Bram Stoker’s Dracula – #1 in the U.S. (Nov. 13-15)
All-Time Domestic $82,522,790 | All Time International $133,339,902
All-Time Worldwide $215,862,692
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a visionary wonder of an adaptation that delivers on re-vamping the beloved character to new heights.
Francis Ford Coppola is seen as a master visionary and one of the last greats of the New Hollywood era. Admittedly, I should revoke my critic card once again, as I have yet to delve into much of his work outside The Godfather and Jack (unfortunately). Speaking about him with limited knowledge is a disservice to those reading. But fortunately for those reading, I’m stubborn and committed to this years-long commitment I gave myself. Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula aims to adapt the novel that fans want to see on screen, to put a new face on the interpretation audiences have grown familiar with thanks to Bela Legosi’s take on the character. With that image now burnt in mind becoming more family-friendly, this take would be closer to a Gothic romance tale. It’s a more cinematic visionary adaptation with Coppola looking for a win with audiences after a ho-hum reaction to The Godfather Part III. If that was the case, Coppola succeeded in making his vision with a bonkers and entertaining tale.
John Harker (Keanu Reeves) is tasked with meeting Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) to arrange a property deal with him. Unbeknownst to John, Dracula is a vampire from the 15th Century ready to set his sights on London to feed off residents’ blood. Dracula catches a glimpse of Mina Harker (Winona Ryder), a mirror image of his lost love. Leaving John behind to suffer in Transylvania, Dracula begins to pursue Mina by any means necessary, tormenting Mina’s pal Lucy (Sadie Frost). Fortunately for our characters, Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) is ready to go toe-to-toe with the Count to end his reign of terror.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula diverts from the expected to make a unique vision that elevates the mythos of Dracula with a keen eye for artistry while also delivering substance. There is care provided to give a cinematic experience while still paying respect to the material and other adaptations.
The production and costume design alone is worth seeing the film for. There’s an extravagance to the film that never feels overbearing. All locations are shot on large sets in soundstages, adding a fantastical quality. Dracula’s castle feels like a real castle one could venture to with its lived-in quality. The use of matte paintings, miniatures, and in-camera effects is phenomenal. Sometimes I needed to remember there was hardly any CGI involved in the film’s creation. It’s impressive and insane that Coppola insisted on going for in-camera effects, but that adds to how excellent this take is. The costumes themselves are immaculate akin to the wild fashion magazine coming to life thanks to costume designer Eiko Ishioka. It has sophisticated quality with some Gothic tinges and ornate structure. It’s a spectacular feast for the eyes.
On the acting front, this is a killer’s row of actors at the height or cusp of their prominence. Gary Oldman is spectacular across the variants of Dracula, going from creped and withered as the old Count to sensual and seductive in younger form. Oldman nails the role of being determined to get his love back but also wanting his former life to return. Anthony Hopkins, as Van Helsing, is having an absolute ball. He is as determined to stop Dracula, seeing it as a cat-and-mouse game. He is so jovial and filled with light when he discovers Dracula is a vampire; it’s like a kid at Christmas. These two performances are lovely. Winona Ryder as Mina Harker can sometimes be hit-and-miss, going in and out of an accent, but getting the admiration for her past life husband in Dracula down. Sadie Frost also deserves mention as the promiscuous friend Lucy as Frost plays her dissent into vampirism with pain and discomfort in a believable matter.
What’s not believable is Keanu Reeves. I’ve praised him back in the reviews of the entire Matrix series here on this site, but here, this is as bad as everyone says. Reeves’ acting has aged like fine wine, becoming better throughout the years. Unfortunately, this is not one of those performances. He seems miscast in the role, with a British accent that is not exactly hitting the notes. His performance is stagey, at times wooden. It sounds like Ted from Excellent Adventure attempting to perform a production of A Christmas Carol at San Dimas High School. His early roles were fantastic. He delivered as Johnny Utah in Point Break and was in the critically-acclaimed My Own Private Idaho the year before this film.
As for the horror of the film, a lot of it does not come off as entirely frightful, except for one scene that has traumatized me for life. No one is expecting cheap scares and fright in this, but the horror is present, not in tone, but in style. It’s very sensual and sexual in the way it is shown in the seductive trances, making private sexual moments and urges tense situations of dread. The scene still in my head is Dracula in his wolfman variant having sex with Lucy. It has disturbed me for many years. Watching it now as an adult, I looked at my partner and went, “Oh, I don’t remember what happens after this. I think I shut it off immediately.” It’s still shocking and disturbing to this day. The horror is laxer in tone, but the theme is ever-present. This is Dracula, after all. It’s more focused on being a Gothic romance and Dracula’s pursuit of his heart than being a fright fest, which is appreciated. Ryder and Oldman portray the romance easily, but after a while, it can drag and peter on for some. Personally, there was never a moment that felt wasted in the film.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a visionary wonder of an adaptation that delivers on re-vamping the beloved character to new heights. It’s all style with a killer substance that is handled with grace, even if one performance docks it some points. It’s worth dropping by Castle Dracula once more.
Side Note: Whoever released this in November should have rethought their decision. Who hell releases a horror film weeks after Spooky Season?
Revue Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next time, the McCallister forget Kevin once more as we head off to the Big Apple to find him in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. After Thanksgiving, we will look at Spike Lee’s Malcolm X with Denzel Washington in a performance for the ages.