion like a geyser across the altar of the convent chapel.
This was a Dracula to delight horror movie fans of all stripes. From the bone-chilling menace of Max Schreck in the silent classic Nosferatu almost 100 years ago, to the sheer camp silliness of Hammer horror’s bosomy virgins, it paid homage to them all.
Writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done this before, reinventing a Victorian masterpiece for a 21st century television audience, with Sherlock.
By taking all the elements they love most from all their favourite versions, the duo salute the past while creating an entirely original vision.
Perhaps seeking to stir up publicity, Gatiss and Moffat had announced that this would be a homoerotic Dracula. It wasn’t in the first episode: Exuberantly camp, certainly, but not noticeably gay.
Dracula was dripping with more gore than a raw hamburger marinaded in pig’s blood and garnished with an eyeball, writes Christopher Stevens (Pictured: Bang and Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha)
In fact, the script was lovingly sucking up lines from all kinds of treasured movies, feeding off the classics. When naive lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) finally realised that his host at a remote Transylvanian castle meant to murder him, he gasped: ‘You’re a monster!’
‘And you’re a lawyer,’ retorted the Count (Claes Bang). ‘Nobody’s perfect.’
Any film buff knows that gag is the punchline from Some Like It Hot, which is nobody’s idea of a vampire movie.
When a nun armed with a crucifix and a wooden stake tried to drive the dark lord away from the cloister gates, she reminded him he could not withstand the radiance of her Christian goodness.
‘Goodness has got nothing to do with it,’ smirked Dracula, quoting Mae West.
Bang, one of Denmark’s most outstanding actors, was relishing every mouthful of his dialogue.
He began the 90-minute episode, the first of three, in wig and make-up that made him look convincingly ancient though still capable of moving like a bolt of lightning when he caught sight of a mirror in Harker’s luggage.
He was rejuvenated within a week, thanks to a diet of fresh claret direct from the jugular, while the lawyer slept.
‘You do look rather drained,’ the Count sympathised to Harker. Many of the genre’s traditions were faithfully observed – the secret passage behind an ancestral portrait, the colony of screaming bats, the skeletal incubus at the bedside.
Writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done this before, reinventing a Victorian masterpiece for a 21st century television audience, with Sherlock
Perhaps seeking to stir up publicity, Gatiss and Moffat had announced that this would be a homoerotic Dracula
But Gatiss and Moffat gleefully turned others inside out, sometimes literally.
Vampires and werewolves are usually separate species. But, as in the original novel, Dracula was able to take the guise of a wolf – and turned up on all four paws at the convent to which Harker had fled.
Challenged to show himself by a bold nun, he tore his way out of the wolf’s entrails, leered at the quivering sisters and lisped: ‘I don’t know about you, girls, but I do love a bit of fur.’
That bold nun (Dolly Wells) delivered the cleverest twist.
She introduced herself as Sister Agatha, and she wasn’t noticeably godly – though a Bride of Christ, she described herself as ‘trapped in a loveless marriage for the sake of keeping a roof over my head’.
When she interviewed Harker, who was decomposing before our eyes, she brought along a novice nun as a chaperone and claimed: ‘I can’t be trusted around men.’
We guessed long before Harker that this novitiate was really his fiancee Mina Murray (Morfydd Clark) in disguise.
What I certainly didn’t guess was that Sister Aggie was actually the vampire hunter Van Helsing.
Wells, previously known for her improvised sitcom Doll & Em, was a match at every step for Claes Bang.
This is not a production for delicate souls. There were images of true horror: The broken-jointed corpses climbing out of their packing cases, the hollow-eyed baby lurching forwards to feed on an impaled maiden, and most of all those fingernails… sliding off Harker’s hands like loose orange peel.
Aarrghhh! One touch was especially impressive. In the whole hour-and-a-half, we didn’t hear a syllable of foul language – blasphemy, certainly, but no obscenities, no four-letter swearwords.
Dracula’s shocks were far more savage than that.