‘Dracula’, a vampire movie which doesn’t suck

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DraculaDracula Poster
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by James V. Har
1992, USA

In 1992 director Francis Ford Coppola returned to Bram Stokers source novel as the primary source of inspiration for his gothic chiller Dracula, evading the numerous cinematic translations that have haunted cinema screens over the previous century, giving the classic tale a modern update with plenty of crimson hued effluent soaking the screen. Expanding and focusing on the source material romantic bite the film frames Count Vlad in an opening prologue as almost a tragic anti-hero, played with a snarling intensity by Gary Oldman, renouncing god and his immortal soul to the dark side after the suicide of his soulmate Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) whom is reincarnated some four hundred years later as the finance to Jonathan Harker (a confused Keanu Reeves) in Victorian London. Travelling to the gloomy capital Count Dracula ensnares the flame haired vixen Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost in her first significant role) before turning his attention to the raven haired Mina, forcing young Dr. Seward (Richard E. Grant) to enlist the add of his mentor and guide Dr. Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) to bind together and fight their undead foe.

With an eye on the box office Coppola repeated a trick he employed with the casting of his earlier film The Outsiders by casting the more photogenic and popular upcoming cinema stars of the era, assets he deemed ‘the jewels’ of his opulent translation of the horror classic, with both Ryder and Reeves getting the adolescent blood pumping for both male and female cinema fans. Whist the formers star has waned significantly during the intervening years Keanu has remained a potent box-office draw, he’s very much a movie star rather than a movie actor, and by all accounts is an approachable and affable figure on set, fully aware of his own acting limitations which have hardly marked him as the De Niro of his generation. In Dracula it would be charitable to describe him as awful, in one crucial confrontation scene with the undead beast who has just molested his fiancé he has the expression of his screen counterpart Bill S. Preston on his face, slightly confused by all the hubbub and commotion, he clearly willing to get back to his bong and relax with another sweet hit of the herb.

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For the cineliterate there is a pungent goulash of influences and references to admire in Dracula, from the stop motion stylistics, the swirling iris punctuated match cuts, the expressionist angles and lighting patterns, the film is replete with admiration for early silent cinema and many of its in camera, old school special effects rely more on innovation rather than technical sophistication. On this level it is a movie lovers dream, with its heightened, almost operatic production and costume design Coppola’s nest of minions elevate the film to a ludicrous level which teeters on the brink of becoming a camp classic, Coppola revels in the Victorian passions raging beneath those constrictive corsets and cumberbands, at one point a filthy strumpet even has the temerity to accidentally flash a glimpse of her ankle, causing all the men folk to perspire with passionate shame.

With passionate storms and locked domicile a being penetrated by foreign interlopers it isn’t difficult to detect the subtexts evident in Stokers original blood soaked tale, and Coppola ups the ante with bare-chested triumvirate of sexy succubi and the flame haired harlot in Sadie Frosts portrayal of the doomed Lucy, even Anthony Hopkins who can reasonably be accused of entering into his scenery chewing phase of his career by 1992 seems relatively diluted amidst the generous bloodletting and bodice ripping, stylish and swift the film careers along like the slightly out of control horse drawn carriages which are seen at the movies brooding start and climactic twilight hued finale. With a deliciously ominous score from Polanski veteran Wojciech Kilar, Dracula is a fiendish inclusion in that rare breed of relatively recent horror cinema, a vampire movie which doesn’t suck.

  • John McEntee

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