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Retro Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Bram Stoker's Dracula

4.0

Bram Stoker's Dracula PosterMainstream moviegoers will find the entertainment in Bram Stoker's Dracula but might be off put or lost in the dark love and blood themes throughout. It leans the genre back in the direction of much needed hardcore vampire lore, and paints the picture of vampires being elegant, powerful, beautiful and ruthlessly deadly.

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The text below the break is part of a DVD review originally published on September 28th, 2001.

Here are some updated thoughts:  Since we’ve been on a horror/vampire kick lately with regards to posting old reviews, why not Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  (I have more!) One thing that occurred to me while reading this (not so well written) review:  We need more badass vampire movies.  Less sparkly and glow in the sun vampires, more blood and ancient evil.  That’s what vampires are; that’s what the fictionalized legends of history demand!  Not teen romance bullshit.

“The blood is life . . . and it shall be mine!”
~Prince Vlad Dracula

Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) tries his hand at the godfather of the undead, none other than Dracula. In my continuing series of horror genre movies I chose to revisit this horror/romance film that claims “Love never dies . . .” and after watching you may be convinced of that yourself.

The Movie:

In the lands of eastern Europe, during the Holy Crusades, Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror were fighting for supreme control of the region. One place under attack, a providence known as Transylvania of Romania, was ruled by the ruthless Prince Vlad Drăculea III (Tepes / The Impaler). Bram Stoker first penned his character, Dracula, based on this historical figure. In the movie we get glimpses of his brutality and his effectiveness as a warlord. Dracula had a favorite way of executing his enemies: impalement. Death by impalement was slow and painful. Victims sometimes endured for hours or days. Dracula often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that was his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. But it didn’t stop with military officers. Infants of enemy towns were sometimes impaled on the stake, forced through the mother’s chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake. This gruesome method of execution was very effective in intimidating the opposing Ottoman Imperial forces.

After the wars, Vlad returned home, victorious, only to find that the one person that meant everything to him was now dead. His wife, Elisabeta, convinced Vlad was killed by the Turks, killed herself by plummeting into the moat of the castle from the highest tower. Vlad, enraged, curses God, kills the priests, and drives his sword through the cross in the chapel. Blood flows from the stone cross and with a vicious oath, Vlad drinks the blood, damning himself for all time, cursed to roam the earth forever seeking human blood to sustain his life.

Many years later a young lawyer, Johnathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), who is engaged to be married to Mina Murray (Wynonna Rider), receives his first real assignment as a partner in his law firm. He is to represent and handle the purchasing of lands in London by a wealthy Romanian lord, the now immortal Prince Vlad Dracula. After moving to his newly purchased real estate, Lord Dracula discovers the soul of his beloved Elisabeta entrapped in the woman Harken is to marry, Mina. He pursues her, trying to resurrect the love he knows to be alive in her. During the process Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) is hired to discover mysterious happenings occurring to friends of Jonathan and Mina. He soon finds that the Devil himself, the original vampyr, nosferatu, Dracula has come to reclaim his lost love of ages past. An expert on the subject of Dracula, the professor leads a group that takes on the deadly task of fighting the Lord of Darkness. For the sake of Mina’s soul, they try  to free her from the curse of the Prince Vlad Dracula.

The Cast:

The cast is, for the most part, well cast. Gary Oldman, in his own very unique and distinguished style, plays the Prince Vlad Dracula and is spectacular. Quite possibly his best performance ever. A very underrated actor, Oldman “impales” you with the pain that has tortured his character’s soul for centuries. You can’t help but feel his pain. He expresses it so well in his portrayal of Dracula.

Bram Stoker's Dracula PosterThe long awaited adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Gary Oldman plays Dracula whose lonely soul is determined to reunite with his lost love, Mina (Winona Ryder) . . . an obsession driven by love, not blood. In Britain, Dracula begins a reign of terror and seduction draining the life from her closest friend, Lucy (Sadie Frost). With the help of Professor Van Helsing they try and drive Dracula away.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Director:  Francis Ford Coppola
Starring:  Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves
Genre: Horror
Media:  Film, 128 minutes
Rating: R
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $216 million, worldwide
Year: November 13, 1992
4 out of 5 stars

Anthony Hopkins also turns in a top notch performance. He is not the focus of the story, obviously, which does not allow all of his acting ability to flow forth. However, he is spectacular in the role and should not have anything taken away from him. He too has his own unique style which blends nicely with the other actors in the film.

Keanu Reeves, however, cannot do any kind of accent to save his life, especially an English accent. This is the second time, to date, that he has been asked to play a character with an English accent (the first being Dangerous Liaisons, 1988) and like the first attempt, he fails miserably. It’s no secret that Reeve’s acting chops often isn’t up to snuff, but he can do one thing that always helps in his movies: stay out of the way. If he is the focus of a movie, it’s dead. He has to have a spectacular supporting cast to help a movie reach success (The Matrix). This is also true in Dracula. He is surrounded and propped up by the likes of Oldman and Hopkins and therefore his normally glaring acting faux pas are merely ripples in the smooth flow of the movie.

Other stars and supporting cast members are played reasonably well by the likes of Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted). Ryder is serviceable in her role as Mina and, like Reeves, doesn’t get in the way. I’m not a big fan of Ryder either but she is a solid actress when put in certain roles. Cary Elwes does well in his small role as Lord Arthur Holmwood. Another underrated actor who has done starkly different roles, from Russ Wheeler in Days of Thunder, to Major Cabot Forbes in Glory, to funny roles such as Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Hot Shots Part Deux, and so forth.

The Wrap Up:

As with Interview With the Vampire this movie is based on a book and was put under the screenwriter’s scalpel for the sake of time. Character development is virtually reserved for the main characters and the plot seems a little sluggish at times. Though, for the most part the plot moves right along and you are entertained through it’s entirety.

Also like Interview With the Vampire, this may not appeal to all movie goers. This is another semi-art film that has a style that is quite different from a mainstream Hollywood offerings. In its “dark love” and “blood” imagery there is the flavor of darker, gothic themes that will appeal to and be favored by those who enjoy it.  Others may find interest in the story and its connection to the historical figure, or directly to the book itself.  Dracula brings to realization the images one might have while reading the book.

Dracula won three Academy Awards for Sound Editing, Makeup and Costume Design. It was also nominated for a fourth, Art and Set Direction, and there is no doubt as to why after you watch the film.

The Bottomline:

Mainstream moviegoers will find the entertainment in Bram Stoker’s Dracula but might be off put or lost in the dark love and blood themes throughout. It leans the genre back in the direction of much needed hardcore vampire lore, and paints the picture of vampires being elegant, powerful, beautiful and ruthlessly deadly. This is an artistic movie and it must be viewed as such to get the full enjoyment from it.

Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.
  • Peg99

    Your right, Reeves English accent is one of the worst I’ve ever heard in a movie. I think it even vanishes at some point. A good version of the book, but I think it cold have been better.