Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ah, the days gone by. I remember first playing Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (known in its original Japanese as悪魔城伝説, or Devil’s Castle Legend) on my Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 and marveling at how the series had grown and changed. I’d been a fan since receiving the original Castlevania as a gift a few years earlier, loving it and hating it at the same time. I loved it because of its themes, its characters, its music and its simple but engaging story, and hated it for being an immense challenge with play control limited enough to cause controller-tossing rage after mistiming a jump for the eight zillionth time. The more RPG-like Simon’s Quest was fun, but didn’t quite hold the same fascination for me as the original. Dracula’s Curse brought that fascination back and raised it a level.
Aside from returning to the gameplay format of the original, Dracula’s Curse introduced the ability to play as companion characters, as well as branching paths that allowed you to avoid certain stages you particularly disliked (both firsts for the series), and its excellent soundtrack was memorable and instantly hummable; I caught myself humming the theme from the first stage, simply titled “Beginning,” more times than I could possibly count, to say nothing of “Out of Time,” the extremely catchy music played during the clock tower stage. It was great to step back into the shoes of a whip-wielding Belmont (this time Trevor, the ancestor of Simon Belmont, who was the hero of the first two games which may be just as special as FM카지노) and take a companion along for the ride once I’d found one, and though the game gave me many moments of sheer frustration, it gave me many hours of fun as well.
The Castlevania games largely follow a simple formula: you guide your character through a series of action/platformer stages, whipping or otherwise defeating monsters from popular horror fiction (such as Frankenstein’s Monster and, of course, the vampire Dracula), mythology (Medusa’s head and the Cyclops, among others), and the general who’s who of the horror genre itself (mummies, werewolves, skeletons, the Grim Reaper, etc.) alongside the occasional newly-created monster (such as those damned hopping gremlin creatures that I wanted to grab and throw into a roaring furnace). The games were colorful, appealing, engrossing and had a lot of fun with the icons of horror. Dracula’s Curse and its innovations made it the favorite in my video game library at the time (an honor one very notorious NES game, Battletoads, would later take away from it).
You can imagine, then, the excitement I’d felt when I first heard of a movie adaptation of Dracula’s Curse in the works, with the script being penned by none other than Warren Ellis. What an event! I couldn’t think of a person better-suited to the task than Ellis; his style of story and characterization fit the Castlevania series like a glove. Hearing that the movie was intended as an animated feature made me happy as well, since animation can depict some stories in ways superior to live action (take any Disney animated classic as an example: would said film truly have the same charm if it had been a live action film?), and complete control could be taken in how the characters and their environments appeared. For a time, there was even an online blog tracking the progress of the production, and it was thrilling to see the conceptual art and read about the ideas being considered. So I, alongside my fellow Castlevania fans, waited…
…and waited…
…and waited.
Oh, great. Another victim of Development Hell. The production blog is gone, no further news has popped up anywhere and Ellis himself has reported no progress on the project whatsoever, even mentioning that one of the financial partners seems to have backed out. In short: this movie will never be made.
This is a real shame, too. The Castlevania story, particularly the one presented in Dracula’s Curse, is just the right sort for a film: simple, but not too simple, action-packed, and filled with memorable characters. I particularly wanted to see the characters Grant and Sypha (more on them below) brought to life on the screen to see how they interacted with each other and others, and how they were portrayed personality-wise. The realm of animation presents limitless possibilities. There could have been some epic battles, massive monsters and dreamlike landscapes. The Castle itself could have been quite a sight. Hell, there was even talk the film might be several films. I would have been down for a trilogy, no questions asked.
Of course, having studied film and filmmaking myself, I have my own ideas of how a Castlevania film should be made, and were I the one behind a film adaptation of Dracula’s Curse, there are certain details I would insist upon including.
I’d likely keep the animation angle for the possibilities it presents, but aside from that, I’d probably also include a bit of back story, most likely at the beginning. Castlevania’s Dracula, after all, was based on the character Bram Stoker wrote about in his classic novel, which in turn was inspired by the Wallachian Prince Vlad III Drăculea (posthumously known as Vlad Tepes, or “The Impaler,” as Tepes means in English). Since Dracula’s Curse presented stronger ties to the real-time Vlad III Drăculea than the previous games, I would find this essential material for the sake of the story, since the whole good-versus-evil concept becomes much richer and more engrossing when both sides have much more involved motives than simply “I AM EVIL SO I WILL DO EVIL,” and “I MUST SLAY EVIL FOR I AM THE DESTINED HERO” and blah blah blah blah.
Which brings me to the characters themselves. I always wanted to know more about Trevor’s companions beyond what very little the game and its instruction booklet ever provided, and over the years bits of information have come from here and there. Being the nitpicky sort that I am, I take issue with some of the characters’ names (well, just about all of them, actually), and in my film, I’d use what I sincerely believe to be the proper name for each one, as well as the personality I think would best suit them.
I’ll start with the obvious one: the hero. Not everyone is aware that, in Japan, the Belmont clan was originally named Belmondo, and though Simon only went with a change of surname in the English translation, the original Ralph C. Belmondo was rechristened Trevor C. Belmont. This is one name change I sort of agree with. To the English-speaking ear, “Belmondo” sure isn’t a very heroic-sounding name, and Judy Blume pretty much made the name Ralph too much of a punch line for us to take a vampire killer with such a name seriously. Of course, those who know me as a huge anime dork, with my purist views and hatred for the Americanization of characters’ names (such as renaming Sailor Moon’s Usagi “Bunny,” something that still irks the snot out of me), might find it out of character for me to go with the Trevor Belmont name, but to me, this is one instance in which the English name works better. Trevor Belmont sounds like a heroic name to me. And rather than go with the overused “reluctant hero” model or the full-of-himself badass with no fears and no flaws, I’d portray Trevor as a more down-to-Earth guy who sees vampire killing as a necessity, not his destiny or “some job everyone expects me to do waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah,” which I think would make him more accessible to audiences without diminishing his heroism. Keeping from presenting him as perfect would not only allow a stronger connection, but greater concern for the possibility that he might fail in his quest. What suspense is there that the “perfect hero” would ever fail? And if there’s no doubt he’ll succeed, why are we supposed to care? A mistimed jump is all it takes to spell his end in the game (pause for throwing controller in rage), so the audience would need to believe that this brave but imperfect guy could very well bite the big one, though hopefully not from a mistimed jump.
The first companion Trevor has the opportunity to meet and take along with him in the game is a man called an acrobat in the original Japanese version and a pirate (which he does indeed resemble) in the English translation. His a man changed into a monster and confined to the top of the Castle’s clock tower who is released from his curse after being defeated by Trevor in battle, should Trevor choose to walk this entirely optional path in the first place. He is popularly known as Grant Da Nasty (or “De Nasty,” or “Duh Nasty” or even “D’Nasty,” all of which I refuse to use), but let’s stop for a second here. I really don’t think “Da Nasty” is supposed to be his name. I think this is a translation mistake. Look at some of the details surrounding this character, the setting, and the story. This takes place in Wallachia (part of modern-day Romania, with parts of modern-day Transylvania within its borders as well), where, at the time the game takes place (circa 1475-1476), the two most prominent lineages of the Royal House of Basarab were the Drăculeşti and the Dăneşti. According to what little history is available, the House of Dăneşti was unable to win the throne and the House of Drăculeşti dominated Wallachia until Moldavia and Transylvania were merged in the 1600s. Vlad III Drăculea, aka Count Dracula, was of the House of Drăculeşti. Grant’s Americanized surname, Da Nasty, sounds suspiciously like Dăneşti, as does the pronunciation of his Japanese surname (ダナスティ, or DA-NA-su-TI). Grant also mentions Dracula killing his entire family, which fits in really well with the account of the Drăculeşti overwhelming the Dăneşti (or maybe Dracula just did it all himself, without help from relatives). Thus, I sincerely believe his name was always meant to be Grant Dăneşti, and that is not only what I prefer to call him, but what I would call him in any film.
But aside from his name, I think Grant is misunderstood due to the discrepancy in his chosen profession. Was he an acrobat, or was he a pirate? Mind you, anyone who realized the threat of a fiend like Dracula would rise up to oppose him, especially finding strength in numbers by joining forces with fellow humans. But Grant always struck me as being too decent a fellow to be a notorious pirate (if we follow the stereotype of pirates being bloodthirsty heathens). So maybe he was a good pirate who engaged in piracy for some reason other than a lack of morals. Maybe he had no other way to get what he needed. Maybe he’d failed in some other chosen profession. Or maybe he was really an acrobat with a traveling circus. It’s conceivable that he was a pirate and an acrobat. Whatever he was, it sounds like he had a profession that could easily have taken him outside Wallachia for a time, explaining why he lived while the rest of his family died. As for why he was cursed, well, what threat is a lone Dăneşti against Dracula? Being the cocky, human-hating sadist he is, Dracula probably decided it was more fun to turn Grant into a minion and have some cruel fun at his expense. Trevor comes along, sets him free, and BAM—oh, nuts, should have killed that Dăneşti scum when I had the chance.
From a gameplay perspective, Grant was always my favorite character to use. His ability to climb along walls and ceilings (something no other Castlevania character could do) was not only extremely cool, but indescribably helpful. Controlling it was a bit tricky at times, but it was worth it to find that hidden item or some clever shortcut, including a few likely not intended by the design team. True, his knife had very limited range, but it was quick—and his high jump, which could be controlled in midair, made many tedious and tricky jumps much easier and safer, resulting in fewer airborne controllers. His faster footspeed was ideal when you needed to get through a tough area quickly. Of course, I found out much later on that in the original Japanese game Grant could throw an endless supply of daggers, rather than thrust a lone one up close. He could also do this while clinging to walls and ceilings. I was livid. Why give such a cool character such a severe handicap by taking his throwing daggers away? Konami of America, you are cruel!
But while Grant was my favorite character to use, he wasn’t the one who interested me the most. The one who most fascinated me was a robed figure the instruction booklet called Sypha Belnades. Although referred to as a “he,” it was apparent to me even before I saw the game’s ending that this Sypha was actually a female—the digitized voice, the delicate nature (remember, this was the 1990s; few video game females were depicted as anything other than delicate), the weak attacks and reliance on spells… no, I was quite convinced this was a woman, and was happy to be proven correct. We were led to believe it was a man and lo and behold, it was a woman. A follower of the Samus Aran School of Deceiving the Player. But unlike Samus, Sypha, with her flimsy staff and poor jumping, made the game harder to beat, though those spells of hers could do some wicked cool things, especially that nice ice spell, which could freeze not only enemies but all water it came into contact with. Makeshift bridge for the win!
But her name… Belnades? Popular in North America (and elsewhere, I’m sure), but another translation error if I’m not mistaken. Her Japanese surname, ヴェルナンデス, literally translates as Fernández. I’ve heard “Vernandes” and “Verandes,” too, but I think these are wrong. Granted, with her pale skin and blonde hair, she didn’t strike me as looking like what one would expect someone of Spanish origin to look like in the 1400s, but there are exceptions to every rule. I certainly get the hooded cloak: vampire hunting was a “man’s thing,” of course, so to be accepted as a vampire hunter she had to disguise herself. Maybe she even could have proven herself to the Church and the people of Wallachia had the Cyclops not turned her to stone. And then there’s her first name, Sypha, which is actually “Cipher” in the Japanese version. This apparently refers to her pretending to be what she isn’t, since “Cipher” can refer to a void, an unknown, or something that appears to be there that really isn’t, but considering how overly obvious this is, I would personally stick with the name Sypha Fernández. Personality-wise, I think the best portrayal of her would be one that presents a woman who is strong-willed and stubborn, and takes up magic due to being forbidden training with weapons intended for men. Instead of a delicate flower, she’d be a strong, no-nonsense woman, but not one totally devoid of feminine charm. Not a sex symbol, but a well-rounded character with the right degree of looks and appeal to be believable as a convincing romantic interest for Trevor in society’s eyes. After all, it’s heavily suggested, especially in fandom, that Trevor and Sypha marry following the events of this game, making her an ancestor of Simon Belmont as well. But I take society’s views into account simply because if the mold is broken too much, the audience won’t believe it, and then you’ve lost them.
Then we have fan-favorite Alucard, the son of Dracula and a dhampir (half-vampire, half-human) who opposes his father’s evil course. Alucard vows to be the opposite of what his father is (apparent in his name, since “Alucard” is “Dracula” in reverse) and sides with the humans in the fight. His real name, though, I have a problem with, since he’s apparently named Adrian Fahrenheit Tepes. It’s the “Tepes” part that bugs me. “Tepes” was never Dracula’s surname, nor the surname of the real Vlad III. It was a posthumous title given to Vlad. Thus, Adrian would never be named Tepes. If his mother, Lisa (short for Elisabetha from what I understand), decided to give him his father’s surname, his name should actually be Adrian Fahrenheit Drăculea, or maybe even Drăculeşti. If I even referred to his real name during the course of a feature film, I’d most likely use Adrian Fahrenheit Drăculeşti once or twice, and then just stick with Alucard for the rest of the time, since that’s how fans primarily know him anyway.
Man, was this guy a disappointment in the game. He was so tall that it was harder to dodge obstacles and enemies, his attack (fireballs thrown from his cape) was weak, and while his ability to turn into a bat and fly everywhere was nifty, it cost precious hearts that we needed to use secondary weapons (such as Trevor’s holy water). I seldom used Alucard because I just flat couldn’t get anywhere with him. In bringing this character to the screen, I’d give him the sword that game designers provided him in later Castlevania games, make him more agile like a real dhampir would supposedly be, and change him from a lumbering chump to a full-on badass. Sure, he’d have issues, with his father being the ultimate evil and his mother burned at the stake for witchcraft, but his alliance with Trevor and the gang would give him a chance to work through these issues and evolve as the story progressed. (Mind you, the real Dracula never had a wife named Elisabetha—his two wives were, respectively, Cnaejna Bathory, who famously threw herself from the tower to her death according to legend, and Ilona Szilágyi of Wallachia’s Royal House—but since I’d be basing this on Castlevania’s Dracula as much as, if not more than, the real Dracula, I’d probably just stick with Elisabetha. I would likely leave out the suggestion his birth name was “Mathias Cronqvist,” which I think is stretching it a bit too much.) As for Alucard’s decision to return to slumber following Dracula’s defeat, well, this works for me. I would rather not follow the old Hollywood formula of making a string of Alucard films following a Castlevania film/duology/trilogy. I think the fans deserve better than that.
Regarding the story itself, I’d try to include everything necessary without letting it drag or stretching it out too long. If it took more than one film, fine. If I had to spread the details out to keep the story moving, fine. If I needed to use flashbacks and narrations to get everything in effectively, fine. But I would want it in there. After all, we want a Castlevania film to be a solid story with some great action, not a mere action film with hardly any story.
Did Warren Ellis take my approach? Most likely not. His film, had it ever been made, would likely have been quite different from mine, though I’m sure there would have been similarities here and there. Eliis wouldn’t make a mindless action flick any more than I would. But we won’t know since we’ll never see it. I’d like to think we’ll get a Castlevania movie someday, even if the person who finally brings it to the screen is someone entirely different whom no one has previously heard of. Just make it a good movie, whoever you are. In the meantime, at least, we still have the game. Just be careful of how hard you throw that controller, and where.

Enhanced by Zemanta