BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA was re-imagined in 1992 by director Francis Ford Coppola, who with his co-producing partners, pumped $40,000,000 into a visually extravagant, dramatically campy version of everyone’s favorite depraved Romanian noble. Luscious imagery abounds, performances vary from excellent to embarrassing, and the boobs & blood quotient is ramped up from the last “respectable” mainstream throat-drinker, 1979s Dracula with Frank Langella. The script, from James V. Hart, is the most faithful to Stoker’s 1897 novel, though in Bram’s tome we doubt he penned anything like Van Helsing’s practical-as-puckish response when asked if he intends to perform an autopsy on one of the Count’s stake-stuck victims: “No, no, no. Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart.“
Bringing the curse of the undead upon himself in 1462 Transylvania, Turk-slayer ‘Vlad Dracul’ (Gary Oldman) is visited in his castle, centuries later, by British solicitor ‘Jonathan Harker’ (Keanu Reeves), who will arrange his bizarre host’s property purchases in London. Harker’s visit is prolonged by his exposure to Dracula’s ravishing, ravenous brides. Meanwhile, Vlad makes it England, and promptly starts wooing Harker’s fiancee ‘Mina’ (Winona Ryder), and taking a few replenishing bites out of her friend ‘Lucy’. Summoned to diagnose the lupine-loopy Lucy, ‘Prof. Abraham Van Helsing’ (Anthony Hopkins) explains to assorted concerned swains exactly who & what it is they have to worry about and the literally pointed actions they must take.
Lotsa neat stuff, bite fans, starting with Oldman’s tormented, creepworthy fiend, augmented by great garment get-ups, inspired makeup and a half-dozen different incarnations, from polished to monstrous. Hopkins plays Van Helsing’s vampire hunter to a happy hilt, just enough mirth and ebullience to tongue-in-cheek anchor the elemental absurdity of the enterprise. Tom Waits is delightfully grotesque in his passion as the bug-eating Renfield. Casting off chasteness and clothes, sex is covered by Dracula’s castle vixens, embodied by Italy’s Monica Bellucci (her third part), Israeli model Michaela Bercu, and Romanian beauty Florina Kendrick (score one for the Count’s homeland). Michael Ballhaus’ rich cinematography does Gothic-reeking justice to the set design, with Coppola having son Roman take charge of the visual effects, done so as to give the sense of a storybook feel, imparting old-school techniques rather than computer-generated cheating. Wojciech Kilar complements the epic weirdness with a score that summons the idea of a dark and powerful destiny.
—-if only—-someone could have talked Francis out of casting the young leads. Ryder doesn’t project sufficient charm or heat as the central objet d’amour of the piece, and poor Reeves is flatly out of his depth and element. His sincere but sophomoric run at a sophisticated Brit vocal delivery is truly painful. Poor dude: as his fans know, the stuff he does well, he does really well, but it takes more than a frock coat to carry off this Victorian material. Blame lies more with the director in casting him than with the limited actor trying to stay afloat next to the likes of Oldman and Hopkins.
Reviews praised Oldman, Hopkins and Waits, and the delirious look Coppola’s vision had his design minions imbue, but took the younger cast members to the woodshed, with extra flaying of the quirt laid on to Reeves (little did they know they risked incurring the wrath of John Wick). The Academy Awards rewarded those responsible for the Costume Design, Sound Editing and Makeup, and duly nominated the Art Direction. In our commoners realm, a gross of $82,523,000 put it 15th place in the States, part of a worldwide tally that reached $215,863,000, that then moving it up to spot #9 globally.
Stoker’s novel ran a hefty 418 pages. At 128 minutes, the movie feels overlong, mostly because the miscasting of the younger players and the non-register of emotional involvement with the romantic element. With Sadie Frost (Lucy, down for the Count), Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell and Jay Robinson.