Wed
Oct 26 2016 10:00am

Review: Dracula vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan

Dracula vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan is a thrilling action adventure featuring one of the world's greatest fictional monsters facing off against an historical monster in 1941 Romania. 

In the spring of 1941, Hitler's war machine is moving steadily across Europe, crushing any resistance it encounters beneath its fascist boots. Countries fall like dominos beneath the awesome might and horrific violence of the Nazi party. 

Then, the Germans reach Romania, the adopted homeland of one Dr. Abraham Van Helsing...

It has, of course, been decades since the doctor's infamous battle against the greatest evil the world had ever known—the greatest evil prior to Hitler's ascent, that is. Now an old man, Van Helsing recognizes the warning signs and knows that Hitler and his cruel, barbaric forces must be stopped. Sadly, they will not be stopped by the small (if hardy) guerrilla rebels he and his wild daughter Lucy lead.

So, the day comes when the wise professor must make a deal with the devil: sometimes, you must fight fire with fire. Luckily, Van Helsing knows just where to find such a weapon. Resurrecting his erstwhile foe will be risky, but you know what they say about desperate times...

“I have a proposition for you.” Van Helsing spoke calmly, as if he were a solicitor discussing contracts. “Your country has been invaded... This is the Germans' second try at a world war. Global domination is their goal,” Van Helsing continued, watching the vampire with the caution a rabbit gives a hawk. “They are back and they are vicious. More brutal than ever... Your people are suffering.”

“My people...” Dracula sneered. “They despise me. They regard me as a beast. Less than a beast. To be hounded and killed.”

“You were once a patriot,” Van Helsing continued, never taking his eyes off the vampire. “A champion to your people, your country.”

“True this. I drove out the Turks, the boyars,” Dracula said with a certain pride. I caught a glimpse of the nobleman who once resided in the creature.

And now I knew it was true. This was Vlad Tepes, who had ruled ancient Wallachia brutally, but fairly, in the 1400s. He had fought the Ottoman Empire and won, driven the Hungarians from his lands...

Dracula, the former Prince of Wallachia, may be a monster, but he can also appreciate a good bargain. So long as he can satiate his hunger with Nazi blood, he will fight viciously to protect his homeland. It's just what the rebels need to turn the tide.

And, as Van Helsing and his compatriots discover, his most recent hibernation/death has made him a much more introspective vampire. Dracula seems to sincerely wish to reclaim his lost humanity—wishes to return to his noble stature and the pride he carried before his transformation into a cursed creature of the night. 

Part of this is undoubtedly the influence of Lucy Van Helsing, the professor's flame-haired and fiercely independent daughter. In many ways, she's as bloodthirsty as their new ally. Unafraid to pull a trigger or put herself in the path of danger, Lucy has her father's intelligence and adamantium will, plus a skill for sympathetic magic gleaned in her exotic travels around the world as a teen. 

Also joining the fight is a very eager British soldier, a young man with his own ties to Dracula and Van Helsing: Jonathan Murray Harker, the grandson of Jonathan and Mina Harker. After begging to be sent undercover to the superstitious land that has haunted his family for three generations, Jonathan is equal parts overjoyed and terrified to be fighting alongside the very creature that permanently scarred his grandparents.

Joined by a number of Romanian rebels, these larger-than-life heroes will go up against the German war machine—and may just turn the tide, all under the cover of darkness.

Okay, so first things first: if the title alone doesn't grab you, then I doubt we'd fully understand one another at a fundamental level. This is SyFy Original levels of awesome—a gory and slightly goofy (but often rather gut-wrenching) mash-up worthy of all sorts of CGI and dramatic pyrotechnics. I want six seasons and a movie of this gloriousness.

See also: Beauty & the B-Movie: Loving a Hated Genre

Author Patrick Sheane Duncan is perhaps best known as the screenwriter for Mr. Holland's Opus—because where else do you go after penning a heartfelt, emotional story about the power of music than to the blood-soaked fields of Romania, where the world's greatest vampire fights the world's greatest human monster in an all-out grudge match, the very fabric of freedom hanging in the balance?

It's a totally natural progression, obviously.

Anyway, Duncan does a masterful job of paying homage to his source material. Dracula vs. Hitler, like the original Dracula, is an epistolary novel told solely through found documents: letters, journal entries, unfinished manuscripts, and top secret missives. The point of view varies from Van Helsing, Lucy, Jonathan, and high-ranking members of the SS. 

As laid out in the genius prologue, Duncan presents the novel as a true story he uncovered while doing research for a separate WWII documentary. There's no doubt that great amounts of genuine historical research went into developing the rebel's fight against the Nazis; 1941 Romania practically leaps off the page as a character in its own right, meticulously and atmospherically detailed. 

There are plenty of overt nods to the original story in terms of plot and character, too. Jonathan is joined by a British sergeant who suffers a brain injury early on and acts erratically for the rest of the narrative; since no one knows the man's name, Jonathan decides to call him Renfield. As to be expected, this new Renfield immediately latches onto Dracula as his “Master”—though this version is obsessed with explosives, not eating bugs to absorb their “life force,” and thus is far more exciting than his predecessor. 

In fact, Dracula—both the novel and the Bela Lugosi flick—actually exist within the universe of Dracula vs. Hitler. Both Jonathan and Lucy make frequent references to “The Book,” as they call it, and both are equally disappointed when the “real” Dracula looks nothing like the actor who portrayed him on the silver screen. This lends a fun tongue-in-cheek vibe to the proceedings, helping to leaven some of the heavier, more brutal sections. 

Of which there are plenty. Horrors—both of war and of the more supernatural variety—are rife here. Prisoners are horrifically tortured. Innocent civilians, including children, are gunned down on a festival day. Our heroes face death, dismemberment, and violation without the slightest misstep. Knowing that much of this violence and depravity actually occurred during WWII makes this a frequently sobering read.

It also makes the moments when Dracula lays the smack down on Nazis even more satisfying.

“And who might you be, beggar man? Identification,” he demanded.

“I am called Wladislaus Drakwyla, Prince of Wallachia, Vlad the Third.”

Both SS soldiers frowned. Dracula ignored them and turned to Van Helsing. “These, I assume, are our enemies.”

“They are,” Van Helsing confirmed.

“Then with your permission...” And with supernatural speed the vampire seized the Sergeant by the back of his head, yanked it to one side to bare the man's neck, and sank his suddenly elongated fangs into the soldier's throat.

And he fed.

The Corporal turned his gun away from Pavel and aimed the muzzle at Dracula. Before I or Van Helsing could react, the vampire moved. With his mouth still feeding on the Sergeant, Dracula's arm shot out and gripped the other German's helmet and crushed it, steel helmet and the skull inside cracking like an egg in a fist.

The Corporal's body went limp instantly but hung suspended by Dracula's extended arm, while the vampire remained sucking at the other soldier's neck. The demonstration of strength astounded me. 

...I paused in the narrow street and found myself fixated on the crushed helmet that lay upon the cobblestone. There were indentations in the grey steel, in the shape of a hand, the four fingers and thumb as clear as if pressed into mud, all in all a remarkable artifact.

“I feel much better now,” he casually remarked as if after an aperitif, which, I suppose, this was for him.

The world agrees that Nazis are one of the ultimate villains, in both history and fiction. Misguided (or outright racist) folks may try to spin a positive light on Hitler, but the fact remains: he's the architect of one of the greatest genocides humanity has ever seen. Doesn't matter how many puppies he loved or if he was good with children, he's still a mass-murdering asshole. 

In comparison, Dracula isn't all that bad, not really, and in Dracula vs. Hitler he gets to have a really satisfying redemption arc. I enjoy super evil, monstrous vampires as much as the next girl (see: my love of Guillermo del Toro's The Strain), but I'll root for a heroic bloodsucker if you give me a good enough reason. 

Having Dracula go toe-to-toe with Adolf Hitler and his lackies? A great reason. Bring on that righteous toothy carnage, I say! 

Amidst the badassery, historical realism, and horror, there's even dashes of romance, as well as some poignant, philosophic ruminations on immortality and the nature of monsters. 

All in all, Dracula vs. Hitler is a perfectly gothic blend. An action adventure that may have a hammy premise, but actually delivers a solid, enjoyable time. Truly a novel worth sinking your teeth into (I'm sorry, I know, I just couldn't help myself). 

 

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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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