If you’re on this site, you loved monsters as a kid. Probably even had a “Monster In My Pocket” or two.
And during those days, you probably held that familiar Nintendo controller in your hand and threw down on some Zelda, Mario, or Metroid. But, as a monster lover, you inevitably found yourself playing one of the earliest horror games the NES had to offer.
But no, that’s not the game I was talking about.
Released by Konami back in 1986, Castlevania was the go-to game for horror-loving gamers who didn’t mind getting their asses handed to them by the monsters they loved. And if you were just into challenging action platformers, Castlevania converted you into a fan of the macabre that was handed out in doses.
Though the plots of each game took place over centuries, the premise was simple. Every hundred years, good begins to fade amongst the hearts of men, and Count Dracula wakes from his slumber inside his castle to spew forth unspeakable horrors onto all the neighboring villages.
That’s where the Belmonts came in. A family of monster hunters and vampire killers, you would find yourself playing as one, armed with the weapon passed down through the generations and created for the sole purpose of destroying Dracula and all his evil minions. The “Vampire Killer”!
And the best part? Dracula had just about every known monster at his disposal. We’re talking Frakenstein’s Creature, mummies, evil knights, fish-men, zombies, werewolves, Medusas, skele-men, golems, gargoyles, hydras, demons…and a pair of dancing specters named Paula Abghoul and Fred Askare.
The amount of lore that has built up through twenty-three games, spanning a timeline from 1094 to 2036, is staggering. And that doesn’t even count the “Lords of Shadow” alternate timeline. With this gothic treasure trove, you’d imagine someone would have tried to adapt it by now.
Well, after a decade of development hell, Netflix and Producer Adi Shankar have resurrected writer Warren Ellis’ adaptation of the game series from its tomb as an animated series.
And my God, is it good. It’s probably the best adaptation of a video game to date.
Based on “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse”, the story takes place in 1476, a year after an event that promises to bring forth the vengeance of Vlad Dracula Tepes upon the nation of Wallachia. The misguided Church vow God’s divine intervention if all the non believers are dealt with, including a mysterious group seeking a legendary savior supposedly slumbering in the catacombs.
As the day of vengeance draws closer and the innocent suffer as horribly as the damned, the greatest chance at defeating Dracula is the last son of the family who were cast out of society for their ties to the supernatural.
And when you take a story that is filled with every possible monster imaginable, there’s only one left to add. The most terrifying:
One of the most interesting aspects added to the story is the looming threat of The Church and its belief that everything being done is right because it is in His name. And nothing is more dangerous than ignorance acted out with infallibility. In fact, that is the very thing that has ultimately set the nation up for its destruction.
The nation of Wallachia of course. Can you imagine if I was talking about the United States?
But a chessboard, even one as beautiful as this one, is nothing without the chess pieces.
What were once literally 2D characters on a CRT Television in your parents living room have been given a rich depth once left up to us gamers to provide.
Our protaganist of this story is Trevor Belmont, current wielder of the “Vampire Killer” and all around nice guy.
I’m kidding. Trevor is an asshole.
Though rightly so. His family protected the lands for hundreds of years, keeping away the evils that lurk in the night and then were promptly thanked with accusations of being gold-seeking witches and warlocks.
So growing up and training your entire life to protect the ones who spit at you for doing so can leave you with a bit of hesitation to intervene. That and some razor sharp sarcasm. But our anti-hero is still a hero. And while his reluctance to help those who reject him exists, he never deviates from his purpose to defeat Dracula. He just wants a beer while he’s waiting.
But on the other side of the coin is Dracula himself. And right from the initial moments of the show, Dracula is given what he has been sorely missing from the main Castlevania series.
Dracula is no longer just a final boss inexplicably evil for the sake of being defeated. In the series, his 8-bit bones have been fleshed out into a cursed man inflicting his curse upon those that took his humanity from him. Much like Mr. Freeze in “Batman: The Animated Series”, he can be sympathized with in spite of his actions. And when you can question the actions of sending baby-eating demons into the homes of those who wronged you, maybe things aren’t so black and white in the show.
What is quite possibly my favorite aspect of the show, the dialogue exchanges are nothing short of superb. From the hilarious, sarcastic quips to the bone-chilling laments before both heartbreak and horror, all of it raises the stakes.
There are moments of sheer brilliance with the spoken word. The first episode alone will give you more goosebumps than…damn. I know there’s a good comparison there related to horror.
Spearheading the show is Powerhouse Animation. Their biggest project to date, the studio took most of their influence from the conceptual and promotional artwork of Castlevania, namely the PlayStation classic “Symphony of the Night”. The overall asthetic is as Castlevania should be.
Dark. Gothic. Audacious.
It’s easy to mistake this show as anime. But unlike having the prevalent mark of every action super-stylized, Powerhouse has restrained themselves, giving each moment, each limited frame, purpose. The difference between how a drunken Victor in a barfight is animated and a sober (well, not so drunk) Victor killing a monster later on is very noticeable, and it should be.
By holding back the fluidity of skill behind the methodical, sometimes clumsy movements of being human, the impact of its revelation in the action scenes has much more impact upon the viewer. And this is proven with each fight Victor encounters with the supernatural, especially the one in the final moments of Episode 4.
And just as the first season comes to a close, you are visually taught what it means to be a Belmont as Trevor accepts the challenge he was destined to face yet hesitated to admit was his.
See how I mentioned the season finale and Episode 4 pretty close to each other? Yeah, that’s because the first season is only four episodes at roughly half an hour each.
I know. I know. That’s the only real negative I have for the show is the pacing of each episode and length of the season. But, before you get upset, you should know two things.
First, when Warren Ellis was first working on this back in 2007, it was intended to be a direct-to-video animated film. And when you binge watch this (and you will), you’ll be quick to notice the pacing of each episode is corrected when viewed as a single movie. Ellis quickly learned that one movie wouldn’t be enough and planned it out to be a trilogy of films.
Second, the day Castlevania premiered, Netflix announced 8 episodes were already in the works for “Season 2”. You just need a little math to figure out that the other two installments are on the way, most likely completing Trevor’s tale in the Castlevania timeline.
And this time in between is what excites me most. Wondering what monsters we’ll see and how epic the journey through the mechanical labyrinth that is Dracula’sl castle will be.
But knowing that, even after the storyline of Dracula’s Curse is done, we could see each season following another game in the timeline, leaping across the centuries and seeing what a 100 years at a time does to all those involved with keeping Dracula inside his tomb.
This show has amazing potential. But for now, it’s a damn good start worth your time.
FEAR STREET! It’ll give you more goosebumps than Fear Street! That’s what I was thinking of earlier!
My thanks to Shawn and Dusty for letting me write another article. I do love them so.
I have a survival-horror western out called “Year 47” on Amazon. You can pick it up here.
I’m no R.L. Stine, but Horror Writers themselves gave it “Novel of the Year” for 2016.
Also, you can follow me on Twitter: @infrafan