Producers: Bradley J. Fischer, Mike Medavoy and Arnold Messer   Director: André Øvredal   Screenplay:  Bragi F. Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz   Cast:  Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian, Javier Botet, Woody Norman, Jon Jon Briones, Stefan Kapičić, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Chris Walley and Martin Furulund    Distributor: Universal

Grade: C-

This is certainly the year of Dracula for Universal.  Not long ago the studio released “Renfield,” with Nicolas Cage chewing the scenery—as well as plenty of human victims—as the Count in contemporary New Orleans, with Nicholas Hoult as his long-time servant.  Now we’re taken back in time to the 1897, and to Dracula’s arrival in England on a Russian ship, the Demeter—named after the Greek fertility goddess who presided over both the season of life (spring) and that of death (winter).  Bram Stoker knew his mythology.

Expanded from a brief portion of a chapter in Stoker’s classic novel, the entry called “The Captain’s Log,” the film tells how the ship became a vessel devoid of a crew by the time it reached English waters on a trip from Romania.  Its cargo, of course, included crates of Transylvanian earth and, unbeknownst to the captain, Count Dracula, who’d decided to relocate to the UK and fed on the crew during the voyage, leaving the Demeter unmanned by the time it reached shore.

“The Captain’s Log” consists of but a few paragraphs in Stoker, about how men began to mysteriously disappear until only a couple were  left, and so the screenwriters have been forced to pad it out to feature length.  They’ve added a long prologue about the boxes being transported to the dock and loaded aboard the ship (it’s in these opening scenes that Edward Thomas’ production design is at its most impressive, though the set of the Demeter isn’t too shabby, though the vessel certainly is).  It’s here that we meet Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) and his longtime first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), characters in Stoker.

But also others who aren’t—particularly the captain’s adorable grandson Toby (Woody Norman) and stalwart Clemens (Corey Hawkins), who joins the crew after saving Toby from a falling crate though Wojchek had initially rejected him.  Clemens, we learn, holds a medical degree from Cambridge but could not find work in England because of his black skin, and found the Romanian court equally unwelcoming; his ostracism allows Hawkins to make some speeches that sound decidedly modern in their denunciation of racism.  But Eliot, thankful for the doctor’s rescue of Toby, takes him on despite his first mate’s misgivings.

There’s also, of course, a collection of rough-and-ready sailors who serve as colorful characters as well as potential morsels for Dracula (Javier Botet, gussied up with prosthetics by Göran Lundström and VFX to resemble a cross between Max Schreck’s Nosferatu and Mothman): religion-obsessed cook Joseph (Jon Jon Briones), gruffly superstitious Petrofsky (Nikolai Nikolaeff), gloomily stern Larsen (Martin Furuland), genially callow Abrams (Chris Walley), hulking Olgarin (Stefan Kapičić).  And an unexpected voyager: Anna (Aisling Franciosi), a near-dead stowaway with a prior connection to Dracula whom Clemens restores to a semblance of health with blood transfusions.

Dracula starts by feasting on the ship’s livestock but moves on to the humans around the forty-minute mark, and the rest of the movie consists of him picking off folks one by one.  The screenwriters, director André Øvredal, cinematographer Tom Stern and editor Patrick Larsgaard strive to depict the attacks with some variety, but apart from the stalking of Toby (in which young Norman is called upon to go through the same motions of terror he did in the recent “Cobweb”) they all come across as much the same, especially after Dracula is shown in full and endowed by the effects team supervised by David Lingenfelder with powers of super-speed flight.  There is some visual punch when the corpses of victims spontaneously combust after being exposed to sunlight, but even this is overused, and the culminating confrontation between the vampire and the surviving crew, complete with raging storm waves, is rather messily staged.  Bear McCreary’s alternately spooky and thundering score is of little help; the repetitiveness extracts the tension from the stately-paced movie as surely as Dracula drains the blood from his victims.

The performances are committed, however tedious the movie becomes; Hawkins makes a stalwart hero and Franciosi an appropriately world-weary heroine, while Cunningham makes an understandably shaken captain and Dastmalchian a driven first-mate (though his accent is sometimes difficult to understand); all the crewmen convey their essentially one-note characters ably enough, with Briones, as the excitable cook, bound to be an audience favorite.  Norman may not be as ingratiating as he was in “C’Mon, C’Mon,” but he’s a reliably charming tyke, and you have to admire the filmmakers for treating Toby as roughly as they do; some viewers will probably be repelled by what happens to the kid.

In sum, one has to question whether it was wise to try expanding Stoker’s “Captain’s Log” into a feature-length horror movie.  “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is a surprisingly handsome picture, but not an especially invigorating or frightening one.