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Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Premise: A reinterpretation of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula story. In this version, Count Dracula travels from his castle in Transylvania to London in search of the reincarnation of his wife.

What Works: Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a rare example of high-class horror. Its production values are first rate and the film features lavish costumes and sets that give the film a sense of scope and scale beyond other Dracula films. The picture features A-list actors like Winona Ryder as Mina Murray, Anthony Hopkins as Professor Van Helsing, Tom Waits as R.M. Renfield, and Gary Oldman as Dracula. These respected actors give the film a lot of credibility and fill in their characters with insane qualities that differ from the rather stiff portrayals in other adaptations. As a Dracula picture, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is very much a culmination of previous adaptations. Some of the make up design reflects Nosforatu, the settings have a theatrical quality of Universal’s 1931 film staring Bela Lugosi, the camera work shows influence of the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula, and the costumes, sexuality, and bloodletting echo the Hammer films staring Christopher Lee. Coppola’s film is able to take these various elements and combine them while also adding an operatic quality that distinguishes this picture from other Dracula films and in some ways it even actually exceeds Stoker’s novel. The film fills in a lot of gaps in characterization from Stoker’s work, and the portrayal of Dracula is much more interesting in this film than the version that appears on the page. Romantic takes on Count Dracula are not new (see the 1979 film staring Frank Langella) but here Dracula is actually a tragic figure, similar to Frankenstein’s monster, and his monstrous search for love is a much more compelling than a mere predator. The film also builds upon the Christian symbolism of blood drinking, picking up on the idea that Dracula is a sort of antichrist figure, and works that in with the love story to make the film in part a commentary on vampire films. Where many films about vampires follow a paradigm of white male heroes identifying the evil other and then staking it to death, Bram Stoker’s Dracula makes the audience sympathize with the vampire and this makes the audience question its feelings about the destruction. This subversive quality is shared by a few other vampire films, notably Interview with the Vampire, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula remains one of the chief examples.

What Doesn’t: Some of the casting choices of the film are very questionable, namely Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. Reeves cannot deliver on the acting and his British accent is never convincing. Also, fans of Stoker’s novel ought to be aware that the title is misleading. Although in many respects this version of Dracula is much closer to the novel than most other adaptations, it still takes quite a few liberties and ultimately reflects Francis Ford Coppola more than it does Bram Stoker. Lastly, the film is not a wall to wall shock fest. Although it has the requisite scares, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is ultimately a Gothic romance, a tragedy staring the undead.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes. 

Bottom Line: If not the most frightening, Bram Stoker’s Dracula stands as one of the most unique and compelling takes on the Dracula story. Its cast and filmmaking craft distinguish it among other Dracula films and it is a great horror film for those who generally do not enjoy the genre.

Episode: #162 (October 21, 2007)