Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.

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