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SYFY WIRE The Last Voyage of the Demeter

The Last Voyage of the Demeter Star On Why Throwback Dracula Film Is a Rare Risk

Game of Thrones alum Liam Cunningham talks supernatural scares on the high seas.

By Tyler McCarthy

No telecommunications, no seafaring backup, and no preconceived ideas about what kind of supernatural terror is emerging, night after creepy night, to drain your blood: Yep, when you’re stranded on board a 19th-Century ship with Dracula on the loose, you’re pretty much out there all on your own.

Zeroing in on a small but specifically scary slice of Bram Stoker’s classic bloodsucking story, The Last Voyage of the Demeter debuts in theaters this Friday, August 11, taking aim at the terrifying idea of stranding a hapless crew aboard the boat that ferries its sinister (and unknown) cargo from the mists of Transylvania to London. Like Ridley Scott’s Alien, it’s a setup sci-fi horror fans have seen play out before (only in space). But, aboard a pre-industrial vessel all alone on the slow-roiling ocean waves, it takes on a whole new horror dimension.

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

Game of Thrones alum Liam Cunningham plays the captain of the movie’s titular ship, who's dealt a cruel hand by the tides of fate after the crew realizes there’s something stowed away that has a taste for human blood and the power to harvest it at will. He’s part of the sizable ensemble cast Universal Pictures recruited to trim the Demeter’s ill-omened sails, a large and diverse group of gifted actors destined to shrink, one by one, as the movie’s darkly-drawn version of the Dark Lord picks off the crew in a cat-and-mouse stalking game where the predator seems to have the perpetual advantage.

Why Liam Cunningham Sees Last Voyage of the Demeter as a risk

As Cunningham explained in interviews with Universal Pictures conducted before the actors' strike, the studio pulled a bold move with its casting, populating the Demeter with actors selected more for their mastery of stagecraft than their A-list box office profile. It wasn’t exactly a cost-saving measure — after all, as Cunningham himself confessed, “I thought Universal were being very brave because as you can see, they spent money” on the movie’s period-appropriate set design and effects.

“They wanted this to have scope and have the bigness of this at the beginning when we’re in Bulgaria and then to shrink it down and make this unbearable claustrophobia,” Cunningham said, acknowledging the risk of drawing acting talent from a selection of seasoned, yet-lesser-known, theater veterans instead of tabloid favorites.

(from left) Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham), Abrams (Chris Walley) and Clemens (Corey Hawkins) look in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

“And one other thing,” he added: “When you’re spending that kind of money — and I have to admire Universal for taking a chance on this — is that there’s no movie stars in this. It’s not a vehicle for some huge marquee name. Most of the actors in it are theater-based and it’s a proper ensemble, which is difficult to write for. All of the characters are beautifully drawn and on top of that, you’ve got a monster like Dracula running around the ship killing people. For me, it was a no-brainer. It was a very easy ‘yes.’”

RELATED: The Last Voyage of the Demeter Images and Featurette Reveal "Scariest Depiction of Dracula Ever"

Armed only with sluggish 1800s weaponry and slow to realize they’re up against a supernatural threat that doesn’t exactly play by nature’s rules, the Demeter’s crew plays the same kind of catch-up game of discovery as Alien’s Ridley (Sigourney Weaver) and her behind-the-curve crewmates. But the 19th-Century setting, said Cunningham, brings a different kind of dark and stormy horror vibe to The Last Voyage of the Demeter; putting a fresh spin on a time-honored Dracula movie legacy that dates back decades.

“When we were [shooting] in Babelsburg, Germany…100 years before, Max Schreck was playing Dracula in Nosferatu in that very studio,” he mused, reflecting on the perennial appeal of Stoker’s scary tale. “So we kind of felt a real responsibility here to try and do as best we can. But also honor that history. And that’s over 100 years, from the very early stages of cinema. Horror has been a huge part of it. It’s the rollercoaster ride that cinema and horror can bring to an audience and it just lends itself. It’s always gonna be a part of cinema…We still love going to the cinema to have our wits frightened out of us and that will never stop.”

Directed by horror visionary André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), the movie also counts David Dastmalchian (as the ship’s first mate) among its crew, alongside Corey Hawkins and Aisling Franciosi as resourceful passengers determined to starve (and stake) the ship’s supernatural straggler. Will anyone be left alive when the Demeter finally pulls into port? The chilling answers arrive this Friday, August 11, when The Last Voyage of the Demeter sets sail in theaters everywhere. Click here to sink your fangs into some tickets!

Craving more fanged horror at home? Renfield and Vampire Academy are both streaming now on Peacock!