Indian artist and writer Bragi Schut Jr’ spec screenplay which had been in development hell for two decades has been resurrected with the film The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Crafted by Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz, it’s an origin story of how Dracula first came to England to terrorize a new world, based on a single chilling chapter from Stoker’s classic novel.
Bram Stoker’s literary classic, Dracula has fascinated audiences, both on the page and the screen, for more than a century. Published in 1897, the novel is not structured in traditional narrative form but is instead recounted as a non-fiction legend, through fragments of personal journals, artifacts, diaries, and historical ephemera: a portrait of a predator viewed through a shattered mirror. Shards of that mirror have allowed filmmakers to interpret Dracula in myriad ways through the decades, as a seducer, narcissist, beauty, beast, specter, lover, stalker, or serial killer. But hidden beneath all those layers of interpretation, all those decades of adaptation, lies the untold dark heart of Hollywood’s most famous, and blood-chilling monster.
The Demeter, a ship of ominous renown, embarked on its final harrowing voyage more than 125 years ago. In Stoker’s landmark vampire novel, the monstrous aristocrat Count Dracula travels from his Eastern European home in the Carpathian Mountains to Victorian England. He packs himself in a crate of the dark earth, hidden among dozens of others, and has his body loaded aboard an unsuspecting ship: The Demeter.
In Stoker’s captivating tale, Demeter’s last voyage is chronicled in the seventh chapter, which is written as an excerpt from The Dailygraph newspaper dated August 8, describing a great and sudden storm that roared into the harbor in the seaside town of Whitby, carrying with it the remains of a deserted schooner.
In a series of snapshots, the log recounts the nearly month-long period from July 6 to August 4 during which strange events unfold onboard the vessel. After taking on cargo that includes boxes of earth, the crew’s anxieties escalate, leading to quarrels and the unsettling disappearance of one crew member, followed by others. The mood only darkens as the Demeter unwittingly sails toward its doom. Unbeknownst to the men, the true nature of the deadly threat lurks on board in a secret passenger they are unknowingly ferrying to England.
While Stoker’s novel has been adapted countless times for film, television and stage—perhaps most famously in Universal’s 1931 Tod Browning film starring Bela Lugosi— the crew’s experiences aboard the Demeter have never before been dramatized.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the terrifying story of the merchant ship Demeter, which was chartered to carry private cargo—fifty unmarked wooden crates—from Carpathia to London. Strange events befall the doomed crew as they attempt to survive the ocean voyage, stalked each night by a merciless presence onboard the ship. When the Demeter finally arrives off the shores of England, it is a charred, derelict wreck. There is no trace of the crew.
Producers Bradley J. Fischer, Mike Medavoy and Arnold W. Messer explored the definitive vampire tale through an exciting new lens
Planning for the film adaptation of “The Captain’s Log” began when screenwriter Btagi Schut Jr. wrote the initial spec script when he befriended a colleague who worked on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), but did not come to fruition by languishing in development hell for more than two decades. Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz crafted the new draft from a screen story by Schut, Jr.,
Bragi Schut Jr is an Indian film artist, writer and director living in Los Angeles who has written projects for Sony, Universal, MGM, Relativity, Syfy, and CBS among many other film and television companies. He wrote the eighth and ninth seasons along with the Hageman Brothers. He is the lead writer of the show from the tenth season onwards. He is the executive producer and the story editor for the show from the eleventh season onwards.
But steering the project to the screen proved as challenging as navigating a triple-masted schooner through choppy waters. The development process spanned nearly two decades, with a range of directors signing on and ultimately departing. “We came very close many, many times,” Fischer says.
“Filmmakers have always been drawn to this material. There’s something about the mystery of the captain’s log, and what actually unfolded on this doomed ship as it crossed the sea, that stirs the imagination.”
Among those filmmakers was Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, the visionary writer, and director-producer whose unbridled passion for the genre has infused every entry in his extensive filmography. When scheduling conflicts made del Toro unavailable, he suggested the producers consider André Øvredal in his stead.
The Norwegian writer-director had won early acclaim with his 2010 breakout Trollhunter, a mockumentary about a group of students investigating bear attacks who learn that something far more sinister is unfolding in the Scandinavian wilderness.
Øvredal solidified his reputation as a maker of unique, inventive horror films with projects including 2016’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe and 2019’s del Toro-produced Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, an adaptation of the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz.
Fischer considered Øvredal an incredible visual storyteller, and the pair seemed to share all the same reference points when discussing their favorite horror films, even the most obscure titles. “André is totally uncompromising,” Fischer says.
“This is a huge production for a genre film, and he was not willing to walk away or let it go until he had something that wasn’t just great but really strove to the level of a masterpiece; we both had the same ambition for what Demeter could become on-screen.”
And that was exactly the level of vision and commitment that this story needed, Medavoy says. “André really understood how to create suspense in the film,” Medavoy says.
“We wanted to keep the audience on the edge of their seats until the devil finally shows up. It’s not just about shocking moments, it’s about building up that tension. People love unraveling a mystery and figuring out who’s behind the chaos, and the credit goes to the screenwriters and André for crafting the story this way.”
Øvredal’s ambition was, in part, born out of his tremendous respect for earlier adaptations of Stoker’s novel. “I never felt safe exploring a Dracula movie, that’s for sure,” Øvredal says.
“I felt like I was stepping into big, big shoes. We’re going to be measured against some amazing classics—from Nosferatu to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Coppola movie, and many others—and we had to aim up there. But we’re also not trying to be that sprawling, big, epic, Gothic story. We are trying to be one serious, intense horror movie.”
Øvredal drew parallels to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 film, Alien
As Øvredal had read the script for The Last Voyage of the Demeter, written by Bragi Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz from a screen story by Schut, Jr.,
The script evoked a similar sense of intense horror, with a blue-collar crew facing a mysterious and deadly adversary.
“It was really an Alien-style story set on the ocean in 1897, with Dracula instead of the alien monster,” Øvredal says. “I was captivated by all the characters onboard. They felt like a real crew of people who are there to do their job, and the mystery deepened as the story unfolded. I really loved the contained nature of the film, where we’re out at sea on the ship, and they’re facing this enemy but they have no comprehension of what it is.”
For producer Medavoy, that Alien evocation had deep professional roots. “Drawing inspiration from films like Alien, we used the concept of a confined setting as our narrative capsule,” Medavoy says. “In fact, my prior involvement with Alien during my time at United Artists, when Walter Hill was associated with the original script, made the concept of being confined to a single location with no escape resonate with me. In the case of Demeter, we have a devil aboard a ship, being transported to London to embark on a new life. Similar to Alien, the heart of the story lies in the gripping events that transpire on that vessel.”
The story is a true survival horror nightmare, beginning with the discovery of the Demeter after it has run aground on the rocks on the Whitby shore. The vessel has been carbonized by fire, its tattered sail bearing witness to a catastrophic event. Not a single crew member is found alive. The only clues as to what might have occurred are contained within the captain’s log; its particularly ominous final entry reads, “The Devil comes for me.”
“Horror films always aim to take the audience to a dark and scary place, but I think great horror films force their characters to confront a fate worse than death,” Fischer says.
“This story is filled with metaphor and subtext, and it’s quite Shakespearian when you look at it. These unsuspecting crew members end up having to face not just the monster itself, but all sense of hope, everything they love and dream of, everything that gives life meaning, is stripped from them, not in an abstract way but specifically and individually, with violence and delight. Eventually, that will include death. Of course, it will include death. But death comes last, never first. Death alone would be far too merciful a fate for Dracula—for the real Dracula that Bram Stoker conceived of—to impose.”
The Last Voyage of the Demeter was filmed at Germany’s famous Studio Babelsberg AG and at Malta Film Studios, a facility that boasts one indoor tank and two large exterior water tanks situated along the Mediterranean coast.