Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Richard. E Grant, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell, Tom Waits
Plot: A forsaken Romanian knight finds a way to cheat death by drinking the blood of the living all the while longing to be reunited with his long dead love. When a London Solicitor arrives at his castle he sees the face of his departed love in a photo in the solicitors possession and leaves to pursue her.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the first horror films I recall being utterly transfixed by as a child, a child far too young to be watching such a film I might add, some 12 years old watching on a VHS i had rented from my local video shop. This isn’t to say it was my first dalliance with the genre, I had only prior been awakened by the allure of the Alien movies, The Thing and The Fly, It is fairly safe to say I had already come into contact with much more graphic and much more terrifying films prior to this but it was the first that utterly hypnotised me with its presentation.
What’s it all about then?
I think most of us know the Dracula story by now. The historical basis for Count Dracula was thought to be Vlad Tępes. In life he was a Romanian knight who fought for the Christian faith against Muslim Turks. A furious and unforgiving combatant, he was renowned for impaling his opponents, earning the nickname “The Impaler”. In this film the literary Dracula is bound to the Vlad The Impaler story adding the supernatural aspects of Bram Stoker’s tale to the historical figure.
Is it any good?
In my opinion, very much so. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Bram’s Stokers Dracula is a masterclass in the art of direction and the history of the craft. Coppola was massively reticent to employ any computer aided trickery and instead wished to employ every traditional camera trick he could to achieve the films visual effects, employing his own son, Roman Coppola, to oversee that part of filming. Rear-projection, forced perspective, multiple exposures, miniatures, matte paintings, all were employed at some point during the movies duration to startlingly good effect. Coppola on the whole achieves excellent performances from his cast (with two notable exceptions I’ll get to in a moment) a feat he achieved by utilising team building exercises, table reads and theatre technique to get them to gel, on the whole it worked splendidly. His direction on this film on the whole is excellent, coaxing some memorable performances from his cast & evocative imagery from his crew.
What about the cast?
The ensemble cast of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is really quite remarkable, as are some of the performances given. Gary Oldman steals the entire film as The Count in all his guises, be it caked in prosthetics as the older Count or one of his demonic forms or as the youthful prince. Oldman’s performance is commanding and utterly mesmeric, from heartfelt pathos to venomous menace on a dime and delivering possibly one of my favourite performances of his career. Oldman took a role that had previously been quite camp and silly and gave it true heart & soul. Some strong gravitas is offered by Anthony Hopkins as vampire hunter Van Helsing, a schizophrenic mix of grave seriousness one minute and dark, even childlike humour employed the next, it’s a fascinating turn. Some reliably strong support is given by the likes of Richard. E Grant, Cary Elwes and a wonderfully nuanced take on the deranged Renfield by musician Tom Waits.
But it’s not all good, two of the principle cast REALLY let the side down on this production. First up, Winona Ryder. Ryder isn’t the worst thing about this film, her performance doesn’t make me want to eat my own face like the next culprit, she is however miscast I feel. Ryder feels completely out of sorts in this type of role and it is not suiting of her talents. Ryder’s take on Mina is forgettable when it should be anything but.
Getting to the real criminal of the piece, Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker has to be up there as one of the worst movie miscasts of all time, he is simply excruciating to watch. Woefully out of his depth alongside the likes of Oldman, Hopkins & Grant who if anything magnify Reeves complete ineptitude in the role. His take on the English accent is something that is indelibly etched in the annals of film history, it is truly appalling. Ranging from the plummiest English accent you’ve ever heard to almost slipping into his Californian Ted Theodore Logan drawl on a number of occasions. It truly feels like a great deal of his concentration is being taken over by trying not to go “Woah” after every shocking development, just awful and I don’t like saying that about Keanu Reeves because I really like the guy, but damn!
It’s got one of the best horror scores ever by the way.
Another star of this film that simply has to be applauded has to be the spine-chilling score from Polish composer Wojciech Kilar which is in my opinion one of the finest horror scores of the latter 20th century. Powerful, compelling, full of lust & longing like the old Count himself, it burns itself into the memory to become utterly unforgettable. I am a record collector and managed to bag myself a very hard to come by copy of this on vinyl and it is outstanding in its power & presence, hair-raising in all the right places as any truly great horror score should be. It’s a score fit for one of the greatest movie monsters of all time. The inclusion of Annie Lennox’s Love Song For A Vampire is also a welcome touch, complementing the classical score wonderfully, being a very touching and beautifully written piece of work in of itself.
I will always have a soft spot reserved in my heart for Bram Stoker’s Dracula despite it’s failings. It may not be perfect, it’s overblown and grandiose in the best possible way, it suffers from some miscasting and dodgy performances but is bold, brave and beautifully realised with an artfully minded approach to the source material. Bram Stoker’s Dracula gave the world a truly unforgettable version of The Count that we’re all the richer for experiencing in my humble opinion.