“The Rules of the Beast” breathes new life into the undead by lending the immortal Count Dracula both horror and humor.
This recap of Dracula Season 1, Episode 1, “The Rules of the Beast”, contains spoilers.
The BBC’s new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, has a secret weapon that isn’t a sharpened stake, a silver cross or a clove of garlic. No, no — Dracula, or at least Dracula Episode 1, “The Rules of the Beast”, has jokes. A lot of very good jokes spat out by nuns in the face of demonic horrors. Which is, you know, the last place you’d expect to find them.
But the jokes are there, and they breathe new life into the immortal Count Dracula, whose story of toothy conquest has been told and retold more times than anyone would care to count. But those jokes aren’t the only thing this new three-part adaptation has going for it. There’s also plenty of the expected gothic atmosphere, grim body horror, and emaciated men with flies in their eyes. The main man — the epistolary hero of the original novel — is Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), a lawyer recuperating in a Hungarian nunnery after a traumatic stay in Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle. His interlocuter is the wonderfully acerbic Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), an obsessive student of the dark forces who, later in Dracula Episode 1, is revealed to be Agatha Van Helsing.
Jonathan leads the audience through flashbacks to his stay with Drac, who begins as a cackling, withered old man but becomes — at the expense of Jonathan’s own health and good looks — more youthful and camp throughout the hour or so that the feature-length opener devotes to this slow-burning exercise in gothic suspense. The final half-hour, though, is where the gloves come off, as Dracula tracks Jonathan — along with his incognito fiance Mina (Morfydd Clark) and Agatha — to the nunnery, where he’s invited inside for a bloodthirsty climax.
Where the show might go from here is anyone’s guess. It’ll air over the next two nights and debut in full on Netflix this weekend, so we don’t have long to wait in order to find out, but thus far this enthusiastic blend of comedy, horror, high camp, and low sadism is an early pleasure of 2020 that shouldn’t be overlooked for its familiar roots.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.