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The Last Voyage of the Demeter Star On Real Life Dangers Making Dracula Film: “It’s Nearly Killed Us”
Who knew staving off a vampire at sea could be so scary?
Wicked winds, brutal waves, and lashing ropes that strain with gale-force fury: Life on the ocean-faring water is tough for an 1800s ship’s captain — and that’s before a notoriously immortal vampire starts splintering through the cargo hold to take well-fanged aim at its next human snack.
Dracula may be the supernatural star of the show, but the enormous creaking vessel that buoys the eldritch action in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (opening in theaters Friday, Aug. 11) makes for an effectively haunting space for the Dark Lord to ply his unholy feasting rites.
Director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and Universal Pictures are mining a sliver of source-material esoterica from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula story, exploring the horrors that might’ve transpired aboard the 19th-Century merchant vessel that fatefully hauled the sinister sleeping terror on the long voyage from Dracula’s east European haunts to his portentous London destination. Inspired by “The Captain's Log” chapter from Stoker’s 1897 horror classic, the movie zeroes in on the fates of a ship’s crew completely blindsided by the presence of their preternatural stowaway.
Dracula adrift? "It’s nearly killed us," jokes Liam Cunningham
CGI powerhouse DreamWorks supplies some of the film’s more out-there visuals, but The Last Voyage of the Demeter also benefits from a liberal dose of practical effects. That means crew members like first mate Wojchek (played by The Suicide Squad and Blade Runner 2049 veteran David Dastmalchian) and Captain Eliot (Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham) couldn’t help but get a salty, briny taste of tension as they shot some of the movie’s scariest action off the coast of Malta — itself a fitting port of call for a boat whose in-story mission sends it bobbing across the Mediterranean Sea.
As Cunningham confessed amid interviews done before the actors' strike, the practical sets, in tandem with able cinematography from longtime Clint Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern, give the movie an unmistakably authentic aura. “There are fantastic jump scares,” he enthused. “There is fantastic acting. We get actors to do proper scenes. It would do it a disservice to call this a horror movie. It is way beyond that. It is beautiful looking. Tom, our cinematographer, is incredibly talented. He’s been in the game forever, Oscar-nominated, the whole deal.”
Achieving that kind of artistry typically comes with a cost, of course — and Cunningham jokingly admitted shooting some of the film’s most harrowing action sequences exacted an arduous but acceptable toll on the cast.
“Everybody involved with this has gone the extra mile. It’s nearly killed us on a number of occasions,” he teased. “They haven’t spared anything trying to kill us onboard during storms and stuff. I really should call my agent, or at least my psychiatrist. If one third of the adventure that we’ve had making it ends up on the screen, we will have a fine movie on our hands.”
Dracula’s renowned for being a nocturnal sort of nemesis, and Cunningham thinks the nighttime ambiance only adds to the movie’s fresh, more intimately menacing, take on Stoker’s iconic tale.
“The amount of iterations we’ve seen of this creature… it’s really interesting that this monster that’s among us and only comes for us when it’s dark, it plays to all of the worst feelings we have when we’re kids in bed and there’s thunder and lightning outside,” he said. “It’s monster time when the lights go out.”
As longtime fans of the classic story know, there’s no safe space aboard the ill-fated vessel that shepherds the The Count across the waves to unleash terror amid his genteel English hunting grounds. The real trick, of course, is surviving the pent-up voyage long enough to bear witness to all the Demeter’s sinister secrets. Can Cunningham’s character remain among the living?
We’re not taking those odds, but for Cunningham, it’s all about the journey anyway; about reinterpreting a familiar menace with an inescapably terrifying version of Dracula that fans might not be expecting.
“There has been a trend of making Dracula this enigmatic, slightly sexy character that people fall under the spell of and they’re seduced by his powers,” he said. “In our cases, our guy will rip you asunder and will take different forms. You don’t know which Dracula you’re gonna meet and that’s directly coming from the book. We’re going back to what Bram Stoker’s imagination put on the page and that’s what we’re after.”
Trim the sails and say a prayer: The Last Voyage of the Demeter is in theaters now. Click here to get tickets!