Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): “I am the monster that breathing men would kill.”

bram-stokers-dracula-movie-poster-1992-1020190922There have been lots of interesting and not-so-interesting films about vampires lately. The teenage vampire craze may have died down, but recently I chose to watch a vampire film made way before the craze began. If you’ve read the original book by Bram Stoker, then the plot of this film will be of no surprise. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, dir. Francis Ford Coppola) tells the story of Count Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman) of Transylvania, who lost his one true love after a hideous war in 1462. He vows to reject death, and to avenge her memory. Later, in 1897, young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) arrives at Dracula’s castle to assist him with real estate acquisition in London. Jonathan is engaged to the beautiful Mina (Winona Ryder), who looks eerily similar to Dracula’s lost love. Dracula leaves Jonathan at the castle in Transylvania to find Mina in London, and claim her as his own.

I’ll start by saying that Gary Oldman is fairly amazing in this film. He stars as the enigmatic Count Dracula, switching between young and old appearances depending on his blood intake. He’s completely unrecognisable underneath all the ancient-person makeup (which is done very artistically, no papier-mâché wrinkles here), but he acts right through it. Very impressive indeed. As young Dracula, he performs the seductive role well. Anthony Hopkins is also in this film, starring as the monster-hunting Professor Abraham Van Helsing – Dracula’s nemesis. He’s great in this, but in more of an understated way when compared with Oldman, whose Transylvanian accent lends an overtly dramatic quality to his role. There’s also a genius casting of Tom Waits as Renfield, Dracula’s former devoted subject.

Here is where the main issue of the film arises. Two of the greatest actors of recent times, Oldman and Hopkins, are paired with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves. Winona Ryder is not a bad actress, but in this film she looks like she’s acting in a pantomime. Her performance is very exaggerated, and her pretend-British accent is patchy and awkward. Keanu Reeves is as wooden as ever, and if Winona’s accent is slightly awkward, Keanu’s affected British accent transcends awkwardness on a universal scale. I can’t believe these two people were chosen to be in the same film as two legendary actors who are comparatively so impressive. It’s this kind of dichotomy that can throw you off whilst watching, but luckily the rest of the film is interesting enough to almost cancel them out.

large_bram_stoker_dracula_blu-ray3

The story develops at a rapid pace with the assistance of visual tricks. There’s a constant narration by a couple of the characters, but there’s also use of shadow puppets, the standard map with a line travelling to show where the characters are heading, visual overlays and recurring visual motifs to remind you when a spooky presence is hanging around. What myself and the other viewers noticed, however, was that Coppola was extremely fond of using the visual matching technique to transition between scenes. I counted at least four visual match transitions, though other viewers I watched this with counted as many as six. This became a bit repetitive and, frankly, pretty funny. It would actually make a great drinking game. Despite having a very serious tone, which may have been effective when this was released in ’92, the film has dated to the point of being slightly melodramatic. Some of the key moments of the film have become so iconic that they have since been parodied in films such as Leslie Nielsen’s hilarious Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Reflecting on them now, they just seem open to comedic interpretation. This isn’t necessarily a fault of the film itself, however.

The costuming and production design of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is beautiful. The sets and costumes are sumptuous and extremely detailed. The film won Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup, and was also nominated for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration – all of which the film is absolutely deserving.

Overall, this is not a bad film. However, it is excessively campy, and some of the actors (Winona and Keanu, I’m looking at you) are completely out of their depth in comparison to the massive talent of Oldman and Hopkins. Some of the visual tricks are heavy-handed to the point of being comedic, and have dated badly. But it’s a compelling film despite these problems. It’s still completely watchable, it’s just that certain moments will make you laugh rather than increasing the drama, as originally intended.

2.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

27 comments

  1. yeah. this wasn’t as great as it could have been.

    NIce review Anna!

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I’m just glad I didn’t have really high expectations for it!

  2. Definitely a little too campy. I’m still waiting for someone to make a genuinely decent modern version of Dracula.

    1. Me too! Sometimes I wonder whether it’ll always be campy. But there has to be a super-stylistic yet classy way of doing it.

  3. Sorry you didn’t like it a bit more, I liked Winona but she didn’t have much chemistry with Oldman, maybe it was his fault, though. I’m with you about Keanu – he didn’t fit this movie at all.

    1. I just read that apparently Keanu had to re-record all of his lines because he was initially using too modern of a British accent. Maybe that contributed to his general disconnection from reality in this film. I actually did quite like this, it’s a fun movie even though it has its flaws!

  4. Excellent work! I need to give this a watch since I haven’t seen it since it came out in the theater. I do remember having the hots for Ryder and thinking Reeves was a pud….

    1. Winona Ryder is beautiful in this film, so your good taste strikes again! Reeves is basically a non-entity here. Like an amorphous blob.

  5. I’m on the fence whether this movie is underrated or just not that good. Definitely not bad, but could use some trimming, like the entirety of Keanu Reeves’ performance.

    1. Yeah, I feel the same way. Even though it is visually beautiful and structurally sound, and there are some good performances, there are really bad bits that balance out the positives. I want them to trim Keanu’s performance and replace it with an entirely different person!

  6. I give this a much higher rating. The aspect that worked for me was the visual element – every scene in the film was like a work of art – color, light & shadow, repetition, contrasting lines – to me it is an amazing work of moving artistry. Melodramatic was the style of the novel, and this film is the closest to the original novel of any Dracula film. Even the multiple narrations and maps are part of the novel. Keanu was a big name draw at the time, so we know why he was there – and there’s no defending his usual wooden performance 🙂

    1. For sure, this film is absolutely visually beautiful! I’m thinking of doing a cinematography post to highlight exactly what you’ve mentioned. The costuming and set design was amazing. I’m wondering whether it’s possible to do any interpretation of Dracula without the melodramatic element. Maybe it just can’t be done due to the source material (which I loved reading back in the day). Good old Keanu.

      1. All old gothic stories have the element of melodrama – I’m sure it was no accident that the film relayed that style 🙂

  7. I know what you mean about Winona Ryder. I don’t think I liked any of the movies she was in, with the exception of “Edward Scissorhands.” Perhaps the blonde wig made her less melodramatic? Her acting style reminds me of Anne Hathaway’s, and to a lesser extent, Cate Blanchett’s. Not really a fan of any of them…

    1. I’m struggling to think of a film that I liked Winona Ryder in, apart from Beetlejuice and Heathers. Maybe also the one where she’s in a mental health facility with Angelina Jolie. Totally agree with you on Anne Hathaway! I quite like Cate Blanchett but she can tend to be a bit theatre-y sometimes which can be inappropriate!

      1. oh yeah, totally forgot about Beetlejuice and Girl, Interrupted! Yeah, those are both really good.

  8. Isn’t it a shame that this one isn’t better? So much potential with Oldman and Hopkins, but it’s just so…meh. Nice write-up, Anna!

    1. Thanks Cara! 🙂 It’s a pretty enjoyable film whilst you’re watching it, but afterwards all the disappointments seem to sink in!

  9. I fully agree with you on criticizing Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves – they nearly destroyed the movie for me. However, the always remarkable Gary Oldman once again saved the day and made this movie a decent experience.

    Dorian

    1. Gary Oldman is the perfect actor to save the day! He was so great. Too bad about Winona and Keanu.

  10. So. I think Winona Ryder a heavy weight actor, one more than capable of holding her own, or even outshining, Hopkins and Oldman. But here? Here she’s bad. And Reeves is wretched. And so I agree this flick isn’t good. At all.

    1. It’s funny because Oldman and Hopkins almost balance Reeves and Ryder out in terms of acting, but then the repetitive cheesy elements are hilariously offputting as well. Not a bad experience overall, but not a great film either!

      1. Totally agreed.

  11. Gary Oldman 🙂

    1. Love that guy. So versatile!

  12. Gary Oldman is the epitome of villainy, awesome portrayal! Well next to Christopher Lee (Rest in Peace Sir).

    1. Love Gary Oldman! And Christopher Lee was so amazing, such an interesting person as well as stellar actor.

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