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Paul W. S. Anderson’s Castlevania

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageThere is a disconcerting disconnect between the potential for video games to be adapted into quality films and reality.  On the one side of this gulf are games such as Halo: Combat Evolved, Metal Gear Solid, Metroid, Mass Effect, Bioshock, and more with detailed, compelling stories full of thrilling action just sitting and waiting to be adapted into awesome films.  On the other side is the gleaming promised land of all that potential fulfilled and realized into glowing reviews, happy movie-goers, and box office gold.  And in between, lying scattered at the bottom of this chasm are the charred and broken remains of past attempts, films that producers and directors launched across the void like Evil Knievel-piloted motorcycles straining to reach the other side: the reality of a successful adaptation.  Have any actually made it?  I would argue that some have come close, perhaps Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill, or Resident Evil, but most have come up woefully short – Street Fighter, Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne, Doom, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, House of the Dead, Postal.  If Paul W. S. Anderson’s script for the planned adaptation of Konami’s venerable Castlevania is hurled across the divide in its current state, I have no doubt it will crash and burn like so many of its predecessors.

To say this is disappointing is a huge understatement.  Castlevania sits alongside those other great games I mentioned, well suited for adaptation to a feature film.  Though it spawned a franchise of games that cover a wide span of time and story (just begging for sequels, I might add) I’m going to focus on the first, released for the NES here in America in 1987.  This game’s story centers on a single night in every one hundred years when conditions are such that Dracula reclaims physical form in his monstrous castle and begins a quest to cover the world in darkness.  For centuries one family, the Belmonts, have served as vigilant guardians against the undead.  With every manifestation a lone member of the Belmont clan ventures to Castlevania to confront and defeat Dracula.  This time the task falls on the shoulders of Simon Belmont, who must navigate the horrors of Dracula’s castle to stop his reign of evil before it begins.

With that as the source material, where does this script go wrong?  Where doesn’t it?!  I understand that certain games may have an interesting concept (and a strong fan base) but are difficult to translate in their present state (Super Mario Bros. comes to mind). In the translation process changes are made (for good or ill), but Castlevania does not require such treatment.  Yet here Anderson almost completely ignores the existing storyline in favor of plot so reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that I wondered if I was indeed reading a script for a Castlevania adaptation or a remake of Francis Ford Coppola’s film.  Gone is the epic struggle that spans generations between Dracula and the Belmont clan.  Gone are the monstrous inhabitants of Castlevania such as mummies, Medusa, and Frankenstein’s monster that stand in the way of Simon’s quest.  Gone even is the signature weapon of the Belmonts, the Vampire Killer – a sacred chain whip that is used so successfully to battle the forces of darkness.

Instead for some reason we are introduced to Castlevania through the eyes of German soldiers during World War II, who seek to use it as a temporary stronghold but are quickly dispatched by its sinister inhabitants.  Along with the ending this bookends the film with what I suppose is a theme of the timelessness of the castle and its dark lord, yet the audience invests nothing in these one-dimensional characters and will care nothing of their deaths.  And really, we don’t even see what it is that kills the soldiers.  The script describes a lot of things moving unseen in the dark and expressions of growing terror on the faces of the soldiers as they are killed, but in a post The RingThe GrudgeLast Missed CallThe Strangers-Eli Roth-Rob Zombie world is this even going to be effectively suspenseful?  But I digress.

We then flash back to the mid 1500’s, and instead of being introduced to a clan of Belmonts we meet the last two surviving brothers of the family: Christopher and Simon.  Both are lords of a small contingent of Romanian knights sworn to fight the invading Turks responsible for the deaths of their parents and the ravaging of their homeland.  No surprise here the elder Simon plays Prince Willam to Christopher’s more reckless Prince Harry, if you catch my analogy.  No sooner do we meet them scouting ahead of their party than do they encounter a gypsy carriage under attack by a pack of ravenous, gray wolves, and among them a much larger, black wolf (if you guessed this is Dracula, kudos for realizing the obvious).  After the brothers fend them off, not without Christopher suffering a bite wound from the black wolf that strangely consists of only two holes in his neck (can you say foreshadowing?), we meet the lone survivor: a beautiful young gypsy woman named Aurica.  Once the Belmont brothers and their recently rescued damsel-in-distress who is actually tougher and more self-reliant than she looks (no surprise there) reunite with the rest of the knights they move on and find the same village and overlooking castle we saw discovered by the German soldiers in the opening scene.

When Simon learns that the castle is inhabited not by a large garrison but by a single lord, he wishes to go and meet him.  Shortly thereafter the village is attacked by a Turkish army that vastly outnumbers the Romanian knights.  They and the villagers seek refuge in the castle, but there are no apparent defenses, nothing to keep the Turks from entering.  This, of course, is by design; what would the first vampire have to fear from mortal man?  Why go out and hunt his prey when it can come to him?  In what is one of the few bright spots in this script the castle seemingly comes to life and defends itself against the invaders, quickly decimating the Turks in various inventive and gruesome ways.  Dracul’a – oh yeah, did I mention that for a completely arbitrary reason Dracula is spelled Dracul’a throughout the script?  I have no idea if that means his name should be pronounced differently but there you are – anyway, Dracul’a invites Simon, his knights, and Aurica to stay in Castlevania as his guests.

It is here that Anderson begins to borrow heavily from the traditional Dracula story.  To wit:

Dracul’a claims to be the son of Dracul, The Dragon, who is based on the historical figure of Vlad Tepes AKA Vlad the Impaler with whom Simon and his followers are aware.  Turns out Dracul’a is in fact Dracul, who fought and impaled a bunch of Turks and later renounced God and became a vampire, the story of which we are shown in a series of flashbacks.  Maybe they can ask Mr. Coppola if they can just reuse the scenes he shot of this.  It would save time and money.

Dracul’a had a wife waiting for him while he was away defending his homeland.  When he returned to his beloved Anita, the king of Romania had her killed out of jealousy.  It was Dracul’a’s undying love for her that drove him to become the first vampire, so that not even time could separate them, believing that if he but waited long enough she would return to him.  Turns out that Aurica bears a striking resemblance to Anita, that Dracul’a believes her to be the reincarnation of his lost love, and that possessing her is what drives his machinations throughout the film.  Hey, remember the tag line to Coppola’s Dracula, “Love Never Dies”?  The first page of Anderson’s script has “Love is Immortal” in big, bold print.  Ballsy, right?

By this point in the script we’ve already seen Dracul’a take the form of the large wolf, and while we don’t see him take the form of mist or a bat he does crawl along the castle walls and takes the form of a bestial man/wolf/bat hybrid, which made me immediately think of the man/wolf hybrid and man/bat hybrid seen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Maybe the make-up and costumes for those are still lying around somewhere…

The three brides of Dracul’a make appearances and mischief in this script, though since I’m sure producers will demand a PG-13 rating we won’t be treated to anything so stunning as a topless Monica Bellucci.
Dracul’a succeeds in seducing Aurica and biting her on the neck, beginning her transformation into a vampire.  They are then linked, she able to feel his heartbeat and emotions, he able to exert mental command over her.  But where is Anthony Hopkins with his trusty communion wafer when you need him?

Allow me to get personal for a second.  I hate this script.  I hate it for two reasons.  Firstly for trying so hard to be a retelling of the classic Dracula story, as I’ve just outlined above.  We don’t need that.  Coppola accomplished the task pretty well with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  And even if your opinion of that film isn’t favorable, do you really think Paul W. S. Anderson and the director of Stomp the Yard are going to do a better job?  The classic Dracula story has been told and retold and re-imagined to death.  Enough already.

The second reason I hate this script is pretty simple actually.

It’s not Castlevania.  To wit:

Though I said Vampire Killer is gone from this script, Simon does wield what is described as a chain whip in two instances.  However, it is nondescript and in one of the occasions is wielded as an off-hand weapon.  So what is Simon armed with throughout the film?  A fucking sword.

When Simon encounters Castlevania, he has no idea of its sinister nature, no idea who its lord is, and upon meeting him no idea of the true identity of Dracul’a.  The bulk of the script deals with Simon’s knights getting picked off one-by-one by Dracul’a’s brides, Dracul’a attempting to seduce Aurica, and Simon becoming convinced at an agonizingly slow pace that things are foul.

In the climactic battle between Simon and Dracul’a, both are mortally wounded, and Dracul’a dies in Aurica’s arms (not to beat a dead horse but again, in a scene highly reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and then later Simon too dies in her arms.  In a twist ending that I’m sure Anderson thought ingenious, we flash forward to present day Transylvania, where the once mighty castle has become a tourist attraction, apparently abandoned.  But then we transition to present day Manhattan, where we learn that Simon was not quick enough to kill Dracul’a before Aurica’s transformation was complete, and she has now inherited Dracul’a’s vampiric nature and power, constructing a new, modern Castlevania in New York to continue her wait for the return of her beloved: Simon Belmont.

God it’s not even close!  A Simon Belmont who wields a sword and unwittingly walks into the den of the beast?  No monstrous opponents standing between him and Dracula?  A love interest?  A brother that I’ve hinted becomes a vampire (but otherwise ignored because, really, who gives a shit)?  Hell, Anderson didn’t even get the location of the climactic battle right.  Anyone who’s played the game knows you ascend throughout the castle until you reach Dracula’s sanctum in one of its highest parapets, yet in the script Dracul’a’s inner lair is in the bowels beneath the castle.  Fuck.

I’ve read that this script is being re-tooled before production begins.  I can only hope that’s true.  But a re-tooling might not be enough.  If I had my way I’d use the original for kindling and start from scratch.  First off, I want an opening that’s part Conan the Barbarian and part 300.  Vampire Killer is the signature weapon of the Belmonts – a weapon, an artifact, an heirloom.  It should be given loving attention, not be an afterthought.  Show us its forging by one of the Belmont forefathers, give us a montage of scenes showing a Spartan-like training of successive generations of Belmonts by their precursors, fathers training sons destined to carry on the tradition of vigilance against evil.  And for fuck’s sake don’t arm Simon Belmont with a sword.  We all know how tired, how familiar, how boring that choice is.  Did you know there are real-world chain whips used as weapons in certain Asian martial arts?  Check out the following video:

Does Anderson have any idea how fucking cool it would be to bring in some of these experts to choreograph all of the stunts and fight scenes with a similar chain whip?  Obviously not because he chose to arm Castlevania’s hero with a fucking sword.  Idiot.

Furthermore, why do we need a contingent of knights accompanying Simon?  Answer: we don’t.  They are all expendable, nameless characters that either get killed or run away because they’re scared.  I want one man in this movie: Simon Belmont.  Think back to the great action movies of the 80’s.  CommandoFirst BloodDie Hard.  Schwarzenegger and Stallone didn’t need to be surrounded by dispensable allies that got killed off to give some sort of sense of danger.  Fuck no!  These giants single-handedly cut bloody swaths of destruction through armies of bad guys and henchmen until they reached the Big Bad, and then they fucking killed them too.  If it worked before, why not again?  Give us a Simon Belmont that sets out fully aware of what he’s walking into, and then walks right the fuck in anyway.  A Belmont that fights through all the children of the night until he reaches Dracula and then kills the monster because it’s his fucking destiny and comes out of it bruised, bloody, broken but still alive.  Not some faux-sentimental death in the arms of a beautiful woman.  And for the love of God do not go the way of Van Helsing and fill this movie with flashy, CGI-special effects.  I want filming on location and on expansive sets.  Give us old school, Stan Winston-inspired make up and special effects grounded in visceral reality.  In short, give us a Castlevania movie.  Is that asking for too much?