31 Days of Halloween 28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula is worthwhile
Dracula has been featured in over 200 films, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) is one of the best. Just based on the visual nature of the film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is unique. I have never seen such an appealing movie visually. It has a gothic nature and is littered with great effects, all of them done in-camera. This is the only Dracula movie I’ve seen that brings the novel to life for me, especially in its tone, telling the story from different perspectives, but it is really a combination of Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker himself that make this film great.
The movie has high expectations for itself with its title. Dracula is one thing, but “Bram Stoker’s” Dracula is another. The former is comparable to many of the other 200 films made about Dracula. The latter brings expectations of authenticity. We are set up to see the REAL Dracula before the movie even begins. This is a smart ploy and works well, even though they did change a couple of things. The cast and crew spent two whole days simply reading the novel to absorb it. Two days. They sat together reading, according to Bloodlines, the Dracula documentary.
There have been missteps in adhering to aged literature, such as in the most recent War of the Worlds (2005) adaptation with Tom Cruise. There’s nothing new in that movie that we haven’t seen in the 1953 version or elsewhere. So as to not make this mistake, Coppola invested a large majority of the budget in costumes and set design, to showcase the actors.
The best actor in the film by far is Gary Oldman. He plays Dracula as a fallen angel and it works perfectly. It is just great. I like this take a lot. I like Christopher Lee’s evil-natured Dracula too, but this one works best in its own context of lost love they’re trying to sell. Of course, Dracula loses more than love in the movie, as he denounces God and becomes a self-appointed vampire, cursed by Heaven. The prologue paints this perfectly. Because of Gary Oldman’s new take on Dracula, the story becomes about spiritual redemption, reincarnation, and sacrifice. This is a much deeper line to take in a Dracula movie.
The screenplay was written by James Hart, who also wrote Frankenstein (1994) and Hook (1991). His best work seems to be with Victorian settings. His writing of Lucy in the film may seem like a one-note sexual bimbo, but she doesn’t end up with any one of the suitors she teases. She ends up with Dracula. She seemingly has power over all three of the normal men around her and flaunts it, but not when it comes to Dracula.
Dracula represents the growing liberal and sexual nature in 19th century London. This is expressed in the movie. Coppola suggests other trends from 19th century England, such as an increase in foreign blood, as expressed in Dracula. He’s a foreigner who is buying some land in England and moving there, like many others in 19th century.
Much of the invasion of England allegory also sees parallels in today’s United States too, with the same sort of thing happening. I love my allegories so this is a great find. I think the origin of this allegory comes from Stoker as an Irish immigrant. Most of his ideas stem from his mother’s illness or the horrible nature of cholera. The novel then, contains a lot more themes of fear and disease than vampires.
Coppola and Gary Oldman make the character of Dracula redeemable. I never thought that this was possible, after seeing all of the Christopher Lee Dracula films. Oldman has said that he really enjoyed Bela Lugosi as Dracula, and liked his dark nature. The evil foreigner comes through in Lugosi’s Dracula too, even more so, because Lugosi’s Dracula socializes with the elites more, who are the upper class.
As for weaknesses, this movie’s pace isn’t the fastest. It does jump around a bit by its very nature, told from the writings of different characters. Like in the novel, characters write in their journal, and we hear about what they think and experience. Unfortunately, Gary Oldman has to carry this movie by himself, because Keanu Reaves and Winona Ryder are pretty average to poor. I can see why people might not like this movie because of them.
The themes in this movie are very well done, especially the character and journey of Dracula himself, as a fallen angel and victim of lost love. There are buckets of allegories and metaphors if you want to view it for that message, which is very intriguing to me, but there’s more detail than I can go into here.
Dismissing this movie as superficial, boring, or choppy is not fair and not right. It’s just not. Furthermore, I disagree with vampire lovers who say that this is not a very good vampire movie. I would think vampire lovers would like a deep and meaningful take like this one, but that’s not so. Many have said that Coppola went way too far and way too over-the-top with the costumes, the gore, and the unusual nature to the film, but that’s what makes this movie unique. Without those things, you might as well watch Horror of Dracula (1958) or Nosferatu (1922), since they have a better story.
Lastly, Dracula Untold (2014) and NBC’s Dracula ALSO try to humanize Dracula, but fail miserably. The Dracula on NBC is not scary and sorta boring. Over in PG-13 land, Luke Evans shows some of the same emotional turmoil that made Gary Oldman’s take special, but it’s just not enough. There’s no gothic nature. No erotic undertones. No strong support. And Dracula really hasn’t lost anything until the end of the movie. All of that is the opposite of what happens in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. All of it.
All in all, I like this movie. I won’t say I like this over anything else, because Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are awesome in Hammer’s Dracula movies. However, this movie is better than most, especially Dracula Untold. I will admit that the movie does take some liberties, but it makes for such a good story. Bad Keanu and novel changes aside, the themes of the novel still do come across in the movie, probably more than in other Dracula films, and the movie presents something thematic, much deeper and worthwhile. It is interesting.
31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon
1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)