August 31, 2011

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

"The vampire comes to England to seduce a visitor's fiancée and inflict havoc in the foreign land."

When I first saw Francis Ford Coppola's version of "Dracula" back in 1993, I was disappointed. I went into the film thinking that I was going to see a bigger budget version of Hammer and ended up having no memory of the film other than Keanu Reeve's appalling attempt at an English accent and Gary Oldman's weird hairstyle which reminded me of a couple of breasts on his head.

Over the years, I've come to appreciate what Coppola tried to do a lot more. Instead of making a real horror film out of Bram Stoker's novel, he tried to turn it into a love story and there's nothing really wrong with that at all. Just because it didn't work so well for Universal's "The Mummy" (1932), which was itself little more than a reworking of Dracula anyway, obviously didn't deter anyone.

Of course, for a hardcore horror fan, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was quite weak. Sexist as it may be, I think this was a film for girls or couples on a date night not people like me. My girlfriend at the time absolutely loved it and I went along with her enthusiasm for a while by collecting the comics, posters, the crappy Sega Megadrive game, and even the coffin-shaped VHS box set (with a copy of the book and a little badge in it). I even joined "The Dracula Society" in London and became penfriends with a lot of weirdos who I hope I never meet in real life. Remember, this was ages before the internet as we know it even existed.

Anyway, having rewatched "Bram Stoker's Dracula" quite a few times, I have now developed a fondness for it which is pretty much based around Winona Ryder (who does a really good English accent) and Sadie Frost. Everyone else in the film can go to hell as far as I'm concerned although Richard E. Grant was the best of the bad lot of Lucy Westenra's suitors.

I never appreciated at the time how beautiful Winona Ryder was as Mina nor did the very ginger Sadia Frost do much for me but getting older changes the way you look at things. In 1992 when the film was made, both actresses were at their peak physically and professionally. If "Bram Stoker's Dracula" should be remembered for one thing alone, it's their uber hot kiss in the rain just as Dracula arrives in England.

Bram Stoker's novel always had an element of eroticism about it with vampirism being an allegory in many ways for sexually transmitted disease. If you ever see a copy of it, I suggest reading as many of the footnotes as you can absorb in "The Essential Dracula: The Definitive Annotated Edition". I learned a lot from that book which is far more than I can say about any of the Dracula films. It was thus no great surprise that the sexual elements were made a lot more of than previously.

Another very memorable scene was the attempted seduction of Jonathan Harker by Dracula's brides. Basically, every time I watch that scene, Monica Bellucci stands out as being the most beautiful of all of them and I wouldn't mind being bitten by her myself.

A disappointing memory for me about Coppola's adaptation was that Anthony Hopkins was rumoured to be reprising his role as Van Helsing in a film that never actually happened, "Chronicles of Van Helsing". I think it became a comic book series for a while but, ultimately, the only movie which came from it was that awful Hugh Jackman version, "Van Helsing" (2004). It's probably best that it never happened though as I don't think much of Anthony Hopkin's performance in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" at all. There's too much comedy to it and the Van Helsing character seems out of place in an otherwise completely serious film. He's certainly no Peter Cushing.

Obviously, my Dracula will always be Christopher Lee so I still barely even register Gary Oldman in the movie at all. It's a shame really as the story is supposed to be about his character but the way that he played three (almost four) different versions was doomed to failure from the start as none of them make up a whole.

I'm keeping "Bram Stoker's Dracula" in the Video Vault for now though as, until somebody finally makes a definitive adaptation of the novel, it's still the most ambitious version so far. It's a very flawed film for sure but still highly watchable and entertaining for, unfortunately, mostly bad reasons. It's a time capsule of what horror became in the '90s.

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