The International Writers Magazine
:DVD Review

Bram Stoker's Dracula
ISBN: 014062063X
Rebecca Kingsbury

Comparing Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of
the novel, does the added romance work?

When Bram Stoker sat down and wrote Dracula he created one of the immortal fictional monsters. The classic horror of the undead Count and his lust for the blood of the living, over a century old, has been adapted to film countless times. From the very first film, Nosferatu in 1922, to the famous Christopher Lee Hammer Horror in 1958, the novel of Dracula has been told on the big screen in almost every decade.

Winona Ryder as Mina

But it wasn’t until 1992, when Francis Ford Coppola released his version, that Dracula became a romance. It’s hard to believe that such a well-known horror figure could be the leading man in a love story, but the film works surprisingly well. Taking the original main characters and settings of the novel, as well as the history behind the menacing Count, Coppola created a tragic figure with a broken heart, who waits centuries to find his lost love. This tragic figure, based on the legend of Vlad the Impaler, and played by Gary Oldman, is introduced to us at the very start of the film, armed and ready to go into battle. He is a Romanian Knight, off to fight the Muslim Turks in 1462. His bride, Elisabeta, played by Winona Ryder, fears that he shall not return to her and cries while kissing him. After victory is established and the battlefield littered with the impaled enemy, Dracula returns to his castle to find Elisabeta dead. The Turks had posted false news of his death and she had, feeling all was lost, thrown herself into the river. Her suicide means she is damned to hell for which Dracula renounces God and swears to avenge her “with all the powers of darkness”.

This very first scene of the film, and one of the most dramatic, tells the audience the importance of the whole story, the reason for his journey to London after seeing Mina’s picture, the reason that Dracula lives in death. It is in Mina that he finds his love again, for she is Elisabeta reincarnated.

I have to admit that when I first read the book and saw the film, they did not strike me as being different, but on a second look I have no idea how I came to that conclusion. The film is very clear with it’s take on the story with it’s tagline being “Love never dies”, introducing Dracula to the romantic genre. The book, despite containing romance, is a horror novel, the romance being simply between Jonathon Harker and Mina, husband and wife. Even though it is the love between these two characters that gets them through their ordeal, it is not focused upon, whereas in the film the main theme other than horror, is love, with the invented romance between Mina and the Count.

Of course Hollywood has a part to play in this new exaggerated romance, for the film contains so much more sex than the book implies to help sell it to us, a sex-mad society. However, in this twisted version, it seems fitting for it to be more seductive, more romantic, for that is what the film is about. We are following this tortured soul who has waited 400 years to find his love and cannot keep his hands off her. It is this different take on the story of the Count that makes the film differ from the book, for Mina loves the Count back. In fact when she goes to Jonathon to be married she says she feels “confused and lost” without her “Prince”. The difference between the two is even clearer in the ‘vampire baptism’ scene. Dracula says he cannot let her become a vampire like him for he loves her too much, yet Mina begs him and he gives in. This scene is full of both romance and sex as it takes place on a bed with both Oldman and Ryder sucking at necks and nipples alike, and declaring their love. It never appeared in the book as a love scene but as more of a rape as Dracula holds Mina’s hands and forces her lips to his bleeding chest. Mina is horrified by the memory of this incident for the rest of the novel as she is slowly becoming like the Count. In the film of course Mina wants to change, to be like her Prince, so she can be with him for always. But that cannot happen because then it wouldn’t be a great love story.

The ending had to be heartbreaking for Mina and indeed it is as she watches her husband slit the throat of her lover, which consequently kills him and reunites his soul with Elisabeta’s. This is a far more Hollywood-style, tragic romance ending with a better climax than the book, where Mina watches in relief as the Count is killed and turns into dust, her horrifying experience over in a quick anti-climax. I enjoyed reading Stoker’s novel and am glad it is one of the classics of literature that has appealed to people for so long. It is the horror that has brought us so many films and spin-off ideas such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and that people can still find scary even as a book. I equally enjoyed Coppola’s film and find the new loving side of this famous terrifying figure an interesting and successful story that is believable even though it has no mention in the book. The seductive and romantic aspect of Bram Stoker's Dracula seems to have done well, with the film making $200,000,000 worldwide. It seems that no matter how many adaptations appear from this nineteenth century novel, the Count will always be popular, and waiting for his next feed.
© Rebecca Kingsbury Nov 16th 2005
Rebecca is Creative Writing student at the University of Portsmouth

Alt Bram Stoker's Dracula review here

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