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Last Voyage of the Demeter Nearly Featured a Werewolf and Van Helsing Cameo
"There's so much in Stoker’s story, even within the Demeter section," producer Bradley J. Fischer tells SYFY WIRE.
As 2023 begins to wind down, SYFY WIRE is taking a look back at the biggest genre films of the last year. We recently explored the curious ending of M. Night Shyamalan's Knock at the Cabin, and are now shifting our focus over to a little horror flick you might have missed: The Last Voyage of the Demeter (now available to rent or purchase from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment).
Adapted from a single chapter in Bram Stoker's seminal vampire novel, Dracula, the old school supernatural thriller takes place aboard the eponymous schooner that transports the tyrannical Transylvanian bloodsucker (played by Javier Botet) from Eastern Europe to the shores of England. Deprived of a stable food source for the maritime journey, the fanged phantom begins to feast on the ship's collection of livestock and, once the animals run out, the various crew mates. "This version is interesting because it's like Ten Little Indians," producer Mike Medavoy tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "Ten Little Indians going to London."
The more blood he consumes, the stronger he becomes, undergoing a series of three distinctive transformations — from an emaciated ghoul to a full-on bat monster (one of the most badass depictions of Dracula in recent memory). According to the film's creature makeup designer, Göran Lundström, the original plan was to depict five different stages, including a werewolf-inspired metamorphosis that attacks Petrofsky (Nikolai Nikolaeff). While that may sound like a shaggy nod to Universal's cinematic monster mythos, it's actually based on the giant, dog-like creature spotted by authorities investigating the Demeter wreck at Whitby in the original book.
"There's so much in Stoker’s story, even within the Demeter section," says producer Bradley J. Fischer over a separate call. "That one chapter gives you an embarrassment of riches."
The Last Voyage of the Demeter nearly featured a werewolf and Van Helsing cameo
For the design of the wolfish iteration, Lundström drew on a surreal image he found of a bear missing most of its hair. "[Director] Andre [Øvredal] didn’t want a hairy werewolf, he wanted a werewolf who’s lost his hair because he’s not well," explains the makeup whiz. "This would’ve been the second stage ... [this] really weak-looking, gaunt kind of werewolf thing and very asymmetrical and deformed."
Once we bring up the scrapped werewolf transformation, Fischer moves his computer camera to show us the snarling mask appliance sitting on a nearby shelf. Sadly, the lupine beast was axed following early test screenings. "People were very confused about that as an additional form that Dracula took," the producer recalls. "So we had to make a decision to listen to the audience and make sure that that confusion didn't get the better of everyone."
Medavoy seems a little dismayed over the cut footage, stating that test screenings don't always yield positive results. "I remember directors who, after a preview, decided to cut the last 10 minutes of the movie because [the audience] didn't like it. You do learn something from going to those, but it's not religion."
Fischer also reveals that the project, which took just over two decades to get made, once included a Marvel-style cameo appearance from Dracula's arch-nemesis: Professor Abraham Van Helsing.
"We went through a lot of different approaches to the story, but nothing that was wildly different than the movie that we ended up with," he continues. "We actually had one ending for quite a while. The scene in the tavern was Clemens [Corey Hawkins] being approached by a strange, shadowy dude, who starts talking to him, seems to have some knowledge of the experiences that he went through, and introduces himself as Van Helsing. Then we kind of left it there."
Will The Last Voyage of the Demeter get a sequel?
The final ending isn't all that different, with Clemens making a very Van Helsing-esque promise to track Dracula down and send him back to the fiery pits of Hell. While this is a solid setup for another movie, Fischer admits that there have been no sequel talks at this time.
"We had two Dracula movies this year, so clearly, there's a lot of imagination out there, running through the heads of creatives about what you can do with that character and story," he says, alluding to Chris McKay's Renfield. "[Robert Eggers'] Nosferatu is also coming out next year. So no, we haven't really talked about continuing Clemens’ story specifically. But the Dracula novel is so epic and there's so much story there ... I’m sure that there will be more Dracula-inspired stories and narratives that end up being committed to screen."
"I’m sure we could do some variations because he’s supposed to be going through a phase where he’s gradually getting stronger and stronger," concludes Lundström when asked about how he'd like to see the creature design evolve in a second film. "So I’m sure we could do something and keep the integrity of the design because we started off with him very emaciated ... It would be cool to have a werewolf in there if they did a sequel.
Medavoy doesn't totally rule out a sequel, but thinks the concept of hunting Dracula down is well-trodden territory. With The Last Voyage of the Demeter's 21-year saga now at an end, he'd much rather put his focus into other exciting passion projects, regardless of genre. "I love the idea of doing different things and putting it on film," he declares. "I don't want to sound like a guy who says, 'Hey, I only want to do this.' Give me something different."
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is now available to rent or purchase from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Looking for more bloodsucking action? Head on over to Peacock for vampiric titles like Dark Shadows, The Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Let the Right One in, Vampire in Vegas, and more!