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SYFY WIRE The Last Voyage of the Demeter

The Last Voyage of the Demeter Isn't Your Typical Vampire Movie: This Dracula Is "An Addict”

The Last Voyage of the Demeter sets sail Aug. 11.

By Josh Weiss
Javier Botet as Nosferatu in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

There are all kinds of Draculas in this world of ours. Suave Draculas. Killer Draculas. Draculas played by Nicolas Cage. All of them bring something new to the vampiric party that's been raging ever since Bram Stoker published his magnum opus at the close of the 19th century.

The latest attendee to the bloodsucking soirée is The Last Voyage of the Demeter (in theaters everywhere this Friday), a film that hopes to present the scariest version of Dracula ever to swoop across the silver screen. A bold ambition and one rooted in a single ominous chapter from Stoker's seminal source material, which blows favorably against the sails of Demeter.

RELATED: How They Literally Built A Complete 1800's Ship - And a Half - To Film Last Voyage of the Demeter

"A lot of Dracula movies are dramas. It’s an amazing, broad story. They’re usually trying to tell the whole story [of] Dracula from the book in some variation," director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane DoeScary Stories to Tell in the Dark) explained to Universal Pictures for the studio's electronic press materials. "Our movie is focused on one section, so that gave us an opportunity to go into just a section of the character — not necessarily deal with the whole range of aspects to the Dracula character."

The Last Voyage of the Demeter Director calls Dracula "an addict"

The maritime thriller takes place aboard a humble merchant vessel (captained by Liam Cunninghman's Eliot) sailing from Bulgaria to England in the 1897. Unbeknownst to the crew, however, a slumbering vampire (Javier "Javi" Botet) has been loaded into the cargo hold.

Theoretically, the creature should leave them alone when it awakens to feed at night, because the good people of Transylvania were kind enough to pack him a self-sustaining meal for the long journey in the form of a young woman named Anna (Aisling Franciosi). But when the girl is discovered and removed from his fanged purview, Dracula branches out in search of fresh blood, starting with livestock (and a very unfortunate canine named Huckleberry) before making his way up the food chain.

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"You see Dracula from a point-of-view of regular human beings, not from the point-of-view of Van Helsing or somebody who is close to Dracula. To them, he’s just this distance monster that just came into their world to destroy it," Øvredal said, comparing the vampire's bloody rampage to the actions of "an addict" desperately looking for a fix.

"When he’s deprived of that, he gets weaker and weaker and he needs to go out and get it," the filmmaker continued. "So that aspect to him, the need to regenerate himself in a way, is a huge aspect to a certain section of the movie. When it comes to the visualization of him, I wanted him to feel like an older man. I wanted him to feel like he is fragile and, in that way, make him desperately dangerous."

(from left) Larsen (Martin Furulund) and Nosferatu (Javier Botet) in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

As he grows stronger, Dracula eventually transforms into a grotesque, bat-like abomination that belies the sophisticated, aristocratic form he usually assumes whilst in polite company. The goal, Øvredal confessed, was to dispense with the gothic and romantic elements of the character in favor of a "pure, raw horror" back-to-basics experience.

"I didn’t want him to be sexy or a suave kind of version of Dracula at all. I wanted him to be somebody who’s lived in this horrific lifestyle. And he’s frail, he’s really desperate for blood. When he loses his blood supply, he’s in a desperate situation until he’s able to kill the first crew member. I wanted to try to tell that story and how, as he gains power, he’s then able to gain the power to recreate the demon within him. Have it manifest. And that demon needed to be part bat, part demon."

He later continued: "I wanted our Dracula to feel different than the rest of the Draculas I’ve seen. I wanted him to be more animalistic in the design of the teeth. Not just two fangs, but crooked and kind of nasty-looking teeth and still able to hide them. So in society, he would just look like an older guy with bad teeth in a way. But on the set, when you see him with his teeth, it should be terrifying. It should be a mouth that scares you."

How The Last Voyage of the Demeter explores science vs. superstition

Biology plays a major part in the film, specifically where the character of Clemens (Corey Hawkins) is concerned. A Cambridge-educated physician, Clemens was unable to find steady work as a doctor due to the color of his skin. "He was never taken seriously," Øvredal explained. As a result, he regularly travels the world as a pariah and ends up — "by some accidents and conviction" — on the Demeter.

A stroke of good luck for Anna, who is nearly drained of blood when she's found in the bowels of the ship. "He knows how to do a blood transfusion with very simple means, the way they did it back then," the director noted. "He’s able to sustain her life throughout the journey until, more or less, the very end. And ... therefore keep her from becoming a different type of presence."

RELATED: The Last Voyage of the Demeter is Basically Alien, Just Set in the 1800's on a Ship

In that way, The Last Voyage of the Demeter represents a push and pull between the modern world and ancient superstition. As he comes face-to-face with irrefutable proof of the supernatural, Clemens is forced to accept "something that is entirely unimaginable to a scientific mind, a doctor," Øvredal said. 

"He’s learned that everything is grounded and then faced with this devil, he has to actually come to terms with the world is not what he expected it to be. And that’s kind of the big theme in the movie in many ways. That comes through his character and that’s something I love about the script, is that the theme of the film comes through the discovery of the character."

At the same time, though, Dracula's ultimate form had to follow the laws of nature. "Everything had to be biological," the director finished. "The way the arm would turn into a whole extended wing and how the eyes would work and how he flies and moves and lands and all that stuff. We were studying bats and bats and bats."

When does The Last Voyage of the Demeter open in theaters?

Written by Bragi Schut Jr. (Escape Room) and Zak Olkewicz (Bullet Train)The Last Voyage of the Demeter hits the highs seas (and the big screen) this coming Friday — Aug. 11. Demeter is rated R for bloody violence. Click here to sink your fangs into some tickets!

Brad Fischer (Transformers: Rise of the Beasts), Mike Medavoy (Altered Carbon), Arnold Messer (Shutter Island) produced the film. Matthew Hirsch (Gran Turismo), Chris Bender (Under the Silver Lake), Jeb Brody (1917), and Anne Rodman executive producers.

Want to satisfy your craving for undead fare in the meantime? Renfield and Vampire Academy are now streaming on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY's Reginald the Vampire  is set to return later this year for a second season.