How Dracula Untold’s Master Vampire Was Once the Key to the Universal MonsterVerse
Universal Pictures' failed Dark Universe might have gone differently if they just leaned into the Charles Dance of it all after Dracula Untold...
When 2014’s Dracula Untold was announced, it was kind of a big deal considering it would be the first major Dracula movie to hit the big screen since Dracula 2000. Sadly, the Vlad the Impaler origin story was met with mixed reviews and sort of came and went upon its theatrical release. But with the movie recently being added to Netflix and immediately shooting to number 4 on streaming service’s top 10 movies list, now is a good time to revisit not just the film but how its characters—particularly Charles Dance’s Master Vampire—were meant to be the original launching pad for the perpetually stalled Universal Monsters shared cinematic universe (later renamed “the Dark Universe”).
Originally, Dracula Untold was at first titled Dracula: Year Zero and had Sam Worthington (Avatar) set to star with Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) attached to direct. That iteration was then scrapped and reworked, with the project eventually getting a new title and a new helmer via Gary Shore, who sat in the director’s chair for the first time.
Meanwhile Luke Evans would also come on to star as Vlad the Impaler, aka “Dracula” (Son of the Dragon). The film follows Vlad as he tries to leave his bloody past as a warlord behind and lead Transylvania into a more peaceful future. But when challenged by his old friend Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) and the Turks, Vlad’s compelled to make a deal with the devil, taking on the dark superpowers of the Master Vampire (Dance) in a desperate attempt to save his kingdom.
The scenes between Vlad and the Master in his cave in Broken Tooth Mountain hinted at a larger story, too, for both Vlad and the Universal Monsters universe. The Master mentions that he’d been imprisoned on the mountain by his sire and that he’d be free to unleash his wrath on the one who betrayed him if Vlad were to give in to his thirst and go full vampire. It’s clear that the story was designed to be built upon in potential sequels, but Universal felt future installments could be folded into an even bigger story than originally planned.
As the film was nearing completion, Universal started internally laying plans for an MCU-like Monsterverse and thought Dracula Untold could be a good place to kick things off and branch off into other titles. Reshoots were ordered, which added a modern day scene to the film in which Dance’s Master Vampire stalks Vlad (who seems to have met a reincarnation of his dead wife) and says ominously, “Let the games begin.”
It’s interesting to note that in the script’s earlier iterations, Dance’s Master Vampire was identified as Caligula, a.k.a. the assassinated Roman emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germamicus. This would have obviously given the Master one hell of a backstory, but the filmmakers opted to keep the story more streamlined in the end. It turned out that Universal’s intentions were better served by making the Master a key villain as the studio moved ever closer to its Dark Universe.
Those plans, of course, never panned out. In 2017, Universal formally announced the “Dark Universe,” which would see many of their classic monster franchises rebooted and interconnected à la the MCU. The first official title in the universe, The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, was received so poorly that the studio halted plans for the Dark Universe shortly thereafter. But what’s notable about The Mummy with relation to Dracula Untold is that there actually ended up being no connection between the two at all. The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman even went so far as to say on the record that his film had nothing to do with Dracula Untold.
It would have been interesting to see what kind of Dark Universe could have sprung from Dracula Untold’s epilogue. The unfolding story between Dracula and the Master could have developed into something special considering the chemistry Evans and Dance got to show ever so fleetingly. With the story moving into a modern setting, a sequel could have potentially made a complete stylistic change to better fit into a larger franchise that included the rest of the Dark Universe family. But it seems we’ll never find out exactly where the story was headed.
While Dracula Untold was far from a runaway success when it debuted eight years ago, it’s garnered some renewed interest due to its current popularity on Netflix, which supports the idea that it may have been a far better cornerstone for the Dark Universe than The Mummy proved to be. We may never know what could have happened had Universal stuck by their original plans to continue the story of Dracula Untold, but it seems there are plenty of people out there enjoying Shore’s original effort at the very least.
Universal seems to be trying to take another stab at the Dark Universe with the success of 2020’s The Invisible Man, which returned to the intimate horror roots of the original Universal monster movies. If this is a sign of the direction the studio is headed with the shared universe, it seems unlikely that the epic, action-forward Dracula Untold would fit into any future plans.