Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bram Stoker's Dracula

"Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992, Francis Ford Coppola, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures) is the big-budget version of Dracula.

It stars Gary Oldman in the title role, who plays a Dracula who is surprisingly close to the novel. Not that I don't love Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee or Richard Roxburgh's versions of the famous Vampyr.

The film does well to stick to Stoker's plot and the styling of the film scenes and storytelling are beautifully reminiscent of the classic Dracula films.

The special effects are artful, and although slightly dated by today's standards, very effective and eerie. I'm a big fan of the way they captured Dracula's shadow which moves on its own accord.

The plot, in case you've been under a particularly secluded rock, is thus:

Vlad Dracula returns from the holy wars to find that his love, Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) has committed suicide, believing him killed in battle. Dracula is informed by his holy men that as Elisabeta died at her own hand, God will not allow her soul to enter heaven. Enraged, Dracula renounces God and declares that he will fight on the side of darkness, returning after his death, to avenge Elisabeta.

Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), a young solicitor trying to make his mark on the world so that he can marry his lady love, Wilhelmina "Mina" Murray (also Winona Ryder), is sent on a career making opportunity to Transylvania to make a deal with Count Dracula who is buying property in London. Harker is to replace Renfield (Tom Waits), who has mysteriously lost his mind and is now locked up in an insane asylum eating insects and babbling about his Master.

Harker happily heads to Transylvania, but upon reaching the castle and meeting the Count he begins to regret his situation.

Mina remains at home in London, where she spends most of her time with her promiscuous and rich friend, Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost). Lucy is a beautiful, young, red haired girl from a wealthy family. She enjoys attracting male attention, leading rich and handsome men on and dreaming up ways to make them prove to her why she should marry them. She also probably likes long walks in the rain and pina coladas, but I can't really comment.

Mina is more reserved and simply wants to marry Jonathan. Or so she thinks.

Dracula forces Harker to send letters to his family, fiancee and employers stating that he has chosen to stay with the Count for a month.

Dracula, having seen from photographs that Harker's Mina is the reincarnation of Elisabeta, travels to England by boat and begins his courtship of her. Soon Mina falls in love with the Count, even though he enslaves and turns Lucy into the undead and she is killed by the famous Vampire Hunter, Dr. Abraham van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins).

Harker and Mina marry, only for Harker (who begins turning extremely grey haired after all the stress and sex with crazy vampire vixens) to have to fight for Mina against Count Dracula.

A good old romantic vampire story, with absolutely no glitter at all! Dracula is a scary vampire, even if he is lovesick for Mina and the audience can both sympathise with his situation and fear him as the villain of the piece. He changes form many times from old man, to wolf, to bat-like creature, to young man, to angry vampiric monster. Dracula is truly no longer human, but he still loves like one.

I liked that Lucy's suitors included Richard E. Grant and Cary Elwes (of 'The Princess Bride").

As I mentioned, the styling of this film is done artistically in order to set the scene and recreate the romance of old vampire films. The back drops and scenery are particularly striking, and the make up and character clothing is well suited to the era. I'm not sure sunglasses were invented back in the 1890s, but we'll overlook that.

Anthony Hopkins gives an enjoyably mad performance as Van Helsing. His babbling lines and demeanor are perfect for the role.

Keanu Reeves is believable as the wronged man. He also fights back, even if it is in a proper and polite 19th Century Englishman's way.

Lucy's wedding dress (which also became her burial gown) is freaky as. No way would I like to be married (or buried for that matter) in that crazy get-up! And I do wonder where a proper young woman would get all those natty, provocative outfits! Unless she's prancing around in her underdresses!

It's a long film and the language is proper to the setting and original book and plays. But the styling, action and special effects keep this vampire classic interesting. I really like this film as a Dracula adaptation and would rank it up there with some of the original and Hammer versions as my favourite Dracula!

If you like the Dracula story at all, definitely give this version a spin!

Count Dracula; a budding barber!
[Picture: American Zoetrope]