In Review: The Last Voyage of The Demeter

Review by Tim Robins

The Last Voyage of The Demeter opened on the 17th August in the United States to lukewarm reviews and a disappointing weekend box office, but Tim Robins argues the story of Dracula on a boat doesn’t completely suck…


In  Review: The Last Voyage of The Demeter (2023) - Poster

André Øvredal, director of Troll Hunter (2010), takes us on a creepy, bloody, voyage across the High Seas from Russia to England. However, deep in the ship’s hold lies an unwelcome passenger. Yes it’s none other than Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, stowing away with boxes full of soil from his grave in Transylvania himself. And if the vampire Count gets a bit peckish, there’s a well stocked galley of unsuspecting passengers and crew all ripe for the sucking.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (aka Dracula: The Last Voyage of the Demeter aka Dracula on a Boat – as various memes call the film) is based on the Captain’s Log in Chapter Seven of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The chapter details Dracula’s fateful journey on the schooner Demeter, which sees the unwitting crew picked off one-by-one by the rapacious vampire. When the ship is blown by a storm to a pier in Whitby Harbour, the locals find only the corpse of the ship’s captain, who is tied to the ship’s wheel.

In  Review: The Last Voyage of The Demeter (2023) - Eyes

Critics have been understandably tepid about the film’s script which is, at times, a bit on-the nose. The script is far too happy to repeat, rather than enliven, cliched dialogue. Still that hasn’t stopped none other than Guillermo del Toro from describing the production as “gorgeous, lavish and savage!”. And Stephen King, that prolific endorser of horror, has enthused that the film reminded him of “the best of the Hammer movies from the Sixties and Seventies”.

To me, the film might also be considered as an entry into the currently popular “folk horror” genre. Stoker was inspired by tales of a number of real shipwrecks, including the fate of The Dmitry, a cargo ship, which had set sail from Narva, Russia, only to founder off the coast of Whitby. Apparently, original script writer, Bragi F. Schut Jr, conducted a lot of historical research to make life on board the Demeter as authentic as possible and the setting is impressively realised.

The Last Voyage of The Demeter (2023) - Hunt

The Last Voyage of the Demeter is not the first time the ship’s fate has been adapted as a stand-alone story. In 2010, IDW published Bram Stoker’s Death Ship: Dracula’s Voyage to England. The graphic novel collects four volumes of the same name by writer Gerry Gerani, best known for the Topp’s series, Dinosaurs Attack, and artist Stuart Sayger, artist on the Bionicle comic and later volumes of the IDW vampire story 30 Days of Night.

The new adaptation contains echoes of the graphic novel (particularly in its representation of Count Dracula as a monstrous, giant bat creature), but the film has a very different focus. Where Gernani explores the emotional impact of Dracula’s ability to cloud the crew’s minds, the film is much more visceral, to say the least. In this, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a particularly gory affair.

The “Captain’s Log” is a little over five pages in length, so both adaptations have a lot of work to do. And Stoker described the ship as a schooner, a type of ship popular because it didn’t require a large crew. So, in the book, the Captain writes “Crew, five hands … two mates, cook, and myself, (captain)”. The graphic novel raises the number of crew to nine, expanding the narrative with flashbacks and dream sequences.

In contrast, the film includes a stowaway, a woman (regarded then as bad news on a ship) and also adds a doctor, played by two-time Tony award winner Corey Hawkins, a charismatic actor whose performance stands out from much of the cast. Special mention goes to young actor Woody Norman as cabin boy Toby (not Seaman Bloodstains), who works overtime conveying the mounting terror on board the Demeter as the crew are picked off one by one and the vampire finally reveals itself.

The Last Voyage of The Demeter (2023) - Crew

The film’s high concept pitch – Dracula’s voyage to England as Alien (1979) but on a boat – works well enough. A scene in which the ship’s dog explores the ship’s bilges only to encounter something waiting in the shadows feels like the most overt nod to the Alien franchise. And there are attempts to mimic specific scenes from Alien such as the cabin boy hiding in the very room where Dracula is skulking.

Dracula’s actual appearance avoids the difficult-to-pull-off-with-a-straight-face suave Transylvanian in a tuxedo look and instead leans into late 1980s body horror, particularly Fright Night (1985). We rarely see the vampire as anything other than a grotesque bat creature. The film’s premise is that the more blood Dracula drinks, the more human he looks. Frankly, he needs a lot more blood.

The Last Voyage of The Demeter (2023) - Hunt

The film does bear the bite marks of decades in development hell and a few too many script rewrites. The framing sequences really don’t do the film any favours. Are we really supposed to imagine that the Captain’s Log, handwritten in ink, would be opened and read in the pouring rain? Sadly, the film’s conclusion only represents the studio’s ambitions for a sequel.

The budget has been put to good use. But if distributors Universal seriously plan to spin this story into another Dark Universe they can Bite Me (2019)!

Tim Robins

• The Last Voyage of the Demeter is in cinemas in the US now. The film has been bought by UK distributors Lionsgate but is yet to have a release date

Categories: Features, Film, Other Worlds, Reviews

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