There was an immense feeling of betrayal once the critical response to The Last Voyage of the Demeter hit outlets the day before its release, and while a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t the worst score that a film could rock going into its release weekend, it simply didn’t feel like it was indicative of the film that I saw the night before. Pair this with the fact that only about 24 people total saw it in theaters during its entire theatrical run ($21.7 million returned on a $45 million budget), and I’m honestly surprised that Universal didn’t just terminate their release deal with Amblin Partners on the spot out of spite. Whether or not you like the film, I sometimes find myself disillusioned by the audience’s rejection of the mid-budget summer popcorn flick, and perhaps the timing in this particular case just happened to fall a little too close to the (semi) unexpected success of both Barbie and Oppenheimer a few weeks prior. But The Last Voyage of the Demeter feels distinctly like a film that would have made DreamWorks a pretty penny in 2006, and had lasted the test of time with audiences, but in the age of content in 2023, it falls upon deaf ears, and it’s an immense shame since The Last Voyage of the Demeter is some true, no nonsense horror fun. Now, less than two months after its theatrical debut, the film comes to home media courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Based upon the singular chapter “The Captain’s Log” from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter expands upon the chapter’s telling of the transport of the vampire Count Dracula from Varna, Bulgaria, to London, England, and the violence committed against the ship’s crew that left the ship derelict and abandoned once it arrived to English shores. The film follows Clemens (Corey Hawkins), an Oxford-educated doctor looking for a way back to England after searching for work in Eastern Europe. Upon joining the crew of the Demeter, a freighter ship carrying private cargo, as its doctor (much to the chagrin of most crewmembers), Clemens and the others soon sets sail for England. As the journey begins, and an unwelcome, catatonic stowaway is discovered onboard (Aisling Franciosi), the crew finds their once peaceful ship ransacked by strange occurrences once livestock turn up dead, and reliable crewmembers begin seeing supernatural specters in the night. The crew of the Demeter soon come to realize that the cargo that they’re carrying contains a much more violent, malevolent force than they ever could have imagined.
Director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) has proven himself in recent years to be one of the more no nonsense horror filmmakers of the current era, uninterested in pretentious, heavy-handed storytelling (which I also love dearly) and more in visceral, in-the-moment frights that audiences are jolted by. He doesn’t seek to pad his horror out with any filler that isn’t at the service of the horror at its center, and he does a good job in reminding people that Dracula is, and always should be, scary (*cough*Renfield*cough*).
And who is the big, skinny, gnarled freak who makes Dracula scary? Well, of course it’s genre legend Javier Botet, who is similarly making an immense name for himself as the preeminent industry creature artist. The gentle giant Spanish actor, also having starred as various monsters in films such as REC (2007), Mama (2013), Crimson Peak (2015), The Conjuring 2 (2016), It (2017), His House (2020), as well as Øvredal’s own Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019), showcases that there is something unmistakable about his ability to unnerve and frighten audiences with his stature and inimitable movement style that has become his trademark. His presence in this film makes Dracula an intimidating, inescapable force of nature that is frightening at nearly every step of his terrifying evolution.
While The Last Voyage of the Demeter would look wonderful with a 4K UHD Blu-ray release, with HDR/Dolby Vision really helping deepen the dark, brooding atmosphere of the Victorian-era horror film, I’m not surprised in the slightest that Universal didn’t opt for investing in the format for a film with mixed reviews and horrible box office performance, so I’ll honestly take what I can get. What we do get is a rock solid 1080p Blu-ray showing that does the best it can without the extra resolution or expanded dynamic range. Black levels are still rich and shadows are clear and atmospheric. When the film does dip its toes into brighter-lit daytime sequences, the results are clear, if a little washed out, though intentionally so, given that the film looked similarly in theaters. The Last Voyage of the Demeter doesn’t seek to be a beautiful film by traditional standards, but luckily, even on a standard Blu-ray, it does its job nicely.
Luckily, Universal has decided to include a full-fledged Dolby Atmos mix into the Blu-ray’s release, and the results are also expectedly great. While the film does feature a lot of quiet, carefully placed atmospheric effects throughout, it’s this audio track’s body that really carries itself wonderfully here. This is a bassy, heavy, and very full-bodied track that really lets itself shine in the film’s larger, more boisterous moments (which are luckily quite a few given Dracula’s proclivity for ruining everyone’s night in this film), with particular notice to the ability for the film’s audio track to juggle many different auditory elements at once, all at very boisterous levels, without ever losing any details in the mix, as everything remains clear, precise, and wonderfully layered on top of each other. The film looks good, but it sounds wonderful.
Shockingly, unlike what Universal loves to do with so many of their releases, particularly (and ironically) the ones labeled “Collector’s Edition”, they actually included some special features for once. While not an overwhelming amount of supplemental material, it’s still quite a bit for Universal standards, and especially so for a film that bombed so spectacularly as this one did. The “Alternate Opening” and “Deleted Scenes” are okay additions, though they really don’t add much to the entire experience, especially since many of the scenes are borderline laughable when they feature heavily unfinished effects work, but it’s not a complete waste of time. What are interesting additions to the release, however, are the mini-featurettes included about the conception, production, and post-production work on the film. While roughly 30 minutes of material in total isn’t a grand amount of behind-the-scenes footage, it’s still refreshing to see a studio still somewhat invested in showing how a film as isolated as The Last Voyage of the Demeter comes together. The full spread of special features include:
- ALTERNATE OPENING – Commentary available with Director André Øvredal and Producer Bradley J. Fischer
- DELETED SCENES – Commentary available with Director André Øvredal and Producer Bradley J. Fischer
- FROM THE PITS OF HELL: DRACULA REIMAGINED – Learn how the creative team behind THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER conjured a new nightmare.
- EVIL IS ABOARD: THE MAKING OF THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER – Set sail for an exclusive journey inside the making of the movie with the filmmakers and cast.
- DRACULA & THE DIGITAL AGE – Visual effects supervisor Brad Parker leads a detailed look at the imaginative work that adds fresh layers of fear to Dracula, creates realistic water, and enhances scenery with bleeding-edge VFX.
- FEATURE COMMENTARY WITH DIRECTOR ANDRÉ ØVREDAL AND PRODUCER BRADLEY J. FISCHER
It is of my own firm belief that The Last Voyage of the Demeter got a raw deal at the wrong time by the wrong audience. It’s a shame because André Øvredal’s retelling of a singular sequence in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is pure, unadulterated popcorn fun, filled to the brim with atmosphere and bloody, R-rated goodness that any horror fan should fawn over. Perhaps it’s my own obsession with all things relating to maritime misfortune, whether it be something supernatural such as this, or a simple “the sea is a harsh bitch” type of story, I find myself captivated by the isolation and grandeur that the open seas can give to a story, and I found The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s manner in using such tactics very effective. Universal’s Blu-ray, while unfortunately not a full 4K release, goes above anything else I was expecting for a studio-released Blu-ray released less than two months after the theatrical run for a box office bomb, and even if I still don’t think it’s deserving of that damn “Collector’s Edition” title that Universal assigns to all of its Blu-rays, I think it’s their best effort to fulfill that title in a while.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital October 17th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Universal Pictures The Last Voyage of the Demeter website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.