The International Writers Magazine
:DVD review

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V Hart (Screenplay)
Bram Stoker (original)
Gemma Roxanne Williams

ram Stoker's Dracula gives us a dark and brooding Gary Oldman as Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina and an equally wooden Keanu Reeves as Jonathan. Fortunately it has Anthony Hopkins sizzling as Prof. Van Helsing and Tom Waits as the bug-eating Renfield. Finish it off with an overemphasised twist of reincarnation love story, and you're just about there. Add a splattering of a few good lines and twists of genius, a sprinkling of stunning visuals and be prepared for something remarkable.

The opening scene is one not of the novel; Dracula's beloved wife (who Mina turns out to be the reincarnation of -cue the tangent away from the book) commits suicide thinking him dead in combat, the church renounces her last rites, and so he declares war on God. Somewhere along the way he becomes a vampire, which is not really explained but conveyed in a gory scene of dramatic red material and bleeding crosses.

Then the film carries on where the name-sake started off; Jonathon Harker travels to Transylvania and Dracula's castle where he is to complete a series of undertakings that will allow the Count to come to London and live according to the culture. Amidst terrifying young Harker, Dracula discovers a picture of Harker's fiancée, Mina, who he recognises as the reincarnation of his beloved wife, Elisabeta. Cue Dracula moving to London, intending to bring Mina back to Transylvania, and clashing with Professor Abraham Van Helsing and the rest of the anti-vamp clan. The film concludes where we began, in Transylvania for a final showdown. Lovers of the original will not appreciate this romanticised ending, nor will those hardcore gothic horror fans.

The whole thing is somewhat ovefrwraught, and would have been much closer to the original text, not to mention much scarier, if it had been toned down. However, Bram Stoker's Dracula is undeniably gorgeous and compelling. Flashes of brilliance such as the moment when Dracula's shadow moves independently of him, almost makes the excessively artsy and pretentious direction as well as the unnecessary elements of explicit sex, (unnecessary nudity and bestiality that doesn't add to the plot) blood and gore (knives, licking blood, yuck! Enough said) forgivable.

While the film's value for sheer entertainment and stunning visuals are indisputable, whoever did the casting for this film needs to be shot! Reeves is shockingly woody, coming across as a snotty whiner; we almost want Dracula to get on with it and suck him dry. Ryder plays the doe-eyed innocent well, but is unbearably dry; and don't even get me started on their 'English' accents. Anthony Hopkins however is great, although what I would have done to have seen Hopkins as Dracula! Oldman, to his credit, played the part well, despite shocking costume and make up; deviating slightly from the likes of Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Frank Langella by taking on the romanticised tragic hero slant. The star of the show as far as I am concerned is Waits as Renfield, who was outstandingly vibrant, not to mention a great comic relief from a cast that gave the impression of a secondary school drama group taking themselves too seriously.

As far as relation to the book is concerned; the brazen title Bram Stoker's Dracula had many Stoker lovers rushing out to see a version finally adhering to the original gothic novel. However, as the many disappointing deviations show; the reason for this title was not to claim an adherence but was simply because another studio had the rights to the title Dracula, so a qualification was necessary. Since this 1992 horror film would have the same characters and same general plotline as the novel, as well as trying to capture the feeling of the original, this seemed reasonable enough.

For lovers of the book, Hart's changing of the story from one of horror to one of impossible, enduring love, with much more romance and eroticism than in the book (far more than was called for) and with an emphasis on empathy for this misunderstood antihero, is unforgivable. While the first reaction is to blame the directing, Coppola's flourishes and style are what save the film, Hart's deviations; the ruin of it.

As previously mentioned, the first scene happened neither in the book nor anywhere in history, while the ending is changed entirely; from Mina becoming the unwilling undead in the novel, to being in love with and killing (as well as redeeming) Dracula in the film. There are a few times when the basic conventions of the genre (created by the namesake novel) are broken; Dracula walks in daylight, his reflection is shown in a mirror; if you are going to do a film with Stoker's name in the title, you cannot get away with breaking his conventions!

Overall, this is a less pure, more disturbing world than that of Bram Stoker's imaginings, however the increased raw sexuality and romanticism could be said to appeal to a modern day audience. However if you want to make a film that practically cheers on vampires and slates the slayers, don't do it with Mr Stoker's name in the title!

Near enough every version of Dracula made, be it on stage or through film, has departed from the original story; so despite the many deportations from the novel, alongside the likes of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), Werner Herzog's remake of Nosferatu, Horror of Dracula with Christopher Lee (1958), and a television production with Jack Palance (1973) it is actually one of the closer renderings of the story.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is certainly a head above the likes of the laughably archaic Bela Lugosi version (1931) with Dwight Frye, and the shockingly dull version with Frank Langella (1979). Departures from the novel aside, it makes a stunning film, which is thoroughly entertaining and well worth watching.

The film is visually stunning, weaving together horror, demons, romance, Christian symbolism, social commentary shocking eroticism and morality all mixed into a dark presentation of the novel that inspired everything from Nosferatu to Buffy, Underworld to Van Helsing. At times deep, thrilling and enchanted, at others weird, eccentric, even funny. Don't watch this film to see a close rendering of this book, do see it to be enchanted, entertained and blown away by death and beauty.

The movie won three Oscars

© Gemma Roxanne Williams November 2005
Gemma is a second year Creative Wrirting Student at the University of Portsmouth

Alt: Dracula - Take Two (1992)
Rebecca Kingsbury

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