Movie Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Posted: January 23, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
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Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992 American Zoetrope Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)


And now, for just 86 payments, this fine piece of history can be yours.

Don’t front, you loved this in ’92 when it came out. Everyone loved it in 92, but it has suffered some since then because people like to rag on things. I always find it surprising that they give the added love story such a hard time but Emogorn can cold bloodedly murder people and Not-Frodo can tell Not-Sam to go home, which is a reverse of everything the books are about and everyone seems to take that bullshit in stride. Yes, the love story is sort of stupid and unnecessary, but it’s harmless and you get so see Winona Ryder at the height of her cuteness getting all flushed. Frankly, girls who look sort of like Winona Ryder getting flushed and short of breath is the only reason I still put up with this vampire crap. In fact, the first time I saw this movie was with a girl who did sort of resemble Winona and she did get a bit flushed during the proceedings so you can see why it’s a pleasant connection maybe. That was a pointless but delightful digression, just like the love story, now let’s start the movie shall we?


When will it be enough? When Avon stops calling. That’s when!

Coppola starts us in a different place than previous Dracula movies have begun. Choosing to start with the historical Count Dracula and creating a narrative that involves him rejecting God because of the death of his hot young wife, who was also played by Ryder. Anthony Hopkins is also in this opening piece as a priest. Now it’s right away that some of the silliness people often complain about crops up. Dracula is in a red plastic armor of a design never seen outside of Hollywood and his helmet is just… yeah it looks like a bat’s head or something. However, the opening battle redeems this I think. The battle is played out in silhouette and several of the background figures are paper cutout puppets. It looks really neat, sort of divorced from reality, and wonderfully theatrical. There is also a lot of old school film making of a type that sadly no one uses anymore because they think computers would look better. They’re wrong, let’s be clear on that. This looks wonderful and CGI would ruin it. The model work is a particular favorite of mine.


I’d like to be into you, but I haven’t been programmed to feel human emotions.

The movie begins a bit before the book does if I remember properly. I seem to remember that the book begins with Jonathan Harker (AKA the dumbest human known to science) already on the road and half-way to Drac’s swinging pad. It’s been a few years since I dipped into the book and I could be wrong though. I always seem to slip into a trance before he gets to the castle, something about the book being mind-numbingly dull until crazy stuff starts going down. Here, he’s just about to go when we first meet him, and Mina is already pretty much in heat before he goes. I have no problem with seeing Winona Ryder all hot and bothered, but whatever feelings you might have for her are instantly cock-blocked by listening to Keanu Reeves trying to do an English accent. There are more painful things to listen to, but all of them involve cruelty to small animals who don’t deserve it. One of the reasons I think this movie is hated, besides the love story, is the fact that Keanu is in it. If he’s not doing kung-fu, no one seems to like Keanu very much. He doesn’t do kung-fu here and he’s playing Johnny Boy Harker. Actually the whole cast was made up of young up and comers and people who were just coming to prominence. Hopkins had been around since the 60s but it was only after Silence of the Lambs the previous year that he really shot to fame.


Dude! No one knows how baked I am right now.

Some of the diary format has remained, though probably not as much as you’d like if you’re a big fan of that aspect of the book. It’s nice to find that it wasn’t fully abandoned though. There is a fair bit of menace to Harker’s arrival, but his legendary thickness isn’t apparent right away. The main problem is that he’s too stupid to do anything but look dumbly at things at first. It’s not until you’ve got him interacting with people that he becomes truly moronic. The other problem is, what with the shadow play, you hardly notice how dumb he is because you’re eyes can so easily slide away from Reeves’ performance and towards those shadows that don’t move with the actors while in the castle. It’s just one of the many effects Coppola used to increase the unease you feel while in Dracula’s presence. Of course, you could be just as uneasy looking at Reeves failing to have any human reaction to having a sword drawn on him, choosing to look dumbly at the tip as if he expects it to sing to him. I won’t go through the constant examples of stupidity, like thinking his picture of Mina was lost when it was three inches from where he had been sitting a moment ago. Partly I’ll leave off because I’ve demonstrated that Harker is as dumb as a box of rocks and partly half of how dumb he comes off as is due to this wooden performance. Suffice to say, this is the dumbest Harker has ever been, which is saying something.


We all sympathize with how that shadow felt.

Let’s have a word about Gary Oldman as Dracula. This is the closest to the book Dracula has ever been. He starts off as an old man, with hair on his palms, because of constant masturbation one suspects, and becomes young by the time he hits London. He’s given a mustache, and while it isn’t the first time it’s the first time it looks so good on old Drac. He’s also given the makeup of a werewolf, a werebat and a few other things here and there. All in all, Dracula looks good in this version. But look what I’ve done here again. I’ve deviated into a long babblefest without jokes or anything. Let’s get back to the show…


You have to know she’s either reading The Pearl or writing for it.

If you know the book, you more or less know how this is going to play out. At least for the next twenty minutes or so. Mina is staying with Lucy Westenra, who is played up as a horny red head. A rarity here, all three of Lucy’s suitors are present and accounted for. Quincey Morris is almost always omitted from the movie versions, but here he stands out as one of the few people who aren’t willing to put up with a lot of crap. Seward and Holmwood are played by Richard E. Grant and Cary Elwes who both not only fail to embarrass themselves here, but both go on to fairly successful later careers. Most the main actors did well for themselves, some more than others. Seward’s stenograph turns up for the only time as far as I know. He’s shown speaking into it before our first real scene with Renfield, who is played more as the tortured man than the maniac in this movie. He still comes off as a maniac, but not the giggling insane of the earlier versions.


You know, we’ve had seven stills already and not had the best piece of eye candy in the movie. Let’s do something about that, huh? Don’t give me that look! She’s adorable and I want to look at her.

Meanwhile, back in Transylvania, Johnny Boy gets himself seduced by Drac’s Brides, who are… well! Yes, they certainly are, aren’t they? What always gets me is that Harker pulls this crap right after Dracula specifically warns him that wandering around the castle might not be the best idea in the history of ever. You’d think that maybe staying in the room might be a good idea, but no, he takes off and looks for the room where he’s most likely to get eaten by three vampires. Three very, very hot vampires, but blood sucking fiends nonetheless. Drac catches them in the act and as is his normal routine, he’s none too pleased. It’s never the adultery that gets him, it’s someone eating something he was saving for himself. Put simply, Drac means it when he says don’t eat his chicken wings, because he will mess you up for that and he’s got magic powers with which to do it.


What happens in Transylvania stays in Transylvania.

Then action starts all at once. The Demeter crew gets eaten, the girls play in the rain, a wolf escapes from the zoo, the girls kiss, half the male viewers rewind to watch the girls kiss again, Renfield rants in the asylum, Seward takes a hit of morphine, guys wonder where the girls kissing went, Drac calls to Lucy and we get one weird scene. Lucy gets up and sleep walks through the garden, Mina follows after her, running down stairs without a bra, and finds Drac and Lucy in flagrante delicto as the hip kids used to say. While banging away, Drac notices Mina and that sort of interrupts his vibe and takes off. This is a far more sexual explicit version than previous mainstream (or big budget or respectable or however you want to put it) versions had been. Many versions were quite sexy, but it wasn’t until this that we got a respectable amount of nudity and sex played for a mixture of eroticism and horror rather than just for cheap titillation.


Hmm? Review? I’m sorry I totally lost track of what I was talking about for a second.

Okay, let’s get back to the movie. Drac meets Mina in the city, Seward looks after Lucy, announces that he’s called Dr Van Helsing, and then we get Mina and Drac at a dirty movie. Why they’ve gone to a dirty movie, I don’t know, but the first vintage movie they show is a dirty one that would never have been shown on a big screen with a lady present. Drac gets sort of turned on and drags Mina away to a dark corner to bite into her, giving the “oceans of time” line before he’s cock-blocked by the big wolf that escaped the zoo earlier. Drac snaps at the wolf and tells it to behave, which at least impresses Mina enough so we know he’ll get another chance to get her skirts up later. I will grant there is something terribly sexy about the two gloved hands stroking the wolf, it warms even my jaded… heart. Anyway, he takes her home and gets back to work Lucy. That’s one of the places where the romance doesn’t quite work. If he was so focused on Mina he should have given Lucy up. Not because of some imagining about fidelity, but because if he’s meant to be so very focused, then he should be focused. It just seems that some of his anguish at being abandoned once Mina leaves to rejoin with Jonathan the stupid rings false when he can’t keep his mouth off Lucy’s lady bits. Of course he does hunt Mina through time and across nations so maybe this is just where the Twilight author got the idea that weird stalker guys are sexy-cool.


How cute. They’ve put an Exorcist moment in here.

We get the oft-skipped transfusion scene, which I like because there is an emphasis on the latest technology in the book. It doesn’t seem like it now perhaps but Dracula was really like a techno-thriller mixed with horror. The young and dynamic heroes face off against an ancient evil using the latest techniques to defeat it. After the transfusion, Dr VH explains the idea of the vampire to the boys. Only he doesn’t, he just sort of dicks around and mentions something dark and sinister is going on. You know, because you’ve been here before, but they don’t because they can’t manage to read this book before living it. VH isn’t helping, he’s more interested in fava beans and a nice chianti than he is actually being any kind of help. It’s sort of annoying because this is one of those places where you get the idea that Dr. VH could have saved Lucy if only he hadn’t been so interested in being thought of as clever. He’s too eccentric to be taken seriously, you keep thinking he’s going to use someone’s face as a mask.


I think she knows I’ve been following her.

Mina gets a letter from a nun claiming that Johnny boy managed to get away from Drac’s Castle and to them. So Johnny ran from women who believed that drinking blood would given them everlasting life into the hands of women who believed that drinking blood would given them everlasting life. Good thinking there John-boy. Drac reacts badly to this news that his love is leaving and decides to finish off Lucy. So, we’re going with the whole stalker thing. Dr. VH shows up to Lucy’s suitors and… um… humps Quincey’s leg? Yeah, he humps Quincey’s leg while laughing and dancing and shouting and being a jackass. It’s no wonder why no one listens to this Van Helsing, he comes off as being genuinely insane. As a result, Lucy gets eaten by Dracula and no one can save her. While Lucy’s getting killed Mina gets married. Because things tend to happen all at once in vampire movies. And when Lucy dies, thus consummating her relationship as one of Drac’s wives, there’s an explosion of blood. No, really. Explosion. Look…


Well, that’s certainly… symbolic.

After that, we fade to black and open on a coffin, because we’re at a funeral! Cheerful, no? Van Helsing acts as his normal helpful self by telling Seward he wants to cut off Lucy’s head and take out her heart seeing as she’s dead now and he hasn’t had a good meal in days. Instead of shooting him, they instead let him into her tomb. Again, pattern recognition is not something the English look for. As per usual, Lucy proves not to be in her grave. Now this VH tries to be cool, but he’s not as cool as Cushing’s VH. He shouts, he yells, he gets blood spat at him, and he shouts more. Peter’s VH appears with a cross, tells a fool to step off and whacks the undead mo-fo. However, the backward film tricks are really cool. They steak Lucy, cut off her head and it’s all over for her.


So… um… yeah. It stays in Vegas, right?

After that they decide to attack Carfax Abbey, which leads me to wonder why someone would build a religious building for a website, however we’ll let that go for the moment. The boys break into the abbey and smash up his boxes of earth while leaving Mina in the safest place they can think of, which it turns out is the insane asylum right next door. A nut house, next to a vampire’s bachelor pad is the safest place to leave the pretty woman who has been having an affair with a vampire? And they go in the middle of the night to maximize the danger to her. Good thinking there boys! I’m sure this won’t result in the girl being eaten while you’re away or anything! OH WAIT IT DOES! And while he shows up to eat her, Mina pants and quivers her lip and gives many guys in the audience a “thing” for cute goth chicks. If the quivering lip thing doesn’t do it, the scene of her silhouetted through her nightgown very likely did. Point is that Drac bites Mina and gets her to drink some of his blood.


You are witnessing the birth of a fetish.

The boys find them together, they chase him off and it’s now a race to see who can get to Castle Dracula first. Dr. VH and Mina rush to the Castle to wait for him while the rest of the crew race to some such place or other in hopes of cutting Drac off. When they get to the castle, Mina freaks out a little and tries to seduce Dr VH who has none of it and puts a Eucharist on her head to make her back off. Dr VH then decides that the time has come for some good old-fashioned misogyny, so he takes up his knife and goes to murder Drac’s wives. He cuts off their heads and hurls them into the moat around the castle. He’s such a delightful character.


Okay. Important Safety Tip Number One: Don’t cross the Streams. Important Safety Tip Number Two: Don’t approach Van Helsing before he’s had his coffee.

When Drac shows up at the castle, we find that the boys are right behind him. Long story short (too late, I know) they get to the castle together and the big fight is on! Quincey stabs Drac in the heart, but instead of just cutting his head off, Mina and Drac go back to the chapel where the movie began. It’s Mina who finishes Drac off, right in front of the altar where he first renounced God and all this trouble got started. She stabs him through the heart and then cuts off his head, bringing him the peace he hasn’t had in so very long.


Am I still pretty?

And that’s where the movie ends. There is no epilogue, or wrap up or anything like that, you just get the end and you’re supposed to understand that it’s all going to be all right now. That’s a fine ending, nothing wrong with it, I just always thought it would be nice to have a few more seconds to make sure everything is worked out. It doesn’t matter though, it’s all good. I like this version, even if I don’t always think the love story adds much, I also don’t really think it detracts either. It’s an interesting take on the story, which is all I ask. The DVD I have is the Collector’s Edition version. Commentary, special features, lots of neat stuff on this disc. That’s the end of my Dracula re-view set. I’ve now done all the versions of Dracula that I have and I hope we’ve managed to compare them with some coherence. Sequels to the Dracula movies? Maybe next year.

Official Score:
50 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

And let’s have just one last shot of her looking amazingly hot to go out on.

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.

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