Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #625
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 13, 1992
Sub-Genre: Vampire/Love Story
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 128 minutes
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Fuchs, Charles Mulvehill
Screenplay: James V. Hart
Based on Dracula by Bram Stoker
Special Effects: Michael Lantieri, Greg Cannom
Visual Effects: Gary Gutierrez, Leslie Huntley, Alison Savitch, Gene Warren Jr.
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Score: Wojciech Kilar
Editing: Nicholas C. Smith, Glen Scantlebury, Anne Goursaud
Studios: American Zoetrope, Osiris Films
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, Florina Kendrick, Jay Robinson
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Wojciech Kilar “Love Remembered”
 Wojciech Kilar “The Beginning”
 Wojciech Kilar “Vampire Hunters”
Love really knows how to suck you dry when it so desires. If you don’t believe me, ask Vlad The Impaler (Gary Oldman), as he has every right to feel mildly bitter after the hardship he has been forced to endure in the name of his one true soul mate. Her name was Elisabeta and the pair were very much in love way back in the fifteenth century with a bright and devotion-filled still future ahead of them.
Vlad naturally assumed that they’d never be separated and eventually grow old together, but then tragedy struck and she flung herself from a parapet to her death after listening to one too many Chinese whispers about her beloved falling in battle. This would have been mortifying enough but, as a practitioner of the dark arts, poor Vlad was then further stymied as the penance for her suicidal tendencies was eternal damnation, meaning precious little hope of an emotional reunion in the foreseeable.
Renouncing God was a no-brainer, but vowing to rise from the topsoil to avenge his felled bride wasn’t a great deal less obvious an action to him. Besides, he had every faith that, one day, they would be reunited and that helped tide him over for the following four hundred years, by which point, those dashing good looks had been replaced by something far less pin-up. Fuck it, if love is blind, then perhaps she’ll see past the excess nasal hair and withered balls.
This is what Vlad is banking on and 1897 plans to be his year if encouraging signs of her long-awaited resurrection are to be believed. No one can say he doesn’t deserve this second bite of the cherry as he has waited most patiently for centuries now and fate appears to have finally rewarded him for his enduring stoicism. The wheels have been set in motion and a set of them just so happen to be trundling towards his private estate as we speak so it’s time for Count Dracula to go bat shit and track himself down a fair lady for old time’s sake.
This is dreadfully unfortunate news for freshly qualified solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), whose unfavorable task it is to take counsel with the count on this dark, stormy Transylvanian night. It’s business over pleasure for Jonathan and he stands to make a tidy sum out of real estate acquisition if he makes it through to sunrise in one piece.
However, what he hasn’t banked on is his host’s flirty entourage “the sisters”, a trio of succubi with only one stimulus, that being to rid the young man of all sanguine fluid and leave him a shadow of his former self. Dracula bounds in to his rescue and the danger appears to have passed for Harker. Alas, in all the kerfuffle, the count may have negated to elucidate his fondness for Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina (Winona Ryder), and is putting any salivating over her photo down to the particularly succulent sirloin they just shared. Never trust the elderly.
So how does Mina feel about being the object of two men’s affections? Well Harker’s undoubtedly got the edge with regards to not looking like Ming The Merciless after a spin cycle. But Dracula has a number of tricks up his sleeve, most notably the ability to shape shift into anything from a bat, to mist, and a much younger version of himself before incontinence set in for the duration.
Of course, not everyone is thrilled about his arrival on British soil, none more embittered than Harker’s former colleague Renfield (a gloriously delirious insect munching Tom Waits), whose ravings from within his nut house cell foretell of danger no less than great. But anything has to be better to the count than waiting another 100 stretch for Trump to get into office and attempting to visit Milwaukee. It’s now or never and, when you consider that this dude just won’t perish, that’s too long to go without feeling.
Before committing himself to an eternity with his estranged bride, he opts to hop into beast form to ravage Mina’s bestie Lucy (Sadie Frost) and brush away any enduring cobwebs. You should have just kept it in your slacks wolf boy as, once Lucy’s health begins to rapidly deteriorate, her heartbroken husband in waiting, Arthur (Cary Elwes) and the powers that be decide it’s time to call in the heavy mob. There may only be one Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), but this cat can smell skulduggery like a fart in a corset and has a fair idea of where this disturbance derives.
Meanwhile, the hapless Mina is left ruminating over whether to go ahead with her planned marriage to Jonathan or fall further beneath the spell of the mysterious stranger quite openly offering her an eternal out. Dracula may be centuries past his best before date but he knows just how to woo the opposite sex and has had more than enough time to perfect his technique. Withered balls or no withered balls, destiny suggests that her loyalties remain with her more antiquated suitor and it’s all hotting up for one helluva bar room brawl.
Francis Ford Coppola’s luxurious 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel was actually met with considerable suspicion by Hollywood insiders prior to its release and dubbed “Bonfire of the Vampires” as they fully expected it to crash and burn upon release. It’s hard to imagine the director of such undisputed classics as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Parts I & II not being considered utterly bankable but, to be fair, even Coppola has been known to have his off-days and updating much-loved Gothic horror folklore placed him well out of his comfort zone. That said, much care and attention was lavished on making sure that the film looked the part and over $200 million in box-office returns is certainly worth crawling out of your sarcophagus for.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula looks exquisite, a veritable banquet for the senses to engorge upon and is reasonably faithful to the source fiction to boot. The production design really is top-notch and director of photography Michael Ballhaus and composer Wojciech Kilar combine superbly to lend his tale a genuine Gothic flavor that serves it decidedly well. In addition, Coppola plumps on using a number of archaic cinematic techniques – double exposures, matte shots, alternating shutter speeds – to tell his tale and there’s no question that his approach is meticulous, at least, from an optical standpoint. However, for all its bells and whistles, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s a smidgen cold and detached, particularly given the fact that it is essentially packaged as a timeless love story.
It’s not the fault of the actors, all of whom acquit themselves admirably, and while Reeves came under intense scrutiny for his awkward British accent, he is only as overawed by the company he keeps as his character is intended to be. Granted, it’s not his finest hour but then, when you’re sharing most of your scenes with Oldman in this kind of mouth-watering form, can you ever hope not to wind up a rather poor second best? As the ageing warlock of the title, Oldman is so far on-point it is scary, balancing romance, sorrow, and tremendous evil exquisitely as he quenches heartily on every solitary second of screen time afforded him.
Even the great Hopkins is forced to play second fiddle here, although he shows enough of that Lecter edge to make Van Helsing a pawn worthy of our investment, despite being somewhat frank and humorless. Meanwhile, for their very best efforts, both Reeves and Ryder can but tread water to the best of their ability and this is regrettably where the emotional connection starts to falter.
The film was shot almost entirely on sound stages and it tells as there’s a genuine feel of old studio production that feels almost at odds with the sweeping story Coppola is attempting to convey. Fortunately, it’s too much of a spectacle to become too caught up in the small print and more than brooding enough to never be accused of not nailing the general tone. What is more disconcerting is that, despite Oldman’s very best yearning and gurning, James V. Hart’s screenplay never quite catches fire and the stage really was set for something truly incendiary. It’s not the dialogue per se, more something that transpires between page and screen almost impossible to place your finger on that holds Bram Stoker’s Dracula back from uncontested greatness. Make no mistake, it’s one of the most well-dressed modern-day reiterations of the classic tale that we’ve seen until now and a real cornucopia for the retinas. But there can be no denying that it would have benefited from a transfusion.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The blood-drenched prologue is marvellous and, while the grue seldom gushes freely, when it does it’s of the deepest red hue and immensely satisfying. As for skin, Frost is on hand to plump up those purty pillows for our personal perusal, and if I were a werewolf, then I’d have a fair idea where to place my hairy palms. Speaking of which, “the sisters” state a pretty decent case for switching heavenly allegiances. Dare I say arooga! Do you reckon they said that in the nineteenth century? If not then they missed a trick.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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