Bram Stoker's Dracula

08/28/2015 19:35

Film: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Year: 1992

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writer: James V. Hart

Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins



This was a film that I remember coming out when I was growing up. It was interesting to me, because I didn’t understand the implications of director Francis Ford Coppola taking on the source material. I just recall it being highly talked about and it took me until after college to finally see it. I’ve now given it a watch in the theater thanks to the Gateway Film Center.

Synopsis: centuries old vampire Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan Harker’s (Keanu Reeves) fiancée Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) and inflicts havoc in the foreign land.

We start in 1496. The Christian world is trying to hold back the Turks who are attacking from the Middle East. A prince from Transylvania is leading an army to stop them, Count Dracula. His fiancée, Elisabeta (Ryder) doesn’t want him to go. Dracula is a fierce warrior and ruthless. His army defeats the Turks and they impale the defeated soldiers, but a ruse is used to get back at him. They tell Elisbeta that Dracula died in battle. She kills herself and this causes Dracula to curse God. In return, he is cursed to being a vampire and to walk Earth for eternity, drinking blood and living in the dark.

It then jumps to 1897. We have a young solicitor who is trying to move up in his company, Jonathan. He’s taking over an account in Transylvania for a rich count as his predecessor R.M. Renfield (Tom Waits) went crazy and now held in a nearby asylum. Jonathan is engaged to Mina and they are to be married when he returns. She wants to marry before he leaves, but he doesn’t feel he has enough money.

While he’s gone, Mina goes to visit her friend Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost). She has a dirty mind and mouth despite being a virgin. She is rich but concerned that she’s not yet married. She doesn’t lack suitors though. There’s a doctor at the nearby asylum, Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant), Lord Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes) and a Texan named Quincey P. Morris (Billy Campbell).

Jonathan makes his way to the castle where Dracula lives after an interesting journey. He meets the count who is old and they go about their business. Dracula sees who Jonathan’s fiancée is and she looks just like his long-lost love. Dracula has bought properties around London. He also requires Jonathan to stay at his castle for a month under the guise of learning more about English customs.

He is told to stay in his room at night, but Jonathan knows something isn’t right. He stumbles upon the three brides of Dracula, one of which is Monica Bellucci. They seduce him. Dracula wards them off, but soon leaves for London. He is out to get his love back, but this beast also has other carnal desires to deal with. When Lucy becomes ill, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) is called in.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start then is by saying that Coppola did an excellent job in bringing this material to life. He stays as faithful to the book as he can and added elements like a deeper backstory for Dracula’s character. This is a horror film, but it also has elements of surrealism and romance. To be honest, it is more a tragic love story of Dracula losing his bride and trying to get her back. The complication is that it is a vampire tale to show love transcends time.

There is a great dichotomy of Dracula being this suave prince as well as a bestial creature. I love the idea they modeled him after a bat. I almost wish they hadn’t gone as animalistic as they do as it has such a stark contrast. I also feel like this aspect is more of an allegory for lust and carnal pleasure. Something to go along with this is Lucy. She has a foul mouth, but Mina alludes to the fact that it is a byproduct of her being rich. It is an act. The night she is seduced by Dracula, she wears a red nightgown. This was on purpose with being the color of passion. It is also different from her normal nightgowns or wedding dress. This is also seen in the change of Mina as well.

Another aspect to explore is science versus religion. Dr. Seward tries to understand what is happening to Lucy with a medical diagnosis. He’s at a loss and he fears for her life. Van Helsing is called in and knows almost at once. Van Helsing is a teacher of medical sciences, but still believes in religion. I found this quite interesting. He is also at the forefront of knowing about abnormal afflictions. We also know that religious artifacts help to ward off vampires so there’s an interesting duality. Dracula’s change was in direct defiance of God so there’s also that aspect.

I know I’ve praised Coppola for sticking as close to the novel as he did. I do have to say that I think this hurts the pacing a bit to be honest. There is just so much that this does get bogged down just a tad. It still builds tension to the climax though. I did want to say that. There are also great transitions between scenes that I noticed. An issue I do have here with filmmaking though is the surreal things they do with like eyes in the sky. I get what we’re doing. This harkens back to Nosferatu and that dread that comes over the city as Dracula comes. It just didn’t fit to me to fully work and it felt cheesy.

Something that I need to discuss is the acting. There are great performances here. Oldman is truly a treasure. I love how we get three versions of Dracula. The one in the past that is tragic. The elder one also seems very similar to the first, but just able to convey the age and wisdom. It is also creepy. The final one is the one that seduces Mina. He has good parts of arrogance, along with being sad. He did a great job. I thought Ryder was solid in her role. Hopkins is much like Oldman, always great. He does play this role a bit too eccentric for my taste. The one that I usually hear getting grief is Reeves. His accent is off, but I thought he was fine. I do like Grant as Dr. Seward. He works well off Elwes and Campbell who are the suitors that become friends. Frost is also good along with Waits as Renfield. I did like a cameo by Bellucci, who is gorgeous, along with the other brides. I thought the rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.

All that is left then is the rest of filmmaking. The effects are good. I had it in my head they used mostly CGI, but after these last two watches, they don’t. The film was done practically for the most part. I must commend them for using cuts and camera effects to get away with things, like Dracula transforming into things. I’ll credit the cinematography there. I did like the bat like vampire or even the werewolf-like beast he becomes as well. They’re sticking with the powers that this character has in the book. I’d also say that capturing Victorian England was well done, including the costumes there as well.

In conclusion, I would recommend this one, if you’re a horror film fan or even just a fan of good acting. The story is deep and complex. Acting coupled with that makes it work so well, especially from Oldman. This is well made from the cinematography to the effects and even the soundtrack. If I have an issue there, it just runs a bit too long for me. I’ll also warn you that this is probably a romance first. That’s not to say that we shy away from the horror elements. This should probably be seen at least once as this is an epic take on a classic novel.


My Rating: 9 out of 10