Spoilers have crossed ocean of times to find you.
Ok, I have to admit this is not exactly a Halloween movie. Despite the horror elements, it’s more weirdly fascinating that actually scary. It’s sort of a horror-themed fantasy story where everything seems to conceptualized as dream-like with mysticism, old world superstition and eroticism thrown in. Yes, there’s blood and things that go bump in the night but I’ve always found it beautiful in a twisted way. It’s not a perfect film, but I’ve always enjoyed it thoroughly.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The screenplay by James V. Hart was based/inspired by the original novel by Bram Stoker. It’s 1462. Vlad the Impaler (Gary Oldman) returns home after a campaign against the Turks to find that her betrothed Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) has taken her own life, deceived by a message about his death. He renounces God in the middle of a chapel and the act of sacrilege curses him to live forever.
Now in 1897, he is Count Dracula who has invited young solicitor Jonathan Harker to complete the transaction of purchasing several properties in London. But Dracula discovers a picture of Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), who is the mirror image of his love Elisabeta from centuries before… And now he’s determined to win her back. Unleashing his Brides (one of them is played by Monica Bellucci) on Harker, he travels back to London inside a coffin filled with earth from his birthplace.
Dracula needs to feed, and his first target is not going to be Mina but her cousin Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost). He seems to cast a spell on them both, but Lucy is the one he feeds on. When Lucy’s health changes for the worse, her suitors Quincey Morris (Billy Campbell), Lord Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes) and Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant) call on Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins). Dr. Seward also happens to treat Harker’s former colleague, R. M. Renfield (Tom Waits), driven insane after working for the Count.
The cinematography, care of the late Michael Ballhaus, and the lighting follow the film’s dark style. I love the sense of color and the balance of darkness and light throughout the film. The idea of portraying Vlad’s battle against the Turks using shadows, a map and silhouettes seems so fitting now that the idea of using CGI feels like a downgrade. The other component that complements the ethereal atmosphere is the soundtrack, a work of art of late composer Wojciech Kilar. I also have to mention hair and makeup designer Michèle Burke and costume designer Eiko Ishioka for all the 19th-century look and wardrobe.
This is just my personal take, but I believe this film is actually told from Dracula’s point of view, something that does not come to the original novel. There’s a few things that I count as clues for this theory. I love how the eyes of Dracula seem to peer above the landscape as Harker’s train travels across the Transylvanian countryside. It’s also very telling that we can see Dracula’s intentions as his shadow seems to choke Harker upon discovering Mina’s likeness to Elisabeta. I also choose to believe that the reason the priest that condemns Elisabeta after her suicide and Van Helsing are played by Hopkins is not because he’s an incarnation of the former, but it’s because for Dracula all his sworn enemies look similar.
The performances are a mix that I believe overall positive. Gary Oldman is a chameleon, he becomes the role in every scene and the fact he changes from repulsive to charming I attribute to both the makeup and his performance. Anthony Hopkins is also at the top of his game, although there’s not much of a challenge for him. Winona Ryder does make the most out of her character and her performance for the most part embodies her role as Mina. She has zero chemistry with Keanu Reeves’ take on Jonathan Harker, but that ends fitting the story. On that note, I know Reeves has been criticized for this performance in the past but he has made up for it through the years. I’m going to give him a pass. To go back to my theory of Dracula being the POV character, it makes sense that the supposed hero doesn’t really shine. Perhaps that’s too much of a stretch on my part.
Extremely recommended because you owe it to yourself to experience this film at least once. It’s not for the casual moviegoer or the jaded horror movie fan, but it does feel more classic than modern takes while being stranger than the classics. It’s unique in such a way that it’s also self-contained like a horror fairy tale. It’s not scary in the sense of frightening the audience but it is a classic horror tale told in new and yet old style. This one is another guilty pleasure that I love to revisit every now and then. Even if you have seen it once and didn’t find it remarkable, you might find that after a second viewing it can become more akin to your… taste.
That will do for now.