Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bram Stoker's Dracula review

    I love this movie but it's interesting how my opinion of it has changed over the years. While a teenager, I had the idea this was one of the best horror movies ever made with its creeptacular special effects, more faithful rendition of the Dracula novel, and a truly strong performance by Gary Oldman as the titular count. Only, as an adult, do I realize how INCREDIBLY HAMMY is and ridiculously over-the-top everyone but Ryder and Reeves were playing it.

Great opening, even if it's not in the book.
    Seriously, at one point, Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) goes to the top of Castle Dracula and shouts "Draculaaaaaaa" in a clear homage to Rocky IV. There's also a lot more black comedy than I remember, which successfully turned Professor Van Helsing from a quirky eccentric to an outright sociopathic hero who is just shy of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I recommend if you haven't seen this movie in a while to check it out and enjoy the ridiculously over-the-top performances by the vampire hunters in this movie.

    The premise of the movie, for those somehow unfamiliar with the story is Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) journeys to Castle Dracula in Transylvania in order to sell some real estate around London. Count Dracula takes Jonathan prisoner and heads to London where he immediately begins to menace Jonathan's fiance Mina (Winona Ryder) as well as her best friend Lucy (Sadie Frost). As Lucy slowly dies from being drained, Doctor Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant) calls his former teacher Van Helsing who understands it's a vampire. They figure out Dracula's involvement, go after him, stake through the heart, movie ends.

Was the butt hairdo ever fashionable? Probably not but Dracula has been out of touch.
    Well, sort of. If they had stuck to the book I think it would still be remembered as a classic but Francis Ford Coppola feels the need to improve on Stoker's work by explaining an admittedly glaring plot hole: "Why, exactly, does Dracula give a crap about this specific London woman when he has an entire city to prey on?" This is, admittedly, perhaps best answered by asking, "Why not this specific London woman?" I mean, he's a foreigner, he's new in town, why not go where you know the food is good?

    Coppola, instead, effectively recreates the character from TSR's immortal Ravenloft adventure game module by making Dracula actually cursed by an eternal love across time. Inventing an origin for Dracula based on Vlad Tepes' own tragic history, our villain protagonist declares war on God after the suicide of his wife Elizabeta. Centuries later, her exact replica has been reborn and she might actually be his reincarnated wife. This is all untrue to the books where she is just a particularly sumptuous blood bag. Indeed, in this version, Mina reciprocates the Count's affections even as she's disgusted by him for, well, the horrible crap he's done to her best friend.

I love Mina but, really, I'm a Lucy man.
    There was a lot of controversy over the casting of Winona Ryder as Mina and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. Honestly, I think Winona does an amazing job with this interpretation of the character. Yes, both actors have their accents slip and it's bizarre to have the only Englishmen in the movie be playing a Swede and the near-irrelevant Arthur Holmwood (so much so many adaptations remove him entirely). However, I think Winona does a great job embodying the proper English lady.

    Jonathan Harker is also supposed to be a wet blanket. Would the movie have been improved by casting Carry Elwes as Jonathan Harker? Probably. Then some people would actually want Mina and Jonathan to get together and that might hurt this interpretation of the story. This movie does have a deserved reputation for an epic love/hate story.

Oh, hey, it's Monica Belluci!
    People want Mina and Dracula together even as he's awful for her, in part because Jonathan is so boring. Gary Oldman manages to maintain his dignity while thoroughly hamming it up with the grandeur of a man SO PISSED OFF AT GOD that he actually attracts Satan's attention. A man who then spends his next four centuries sulking until he's forgotten how to be human until a girl reminds him how.

    It's CRAZY but it's epic.

    Really, the worst performer is also one of the most entertaining Hopkins is great but I think entirely wrong for the mood of the movie. Hopkins is clearly having the time of his life but given a woman his horribly murdered after being raped, it's hard for me as an adult to take his causal joking attitude about cutting off her head as funny. Then again Sadie Frost does a wonderful job as Lucy and I find her a tremendously endearing character. Take note: book readers that Lucy may have three suitors but dies a virgin while Mina is a married woman who most certainly does not. It's an Unbuilt Trope that the virginal woman always survives.

Tale as old as time, Beauty and the guy who murdered her best friends after assaulting her.
    What really drives this movie is the special effects. This is a sumptuous visual feast with vibrant colors and an almost oil-painting like look to everything. Hell, at one point Dracula cries water colors. This is definitely a Dracula movie on the more fantasy side of things and that's not a bad thing. Does everything make sense? Like why there's a big dark shadow thing at the carriage? No, but it doesn't have to because this is a movie where the "rules" don't apply except when they do. It's finding the logic of a dream or nightmare and that has its own appeal.

    Bram Stoker's Dracula is what got me into vampires as a child and I owe this movie a serious debt for that. I still recall playing its version of Dracula as my Vampire: The Dark Ages character Erasmus (8th generation Tremere) for four years. It's got beautiful special effects, amazing visuals, and a soundtrack which is something I need to go buy for my Kindle right now. It's also got some serious flaws and isn't Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula and I think it would have been just as successful titled that.


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