A title like Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) encourages–even begs–a discussion of faithfulness to the source material. The irony here is that Francis Ford Coppola‘s excursion into vampirism strays further than many other adaptations. The spine of the narrative comes entirely from the imagination of screenwriter James V. Hart, building the story around a romance that is missing from the the titular author’s text. The erotic and romantic additives to the vampire mythos that typify the late twentieth century here culminate in a Count that is equal parts monster and star-crossed lover.You can’t say they didn’t warn us. “Love never dies” is the marketing slogan used for this film, and they meant it. This is a love story as much as a horror yarn. Dracula is no mere wolf in seducer’s clothing; turns out he’s a misunderstood and hopeless romantic who has only been sucking blood and stealing babies out of despair for a lost love. In 1462, brutal warlord Vlad Dracula returns from battle to discover his beloved wife, Elisabeta, has pulled an Aegeus and jumped off a tower when she mistakenly assumed he was dead. (So many of these stories are no longer possible in a world with cellphones.) Enraged, Vlad renounces God and swears revenge by becoming an immortal vampire. How isn’t clear, though it involves blood–lots of blood. He then spends the rest of the movie pursuing Mina Harker, nee Murray, because she is a reincarnation, or embodiment, or something of poor Elisabeta. All it takes to get a man to quit raping and pillaging and turning into rats ‘n’ bats is the love of a good woman.
It sounds like I’m taking a piss, and I am to a certain extent. But there’s plenty to enjoy about this film, from the Oscar-winning costumes, make-up and special effects to a few effective performances. Gary Oldman has fun with the role and delivers a Count that is often chilling and sometimes sympathetic. It’s a wholly original take on Dracula as a character, and it works well here. Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his Hannibal Lecter gig, gives us a quirky and manic Van Helsing that may be the best take of all on the Dutch vampire hunter. And whichever mad genius convinced Tom Waits to eat bugs and rave like a lunatic as Renfield deserves their own Oscar. Coppola manages many creepy and effective set pieces, and the use of practical effects over bad 90s CGI ensures the movie looks good to this day. Parts of this film recommend it for classic status.Then we run into problems. This may very well be the hardest version of Dracula to review, with soaring heights and crushing depths. Almost every ingredient of this flick is either a stroke of genius or pure idiocy. While the aforementioned turn in great performances, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder come close to sinking the ship before it arrives in Whitby. Keanu’s the worst of the pair, his horrific accent making Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood sound authentic. But, this being a romance and all, Winona’s role is central to the film–and she’s just plain out of her depth. Their poor showing ruins the entire film for some, but I’m a bit more forgiving due to the other terrific actors. Whether the central romance works or not is down to personal taste. For me it’s too incongruous with the rest of the grotesque proceedings. He’s a little too stoked about feeding that live, screaming baby to his minions to be a redeemable Bad Boy. When Mina declares her love at the end as she chops Vlad’s head from his spurting corpse, I laughed instead of cried. I find the Count more fun when he’s hanging out with his undead brides. That’s how black my heart is.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula gets 1 out of 2 fangs out. Pretty much a 2 and a 0 averaged together. Hell is paved with good intentions.
Next up: Stop! Hammer time!