The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
Director: Michael Goguen
Dracula: Peter Stormare
A few truths: Doug Moench’s graphic novel Batman & Dracula: Red Rain is a superior Batman vs. Dracula story. It could not have been made into a children’s animated cartoon. Which (despite a good bit of blood and a shocking – heh – death scene for the Joker) this film very much is. Also in the truth department: yes, we all wish Paul Dini’s Batman: Animated Series shop had done this story instead, and yes, Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula series for Marvel is the best four-color Dracula of all time end of story. Enough about things that aren’t this. This is an anime-inflected superhero story that imports elements of the Dracula mythos. It indeed keeps some of the original novel’s detective-hunt feel as Batman (Rino Romano) tries vainly to track down Dracula’s tomb somewhere in Gotham Cemetery (“it must have been moved after I died” speculates the child-brain of Dracula, or of writer Duane Capizzi). It also keeps the original novel’s science-vs.-Satan edge, as the World’s Greatest Detective-Biochemist develops a cure for vampirism after only a few nights of ditching the fetching Vicki Vale (Tara Strong). Tom Kenny’s wiseacre Penguin makes an acceptable Renfield, mostly to keep the Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson, properly manic with a good threatening baritone) around as a somewhat-independent threat until he becomes a lab monkey.
Sadly, Batman and vampire Joker’s mid-movie fight (in a blood bank!) seriously outclasses either of Batman’s fights with Dracula, although the first one does establish Dracula’s menace (Stormare does what he can, too). It’s just that in a world with Killer Croc and Clayface — and Batman! — Dracula has a harder time standing out. (The film hangs a Bat-signal on this problem by briefly having Batman accused of Dracula’s mass abductions: a witness sees a gigantic bat shadow at the scene …) This highlights the difficulty involved in monster-rallies and super-universes alike — and one we saw earlier on Buffy — Dracula needs to be a singular threat, or at least the King of Threats, to properly bring the awe and terror. Dracula as Just Another Villain suffers from his very familiarity; this version doesn’t bring enough originality despite a last-minute turn to Carmilla as the MacGuffin, and the kids’ cartoon format prevents him from bringing enough horror. In a game, at least, you can amp up the second.
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Released from its tomb (by the Penguin and by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order superheroic hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!