Ever since my very first kindertrauma watching SATAN’S TRIANGLE (’75) on TV as a kid, I’ve been especially partial to horror films that take place on a boat. THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER seems crafted to appeal specifically to me because it’s not only boat-bound but also takes place in 1897 and concerns none other than Dracula systematically taking out a trapped crew as if privately mentored by ALIEN and THE THING (The only way this film could get any more up my alley is if at some point it snowed). Based on the seventh chapter of Bram Stoker’s all time classic novel Dracula and directed by non-slouch Andre Ovredal (THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK), DEMETER further sweetens the gothic pot by presenting what might be the scariest vision of vamphood since SALEM’S LOT (’79). Frequent creature performer Javier Botet (the [REC] franchise, MAMA, the crooked man in THE CONJURING 2) is perfectly cast as the most visually alarming version of the Count yet, an unholy amalgamation of Max Schreck’s NOSFERATU and that pesky pterodactyl from JURASSIC PARK III. I’m talkin’ double yikes with a side of yikes.
Probably the most thankless job a person can have is being a crew member of the merchant ship Demeter, taxed with transporting the deadliest of cargo from Transylvania to London. Perils abound as a hideous stowaway savagely feeds upon any hapless soul that crosses its path. Sure, practical onboard doctor Clemens (Corey Hawkins) may be able to elongate your existence with a blood transfusion or two but it’s more likely you’ll end up with a neck ripped to smithereens, pupil-free eyes, and exploding into flames when the sun rises. It ain’t pretty. Like the aforementioned ALIEN & THE THING, DEMETER does a slick job of introducing a group of doomed individuals whose different personalities clash as their numbers dwindle. A nearly unrecognizable David Dastmalchian (who recently creeped about in THE BOOGEYMAN) is especially good as Captain-to-be Wojchek, a paranoid instigator who buts heads with the hero doc. Aisling Franciosi is similarly sharp as Anna, the tougher than she looks lunchable Drac snuck onboard in case he gets the munchies. I’m actually looking forward to all of the characters gelling further upon inevitable future views; these aren’t one note screamers, some of them get to ponder the nature of evil and our helplessness in the face of death before they kick the bucket.
I suppose my favorite aspect of DEMETER (besides its dense atmosphere, air of doom & gloomy demeanor) is its commitment to being absolutely brutal. Although it’s patient as hell getting to the point of no return, when it’s time to get the gruesome work done it really goes for the throat (so to speak). Nobody is safe here, in fact, nobody is likely to survive and Dracula is truly dead and loving it. In fact, the sadistic ghoul is like a kid in a candy shop. It’s like somebody finally took off this classic character’s reigns. Director Overdal wisely shows the beast in shadowy flashes at first but eventually he’s on full display and the make-up effects and design work are splendid and even awe-inspiring at times. The cinematography is wonderfully dank and murky adding to the feeling that you never know where the abomination might emerge from next and who isn’t thankful for a score by good ol’ Bear McCreary ( HELL FEST, FREAKY)? All in all, I couldn’t ask for a better cinematic escape on a nightmare summer day than to be plopped down onto a creaky vessel during a fierce rainstorm with a murderous entity clawing and flapping about. I suppose its poor box office performance (mostly thanks to its unwieldy title I suspect) is likely to sink any chances for a sequel which absolutely bites if you ask me.