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How The Last Voyage of the Demeter Revamps a Chilling Chapter From Dracula

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Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Last Voyage of the Demeter.

The seventh chapter of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, titled "The Captain's Log," chronicles the fate of the crew of the doomed merchant ship the Demeter through a series of logbook entries detailing the vessel's disastrous voyage from the Black Sea port of Varna to Whitby, England.

Unaware that Dracula is onboard, the captain writes how, over the course of their journey, crew members went missing until just he and the first mate were left on the Demeter. After the first mate caught sight of "a man, tall and thin, and ghastly pale," he jumped overboard rather than die by the vampire's hand. Eventually, the captain lashed himself to the wheel with a crucifix in hand to try to bring the ship into port.

"I shall tie my hands to the wheel when my strength begins to fail, and along with them I shall tie that which He, It, dare not touch," reads the captain's final log entry, which is found rolled up inside a corked bottle in his pocket after the Demeter arrives in Whitby with no one alive onboard. "And then, come good wind or foul, I shall save my soul, and my honour as a captain. I am growing weaker, and the night is coming on. If He can look me in the face again, I may not have time to act."

The Last Voyage of the Demeter, in theaters Aug. 11, takes this chilling interlude in the original story and turns it into a full-length fright flick. "I wanted to make a genuine horror movie about this little part of the novel," says director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). "I found that to be a great challenge and a great way of doing something that could be part of [Dracula's] huge, wonderful legacy, but wouldn't risk standing next to giant movies [that have come before]. It's its own thing."

The long journey of The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Øvredal signed on to helm Demeter from a screenplay by Bragi Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz in October 2019, nearly two decades after Phoenix Pictures acquired Schut Jr.'s original script in 2003. Prior to Øvredal's involvement, a variety of directors, from Robert Schwentke to Neil Marshall to David Slade, had been attached to the project at different points in time.

The single chapter is such a captivating one that Demeter producers Mike Medavoy and Bradley J. Fischer say they were determined to get a movie adaptation made no matter how long it took.

"Dracula is obviously a very iconic and well-tread piece of IP that's been in the public domain forever. But this particular story was one that hadn't really been dramatized. It's been used as connective tissue in other Dracula adaptations," says Fischer, referencing scenes in 1922's Nosferatu and 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula. "But no one had told the story of what happens on this ship across the body of a single film."

David Dastmalchian as Wojchek, Chris Walley as Abrams, and Corey Hawkins as Clemens in 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter'
(L-R) David Dastmalchian as Wojchek, Chris Walley as Abrams, and Corey Hawkins as Clemens in The Last Voyage of the DemeterReiner Bajo—Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment

Demeter traps its characters in a contained, isolated setting at the mercy of an elusive monster, a narrative arc that Medavoy says brought to mind one iconic horror movie in particular.

"It reminded me of Alien with Dracula in it. Dracula is the alien on the ship," he says. "That's what drew me to the story."

Dracula at sea

Demeter stars Liam Cunningham as Captain Eliot, David Dastmalchian as first mate Wojchek, and Jon Jon Briones, Martin Furulund, Stefan Kapicic, Nikolai Nikolaeff, and Chris Walley as the ship's crew. It also introduces some additional main players who don't feature in the book: Captain Eliot's grandson Toby (Woody Norman), Dr. Clemens (Corey Hawkins), and a stowaway named Anna (Aisling Franciosi) who is smuggled onboard by Dracula as a food source.

The role of Dracula (or Nosferatu) belongs to veteran creature actor Javier Botet, who has terrified audiences for years playing monsters in movies like 2013's Mama, 2016's The Conjuring 2, 2017's IT, and 2018's Slender Man. "[Botet] breaches that careful relationship between human character and monster," Øvredal says. "He can find intelligence just through body language in how a creature is portrayed on screen."

Javier Botet as Dracula in 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter'
Javier Botet as Dracula in The Last Voyage of the DemeterUniversal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

That's a quality Øvredal needed in his Dracula, as Demeter paints the vampire as a vicious, bloodthirsty beast rather than the sophisticated, seductive count he often appears as.

"Depicting Dracula as a monstrous, more freaky character was very alluring," Øvredal says. "I wanted to lean into the fact that he's lived for 400 years. I didn't want to see a beautiful Hollywood actor being charming and suave.

"We also removed the sexuality that Dracula is often depicted with because it's essentially just a survival tale for everyone, including him," he adds. "I wanted to see that he has survived and survived and that he will survive this journey as well because, as we know, the story of Dracula continues on."

How The Last Voyage of the Demeter ends

In Stoker's Dracula, the Demeter arrives in England amid a great storm. Witnesses see a large dog disembark from the ship and find only the corpse of the captain still on board.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter offers an inside look at all the horrors that play out on the ship throughout its final journey.

Corey Hawkins as Clemens and Aisling Franciosi as Anna in 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter'
(L-R) Corey Hawkins as Clemens and Aisling Franciosi as Anna in The Last Voyage of the DemeterRainer Bajo—Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment

"One of the great thematic elements of the story that is profound in its horror is the way that Dracula takes from each character the thing that person loves the most, including turning the ship itself into a living nightmare of the sea," Fischer says. "It's not enough that it's sustaining itself off of the blood of these people. It wants them to suffer in a way and enjoys it."

However, unlike in the book, the movie ends with one person who was onboard the Demeter, Clemens, surviving the passage and making his way to London with the intent of hunting Dracula down. When asked whether this twist opens the door for a sequel, Øvredal says it would be "quite a revisionist take" on what happens in the book from that point on.

"We try to stay reasonably true to the novel in this depiction," he says. "This movie is really about honoring the novel. But if you go further with Clemens' character, he obviously doesn't exist in the book."

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com