"I'll just get my gear."

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA is an incredible fucking movie that I previously mistook for a pretty good one. I saw it first on opening night in 1992, when I thought it was cool and weird, if flawed. (If you would like to imagine my wild teen years, I remember it was a foggy Friday the 13th and I was bummed that I hadn’t done anything good on Halloween, so I drove a carload of friends to an evening show, blasting the score from NIGHTBREED in the tape deck.)

The second time was in 2000 after reading the book (Dracula by Bram Stoker, not Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The novel of the film by Fred Saberhagen and James V. Hart Based on the Screenplay by James V. Hart from the Bram Stoker novel, which I have not read and can’t afford). At that time I wrote about it along with a bunch of other Dracula movies, and you can see I was pretty hard on the “ridiculous origin story” and “trying to make him into a more sympathetic Dracula,” among other things.

But it felt overdue for a revisit and on this viewing all that stuff finally clicked for me. Though I always thought it was a stylish looking movie, I feel like I didn’t fully appreciate just how much, or how special that made it. And everything else worked better this time too.

When I wrote about it last time I was real hung up on the idea that they present Dracula as if he’s supposed to be more of a tragic romantic figure than he is in most cinematic renditions, even sporting the long hair that signified historical hunkiness in the ‘90s. I was convinced that couldn’t work when he was played by Gary Oldman, because I knew he was brilliant playing over-the-top weirdos but I didn’t believe he could achieve anything above a Sid Vicious level of likability. Of course, since then the world has loved Oldman as Jim Gordon and as Harry Potter’s shop teacher or whatever, so that may have changed my view of him, but I also interpreted the intentions of the story differently this time. Yes, Vlad Dracula is presented as a fallen hero. When he returns from war, his wife Elisabeta (Winona Ryder, who brought Coppola the script while apologizing for backing out of GODFATHER III, and didn’t really expect him to read it) is dead, having jumped having plummeted from a cliff after a false report of his death. When he’s told he won’t see her in Heaven because suicides don’t go to Heaven he knows that’s some fucked up shit for a church to say to a guy, especially a guy who just fought the fucking Crusades for them. So he impulsively blasphemes, stabs a cross, makes it bleed, drinks the blood, says some shit that curses him to eternal life and blood thirst. Honestly it’s some real drama queen shit whether or not he somehow knew living past his time would allow him to meet Elisabeta’s reincarnation.

But a thing I loved this time that I didn’t remember is that in that little prologue of his pre-vampire heroism he’s already a monster. We see his knightly derring-do in silhouettes that look like the shadow puppets that will later become a visual motif. Mr. Dreamboat here is just slaughtering Turkish soldiers left and right. He skewers one on a spear and hoists him in the air. The poor guy’s legs wiggle around like a stuck bug. Who would Jesus impale?

Yes, the filmmaking tells us Vlad is a great hero, but that’s what movies do. Sometimes movies, and history, are an unreliable narrator. For example if Mina and Jonathan live another 18 years after the events of this movie and visit America they could potentially see BIRTH OF A NATION and get some misconceptions about the place. Vlad can say he’s shishkebabing motherfuckers in the name of God’s righteousness – “God be praised. I am victorious” – but this is already more satanic than he’ll ever be in his years as a weird old creep living in a castle with three wives.

Of course, maybe he already has a sense of that, going to battle in red armor with a bat-head helmet and with grooves carved into it like muscle fiber. Although designer Eiko Sihioka (MISHIMA, THE CELL, THE FALL)’s costumes are all great, that armor might be the best thing to come out of Coppola’s edict to “Give me something that either comes from the research or that comes from your own nightmares.” Like all gothic horror movies this appeals to us with variations on the sort of images we expect to see (dark castles, coffins, full moons, fog), but touches like the armor and Dracula’s various looks combine that with a bit of a fantasy movie world-building feel. Enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing what other shit goes down in this place besides the timeless story of Dracula. Something where lots of different armor types are needed, hopefully.

“May God reunite us in Heaven,” Dracula said back in those naive days. Uh, yeah… no. 435 years after the cross-blood incident he’s allowed himself to age into a decrepit old man with giant heart-shaped hair. He scoffs at crosses: “Do not put your faith in such trinkets of deceit.” For reasons I’m unclear on he’s trying to buy some property in London, so English real estate agent Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves, coming off a stellar run of POINT BREAK, BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO) comes to the Count’s castle in Transylvania to make arrangements. Jonathan is taking over the account for his co-worker Renfield (Tom Waits, also in Coppola’s ONE FROM THE HEART, THE OUTSIDERS, RUMBLE FISH and THE COTTON CLUB), who had to bow out early due to being committed to an insane asylum, where he serves insect hors d’oeuvres and rants out the window about his master Dracula’s promised arrival. Weird. Oh well, I’m sure it’s nothing, this seems like a pretty good gig.

The casting of Reeves was one of the main criticisms people had of the movie, and probly still is. Whatever the vampire’s real estate plans are, it’s Jonathan who summons him to London by carrying a photo of his fiancee Mina (Winona Ryder, NIGHT ON EARTH), who is a dead ringer for Elisabeta. This inspires Dracula to have his minions pack him in dirt and put him on a ship where he’ll drain the whole crew and jump off in dog form upon arrival, drinking enough blood to reform as a young man with fancy top hat and round purple sunglasses and approach Mina as a confused Transylvanian tourist. Which, to be fair, many of us would’ve been willing to do for Winona back then.

As Reeves would be the first to admit, he struggles with the accent, or with being accepted having the accent. Doesn’t bother me now. Today most of us have a fuller understanding of Keanu’s powers, and I definitely appreciate his performance more now than I did then. There’s a dark comedy to this friendly doofus sitting in that castle, seeing all that weird shit, still totally clueless about the deep shit he’s gotten himself into for work. I especially laughed at him looking out the window and seeing his host scurrying across the walls like a spider. I mean, what the fuck. Also uncomfortable: the shaky old Count insisting on shaving him. Even without the threat of the blade that’s just an awkward thing for your host to do.

Jonathan is also kind of like the gender-swapped version of the thankless girlfriend role in many male-dominated movies. It’s Mina’s story, he’s just the boyfriend, who gets the plot going and gets sexually victimized. It makes sense that you would get a hunky boy for that part, or as Coppola put it, “a matinee idol.” (They first offered it to Christian Slater, who I guess must’ve done KUFFS instead.)

What slowly starts to dawn on Jonathan is that this is not only one of the most stunningly rendered gothic horror movies ever, it’s also kind of a sex movie. Back at home, repressed Mina is dealing with a burgeoning sexual curiosity, sneaking peeks at the Kama Sutra and jealously watching her more adventurous friend Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost, THE KRAYS) juggle multiple suitors at a party. And on his business trip Jonathan tries to fend off Dracula’s three super hot wives (Monica Belluci, Michaela Bercu and Florina Kendrick) who attempt to suck his blood and/or menage him all over the place.

Sex is kind of scary though when you see it in the form of Dracula in wolf monster form biting/humping Lucy outside during a thunder storm. I mean, nobody wants to walk in on their friend having sex, but especially not like that. Some real POSSESSION shit.

So he turns young and approaches Mina in the daylight and she knows he’s hitting on her and rejects him at first. But she ends up showing him around in one of those romantic comedy deals where the lead meets an exciting person right before the wedding and questions everything. They even go to the movies together, although thankfully they don’t sit down or hold hands, they just walk around the building and talk. Mina is scared by a large white dog that Dracula then calms, much in the style of Riddick. I was hoping he would say something like, “It’s okay, he won’t bite. His name is Mr. Fluffers.” (I’m actually unclear if or how he knows this dog.)

Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Van Helsing (and also the priest and narrator of the prologue, but nobody crosses oceans of time for him :( ) and I was surprised to realize that the Stephen Sommers VAN HELSING seems to have modeled his costume after this movie. Or the hat at least. I still like that this Van Helsing is uncomfortable to be around, which I thought on last viewing was faithful to the book.

Even all those decades ago we horror fans could be cynical about the studios wanting to make prestige horror that would attract our money without sacrificing being all respectable like. But credit where credit is due: this one gets its claws dirty. Van Helsing hunts the three brides and casually carries their heads like bags of groceries. Dracula transforms into forms ranging from green fog to a bat monster to a pile of rats. The bat is particularly horrific – hats off to makeup genius Greg Cannom, who won his first Oscar for this (his most recent was in 2019 for creating a another great movie monster in VICE).

There’s also sort of an EXORCIST sequence where bedridden Lucy slowly turns lusty and vampiric while all the men in her life try to stop it; I’m happy to report that when Van Helsing later holds up across she pukes blood all over it and his face.

Also, you know, if you’re gonna do this scene why not give her a glass coffin and a white face and an extravagant dress with a giant collar and make it look weird and gorgeous?


That’s the first thing you notice in the movie and the most lasting impression of it. It’s just so full of visual delight. With all the cool scene transitions – a dot on a peacock feather to a train tunnel, bite marks on a neck to glowing wolf eyes – it’s not surprising to read that Coppola had the entire movie storyboarded and turned into a leica reel to plan the shots. On the credits I noticed HELLBOY creator Mike Mignola and INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE director Pete Ramsey among the illustrators, and Nick Fury creator/Indiana Jones character designer Jim Steranko is “project conceptualist.” Mignola also illustrated a 4-issue comics adaptation of the movie, which makes a whole lot of sense.

Coppola wanted it to be a tribute to early cinema, not just by having a major scene take place at an early cinema, but by basing the visual effects in classic in-camera, on-set techniques. When the visual effects team didn’t think what he wanted could be done without optical or digital effects he made his 27-year-old son Roman (associate producer, RUMBLEFISH) visual effects supervisor and second unit director.

That sounds like nepotism, but you can’t argue with the results. Using rear projection, multiple exposures, forced perspective and sets built at an angle they created all kinds of surreal and appealing imagery. When Dracula comes home from war to find that Elisabeta was told he died and committed suicide, her plummet is superimposed over the note she left. His thirst for blood is illustrated by seeing Mina’s circulatory system glow through her body. His eyes hover in the red sky outside a train window (over, I believe, a miniature model of mountains). An image of him fades in and out next to Mina when he can speak to her telepathically.

Some of the montage-based visual language, combined with the dark, booming score by Wojciech Kilar (THE PIANIST), put me in mind of Sam Raimi and ARMY OF DARKNESS, but of course they’re both drawing inspiration from the same antiquated styles. And that made me realize why Kenneth Branagh had the cameras flying around so much in MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN. He thought that was what he was how you get this feeling. He gave it his best.

There’s a more authentically dream-like feeling to this thing than most movies ever manage to accomplish. The visual motif of shadows goes beyond the silhouettes and shadow puppets to Dracula’s shadow, which often moves independently of its host. (I don’t think it’s animation – there are a ton of puppeteers listed in the credits.) Often he moves as if floating just above the ground. In one scene his arm somehow reaches all the way across a room. My favorite gimmick shot is when a coachman (Dracula) reaches out with his monster-like armored hand and it seems to grow huge and reach 7 or 8 feet to lift Harker into the coach. It was accomplished with an in-camera forced perspective trick that I saw explained but still don’t understand.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU3t_9TdbE8&t=189s

With all these giant sets, period and/or artistic costumes, elaborate special effects makeup and clever visual invetion this is the kind of production the word “lavish” could’ve been invented to describe. That means it doesn’t have to follow the majority of Dracula movies (which had lower budgets and/or were adapted from stage versions) in confining the story to a few locations. Instead it follows the book in turning into an international adventure when partially-turned Mina uses her telepathic connection to Dracula as a tracker to help the boys chase him down. I didn’t really follow why they seemed to be able to use the sunlight against him (it was previously established that that’s not a thing), but it’s an exciting battle, and I love that when Mina stops them from finishing him off they are cool enough to let her take him into the very chapel where he drank that blood from that cross and put him out of his misery.

This time I did actually feel sad for Dracula, and I was glad he got peace. I mean yes, true, he sucks, fuck that guy, but also I’m happy for him finding closure. The whole movie is so god damn operatic, I gotta accept the big emotions that maybe don’t translate exactly to my daily life. So there’s something beautiful about this fucker in his pathetic penultimate form, the withered old man combined with the bat monster, laying helplessly on the ground wheezing, crying, his maw smeared with viscera, the amazement visible in his eyes when Mina still calls him “my love.” When, like Anakin Skywalker, he’s mercifully returned to his young, un-fucked-up form, he asks her to “give me peace” with a violent thrust of a fancy sword.

But also, because beautiful isn’t always enough, the angelic choir celebrating his soul’s redemption is accompanied by the loud metal clang of Mina yanking the sword from his chest and whacking his fuckin head off. I love it.

In trying to make a movie like they used to, Coppola made a movie unlike anybody ever had, or has since. You can put the author’s name in the title but it ain’t gonna make it this. Man, I enjoyed this movie at the time, but I didn’t really get it. That’s a nice thing about getting older as a movie lover – revisiting films you first saw when you were different, and the world was different, and movies were different, and getting to see them in a different way. Crossing oceans of time to fall in love with a movie.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 10th, 2021 at 12:05 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

46 Responses to “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”

  1. This and JURASSIC PARK was to me most likely what STAR WARS was like to that generation. That is to say this movie blew my damned mind when I finally saw it as a youngling. Like how was what this thing showed us even possible? Still a huge favorite and equal to the Legosi one for me as well.

    Shame Coppola doesn’t seem to think much of it according to the audio commentary, at least twice he makes sure we know this was done solely for the paycheck. Much better than JACK in my opinion (the only one of his ’90s movies I can find evidence of him defending(!).

  2. Loved this write up, Vern. I often overlook this one, probably due to the same kind of underestimation that you describe. A feel a revisit coming on.

  3. When I saw it for the first time, it confused the hell out of my tween mind. I enjoyed its trippiness, but at the same time it totally turned me off. Younger, dumber me saw Dracula’s shadow moving out of sync and thought: “What the fuck is this? Is this a mistake? A joke? Why would they do this!?”

    Of course adult me appreciated all the surrealism better.

    Gotta be honest. You can keep your APOCALYPSE NOW and THE GODFATHER. This is for me the greatest thing Coppola has ever directed. That whole thing is just unlike anything else ever put on film, even today.

  4. This was the most visually exciting movie I’d ever seen at age 14, and it’s still pretty high in the running (good god) 30 years later. There is something nifty going on in pretty much every shot.

    I’ll admit, despite always liking Keanu, I’ve made fun of his performance in this a lot over the years. His reading of “I have SEEN many strange things, sir! Wolves chasing me through some blue inferno!” is particularly ripe. But now I know that his bland, wooden Jonathan Harker is part of a grand legacy of bland, wooden Jonathan Harkers stretching back to the very dawn of cinema. The guy is never not a drip. Keanu was just doing what the role required.

  5. I too went on a journey from not getting this to loving it; anyone here who gets sent back in time and/or is planning on writing my biography will be interested to know that watching this on a standard def TV recorded onto a VHS tape at long play speed from UK Channel 4 in October 2003 is *not* the optimum way to watch this.

    Whether or not this is “faithful” exactly is opening up a can of worms, it is notable that the main poster, VHS cover, tagline and tie-in Annie Lennox song all derive from the elements of the film which were new inventions of the screenplay, but it does follow the Novel’s structure that was jettisoned by the stage play, Lugosi film etc; and probably jettisoned for good reason, as it is not the kind of structure which lends itself particularly well to scripted drama, or film in particular. I suspect this may be one reason the film seems to have alienated a fair number of the normies who were lured into this. But lots of films have conventionally engaging film narratives, no other film really looks or feels like this.

    P.S. When this came out on VHS the Our Price video store in our city hired someone to dress up as Dracula and walk up an down the city centre with a placard with the poster on it.

    P.P.S. I never read FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA: THE NOVELISATION, but I did read KENNETH BRANAGH’S MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN: THE NOVELISATION, having bought it when I was 13 assuming it was the original novel with a tie-in cover. I don’t think I realised what the deal was until about a third of the way through, but I read it to the end, I though it was pretty good and thought the film didn’t live up to it. The DRACULA novelisation can be bought from our ebay and Amazon z-shops for only a little over £3 if you feel like moving here Vern.

  6. I never thought of this before, isn’t it weird that this is like the most visually sumptuous movie ever, brimming with bold, eye-popping imagery, and they chose a random picture of a gray gargoyle for the poster? Yet somehow it worked? I knew people who proudly displayed that poster for ten years, even though it was just a picture of a concrete wall with a weird sconce on it. I guess they knew their business.

  7. Surprised to find no discussion about the rapeyness of the vampires in this. If Bond kisses a girl without buying her a three-course dinner first, it trends on Twitter, but Dracula can turn into a werewolf and rape someone and still be ‘flawed’. Can you tell this was made in Weinstein’s heyday?

    Anyway, this always struck me as the definition of ‘style over substance’. They tried to merge ‘Dracula as transgressive sex stuff, which is good’ with ‘Dracula as the worst motherfucker ever, which is bad’, and ended up with elaborate rape apologia. Well, they’re not the first or last Dracula adaptation to do that, but labeling this ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ is just tasteless. At least we got Dracula: Dead And Loving It and a great Simpsons parody out of it.

  8. I mean, they’re vampires. They’re literally monsters. They’re not really held to the same standards as a heroic character who was held up as the pinnacle of manhood for half a century.

  9. In what sense does it apologize? Because it still treats him as tragic?

  10. In a sense, but also in that there’s a lot of little things that add up to skew the narrative in Dracula’s favor. You mentioned the priest in the opening acting like an asshole, so right off the bat (sorry), you’re predisposed to take Dracula’s side. Then by the end, you have Van Helsing going all “we’re the REAL monsters” for picking on Dracula. Treating Dracula throughout as a tragic romantic lead rather than as a monster. Mr. M, you’re saying not to compare him to Bond, but I’m saying the movie makes Dracula AT LEAST a deuteragonist or love interest, rather than a villain.

    Also, this probably wasn’t the first Dracula to softpedal Lucy’s death/Dracula’s killing of her by turning her into a slut beforehand, but considering they explicitly make her the victim of sexual assault here–it’s just tacky, man. Real tacky.

  11. This is the “Best Thing I’ve Read in Awhile.” Top-form Vern, right here. Salute!

    Also, doff of the cap to Kaplan: Now I can add the word “deuteragonist” to my vocab. I’m glad the deuteragonist is out there, takin er easy for all us sinners.

    Saw this a couple of years ago and didn’t really know what I was watching, but I appreciated the visual artistry and general baroque epic-ocity of it. It was a thumbs up. At the time, I think it was too showy and in-its-feels to scratch whatever itch I was having, but I still appreciated it, so, that says more about my particular itch than it does about the film’s general scratching ability. Will have to revisit this one.

  12. Just as a quick correction, Jim Steranko did not create Nick Fury, although he did popularize the character. The original creator was Jack Kirby (of course), who created him as a WWII soldier before updating him a few years later with Stan Lee as the head of SHIELD. Then a few years after that, Steranko took on the character for a big late-’60s run, where he really played up the cinematic potential of the comic book format.

    Based on this review, this one deserves a re-watch. I saw it when it was released (and not since, I don’t think), and for some reason it didn’t sit well with me at the time. I’m going to have to find this one streaming somewhere.

  13. Interesting. I saw it for the first time on its opening night when I was in college, just a few weeks after finishing the book for a course. At the time I found it annoying and divergent from the book in flashy and arbitrary ways. I think I watched it again about five years later and didn’t think any more of it. But it’s been a long time since then and I wonder if my taste for it has changed. Coppola can be challenging to accept because he talks a big game and you want to say, “Dude, you made JACK so spare us all a little please.” But I get how a movie can change on you. When I was young THE SOUND OF MUSIC bored me to tears but now whenever I watch it it moves me to tears. So maybe it shouldn’t surprise me if Dracula is more awesome that I remember it.

  14. Kaplan – well, I’m not trying to invalidate your interpretation of the movie but it’s just totally different from how I read it. First, as I discussed in the review, Dracula is introduced brutally slaughtering human beings (a nod to his historical mass murderer namesake), so there is definitely some irony in him being treated as a great religious hero. Second, Van Helsing’s own monstrousness is the biggest spin on this interpretation of the character, most thrillingly in the scene where he casually struts around holding three severed heads. So maybe they’re both monsters. Third, I don’t think the movie at all sees Lucy as a “slut” – Mina envies her sexual adventurousness, which challenges her uptight and fearful lifestyle, and it’s treated as an awakening for her when she follows in Lucy’s footsteps. Also, is it really made explicit that it was a sexual assault (I thought you were talking about the implied sexual nature of vampire bites)? Am I remembering it wrong? Finally, the whole style of the movie is so operatic and symbolic that it only makes sense that people would react to whatever its content is in a different way than they would similar ideas portrayed in a literal, real world manner.

  15. This was my birthday movie in 1992. Still liked it when I last watched the Blu-ray.

  16. Happy almost birthday then!

  17. Interesting switch from the neverending Bond discussion. No matter what we find to put our finger on in the world of 007, the people who love the franchise seem to excuse everything that goes on. While this brilliant movie I’ve had to defend for 20 years against all kinds of critisism. Keanu’s bad acting, all the indoor scenes etc, etc. Nice to be among fellow appreciators for a change.

  18. Potentially touching on a subject that’s maybe even more contentious than old card sense Jimmy, but was the reception of this an early example of the MST3K-ification of audience responses? (Which of course begat the angry YouTube reviewer-ification, Video Esaay-,ification, and hot Twitter-take-ification of audience responses, amen).

  19. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (like MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN) might have been received a bit better if it didn’t have the author’s name in the title promising fidelity to the book. Reviewers were eager to point out all its divergences from the source material, even though it’s fairly close as Dracula movies go. God knows what the reaction to WOLF would have been if they’d called it H. WARNER MUNN’S THE WEREWOLF OF PONKERT or something. Anyway, this movie’s gorgeous, and if Jonathan Harker’s Canadian accent keeps breaking through, I don’t really mind.

    Strangely, the most faithful DRACULA I’ve seen might be DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY, Guy Maddin’s vampiric ballet. I don’t mean that metaphorically; it’s a filmed ballet. But it’s also the only Dracula I’ve seen that includes, for instance, all three of Lucy’s suitors.

  20. I really have to rewatch this now. At the time, I think I put it into the same mental bucket as ONE FROM THE HEART – visually interesting-glad it exists-didn’t move me, but hey Tom Waits!- with a slight preference for OFTH. If I’ve thought about it at all in the last 30 years, it’s as one of the more interesting chapters in Richard E. Grant’s With Nails – Coppola had the cast to his Napa Valley estate for script readings, which Hopkins didn’t seem to like as he thought it robbed his performance of spontaneity, and meeting Tom Waits was all you would hope it would be.

  21. I saw this movie on Thanksgiving day in Westport, CT (where the girl I was dating was from). Right before the movie began, this very, very tall guy with long, heavy metal hair sits directly in front of me. “Of course this Michael Bolton motherfucker has to sit in front of me” I mutter to my date.

    The movie ends, and the tall man turns around to scope the exit. I let out gasp when I realize the man is actually Michael Bolton, and wonder if he heard my earlier mutterings (he was there with, I’m assuming, his mom)

  22. Keanu’s mother is English, so he should have been able to figure out a UK accent. I wonder if Cary Elwes auditioned to play Jonathan, but the studio needed a bigger name for the budget?

  23. I’ve read Stoker’s book, and I guess that it wouldn’t be easy to film the story in any other way than Herzog, Badham and Coppola did. Werner did it without any special effects and Francis with everything at his disposal. But the basics are the same. Faithful is sometimes overrated.

  24. A year or two after this came out a friend was telling me I should read the book. She went on about it being a great love story. I bought a copy and read it and thought, huh, I wouldn’t call that a love story, but okay. I liked the book. I was impressed that such a book from so long ago could actually deliver some scares. Then I saw this movie and thought, what the fuck was that? I didn’t like it and was actually kinda pissed they called it Bram Stoker’s Dracula when it was very much not Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then I realized my friend must’ve read the novelization of this movie and got pissed that anyone would think this is a great love story. I’ve held both of these things against it ever since but Vern is making me think I should give it another chance.

  25. I avoided this movie for years because of some of the backlash at the time. I remember thinking it was panned when it came out. I first watched it about a decade ago, and it really blew me away. I couldn’t believe critics had it out for a movie this visually arresting. I also remember reading reviews where they noted ways in which it deviated from the novel. Back in the day, your local newspaper critique needed to make it clear that they had read a book once.

  26. What a coincidence! I just re-read the book a month back, an old dog-eared paperback that was a three-in-one which also included Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN and Stevenson’s JEKYLL & HYDE.

    It’s a testimony to the power of Stoker’s creation that the good Count managed to enter the pop culture Monster Hall Of Fame and remain there for about a 120 years, because as a reading experience, DRACULA’s an overlong, creaky and frequently overwrought epistolary novel, with only it’s first part where Harker visits Dracula’s castle and his dawning realization of who his host is evoking any sense of creeping dread and menace. It kinda meanders when the focus shifts to Mina, Lucy, her 3 suitors and Ven Helsing’s POVs. There are THREE identically repetitive scenes where Dracula drains Lucy to the point of death and Van Helsing performs an emergency blood transfusion, using the blood of a different man in each instance (with blood-typing not being a thing in the late 19th century, any one of those transfusions could have killed off Lucy faster than Dracula). And the ending is anti-climactic to say the least.

    So, I’ve actually enjoyed the movies more. I recall liking the John Badham one with Frank Langella as the Count.

    I remember very little about the Coppola version except Oldman was as usual fantastic, the costumes and set designs sumptuous, enough nudity to make Christopher Lee blush, an annoying Winona Ryder performance (but then I remember, I’ve always found Ryder annoying) and a wooden Reeves.

    So maybe this is due a re-watch

  27. What an excellent write-up: funny, erudite and affectionate!

    Ben from NY: I hadn’t seen REAR WINDOW for at least 30 years and, after a recent re-viewing, was flabbergasted to discover that its real topic is love and sex! Speaking of TSOM, I lose it when the Captain enters the room where his kids are secretly jamming and sings for the first time in the picture :)

    jojo: now that’s a Brush with Greatness!!

  28. Matthew – I thought I had a review of DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY, but I guess not. I actually went and saw it with friends and I was glad they didn’t tell me it was a ballet, because I wouldn’t have gone! I don’t remember it much other than the guy playing Dracula was good.

    For the record, though, Coppola’s has all three suitors (played by Richard E. Grant, Carey Elwes and Billy Campbell).

  29. Vern: Well, obviously I’m due for a rewatch of this one too. I’d completely forgotten Quincey Morris was in it (the Billy Campbell part).

  30. One From the Heart is fascinating AF. Unwatchable yet I can’t look away.

  31. Loved the “plummeted” gag, Vern.

  32. Actually, I was pretty active on Twitter in November 1992 and #draculaisarapist was definitely trending at the time.

  33. Vern, I’m suddenly very concerned about your financial situation:

  34. I think you have to have a pretty vague concept of who and what Vlad Tepes/Count Dracula is to think he is anything but a mass murderer, rapist, corruptor of men and overall bad motherf***er.

  35. I second the love for that excellent “having plummeted” gag!

    I don’t think I’ve seen this since theatrical release, but damn does this review make me very excited to check it out again! Well.done, sir!

    I know a guy who worked fx on this. He told a story of Coppola wanting more blood for scenes. (I think it was the Lucy scene, but I’m not sure). Couple of takes, and Coppola is being hard on the guy for not delivering. So the guy says “Fine” and overloads the blood. Action, BOOM blood goes all over the place, including all over Coppola’s white suit. Coppola calls cut. Gets up and heads over to the guy. Everyone is dead silent. The fx guy is terrified. When he gets to the fx guy he says “Thats what im fuckin talking about!”

  36. So is Elizabeth Debicki or Robert Pattinson the deuteragonist of Tenet?

    Okay, fine, I’ll watch FFC’s BS’s D. Never saw it, but as usual Vern, your review has me champing at the bit. I see it’s on Netflix right now, and the 4K Blu-Ray is also reasonably priced. Weirdly, according to reviews, it looks like 2 of the last 3 disc releases have slightly reframed the picture, as if the camera was nudged up and to the left for nearly every shot. I wonder if this is Coppola tinkering or just a whoopsie.

  37. This is simply one of the coolest movies ever. Interesting how Coppola’s best movies are his work for hire gigs that he didn’t want to do, like The Godfather and this. This movie has got everything and critics who got on it’s case were just trying to be cooler than thou assholes because this is what movies ought to be. Other Dracula movies doing the plot are sorta dull because the plot is sorta dull. Coppola loads u the style and gives us more monsters than we know what do do with. The effects hold up so well because they are so antiquey, I love them. They probably had to do five times as much work to do a lot of those effects but well worth it.

    Keanu is hilarious not noticing the obvious weirdness around him. He’s terrible, but I thought Winona Ryder was unfairly lumped in as bad. She’s not amazing or anything, but she does well. I was not concerned with our genocidal murderous supernatural monster who would kill at will at being rapey, however. Cause he was a werewolf at the time, and also killing her so ya know, he was just not nice.

    Vern, I’m with you on the gag of where the coachman grabs Keanu…it’s not forced perspective though, that’s what they use to make something look bigger or smaller like Lord of the Rings. That’s a shot that really stuck out at me, even though it’s subtle enough some people might not even notice it. What’s happening is the rider is sitting on what looks to be the seat of the coach, but it’s really at the end of a jib of some kind. So when he reaches out and the camera moves, the jib lifts him up and over to Keanu, who must be standing on a platform which then lifts him into the carriage. Super neat shot.

  38. I’m pretty sure the dog they pet at the “cinematograph” is supposed to be the escaped wolf from the zoo I think you see mentioned in a newspaper or maybe even see getting out of it’s pen (can’t exactly recall), but anyway I think the point is Dracula is able to control wolves and this was an example of that.

  39. Devil’s Advocate: After having just watched the entire Friday the 13th series again, I’m sure going into this one was probably a cinematic experience not unlike those French fools watching that train coming at the screen movie back in 1896.

    Real Talk: Holy FUCK, this movie is a gorgeous masterpiece.

    Loved this review, Vern.

  40. Robert Pattinson is the deuteragonist of Tenet and everyone knows it.

  41. I remember coming out of the theater and seeing a girl I knew who was a couple of years older than me (and I was maybe 13 at the time), and she asked me what I thought about all the sex/sexuality of the movie. Trying to get a rise of some kind out of me, I suppose. But I could only guilelessly reply something along the lines of “Yeah, that was fine, but did you see those effects?” I DO need to see this one again. I’ll prolly have very much the same reaction.

    And yeah, I’ll forgive Anthony Hopkins sleepwalking thru any movie after his turn as Van Helsing. It’s THE definitive portrayal of the character as far as I’m concerned. So casual and nonchalant about the whole vampire beheading thing.

  42. Growing up I never really liked it beyond Oldman and the production design. People harp on Keanu but what always took me out of the movie was Winona. I had a big crush on her back then and this was the first time I saw her in a movie and went “yuck”. Sadie Frost was the MVP.

    I watched it again this past Halloween after who knows how many years. Maybe it’s how lackluster so much green screen dependent shit turns out being at this point but it was jaw dropping at times. It has some of the greatest camera tricks of the last 30 yrs with the production design still providing new things to appreciate with a rewatch. The dedication that went into making it as visually compelling as possible was pretty inspired. It’s definitely a movie you can play in the background on mute and take a glance at the screen every few minutes and find something captivating in the frame. This movie still holds up very well on that end. Of course muting it would be a great disservice since the score is pretty phenomenal.

    It may not be considered objectively one of the best. It’s not Lugosi or Christopher Lee but I think next to the Frank Langella version it’s my favorite Dracula.

  43. Just because nobody else has done it, I have to mention NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE. It really is the vampire movie everything else should be judged by.

  44. The “THE VAMPIRE” bit makes it ’79 and not ’22, right?

  45. Yeah, absolutely, Herzog’s version from 1979.

  46. Grimgrinningchris

    November 16th, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Despite its flaws, this is literally why movies get made. I literally just introduced this movie to my fiancé a couple of days ago. It was the first R-rated movie that I ever saw without my parents. Nobody has mentioned this yet, but I got super excited when they used part of the score in the basement flashback scenes in the first season of American horror story. That’s Dracula music! That’s Dracula music!

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