Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) — A bloody mess of dark gothic delights

“Listen to them: the children of the night. What sweet music they make.”

Justin’s rating: Before Speed… before The Matrix… before John Wick, there was… The Accent

Justin’s review: Anyone who goes through a vampire phase in their life is bound to come to Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel sooner or later. And that person is bound to be disappointed, because Stoker’s vision of Drac is a little more wordy and less bloodthirsty than expected. Modern sensibilities is, then, to take this source material and spice it up.

And spice it up Francis Ford Coppola did, that’s for sure. With just a $40 million budget (!), Coppola assembled a who’s who of early ’90s film stars, threw them into a glorious gothic horror setting, and went mildly bonkers with making as visually striking a film as possible. Seriously, when you watch this, you will not think it’s a mid-budget movie — but mid-budget it is, a prime example of ’90s event movies.

Keanu Reeves is Jonathan Harker, a solicitor who’s given the job of handling the estate of Dracula in Transylvania. Reeves, it should be mentioned, badly attempts a British accent and comes off like a little kid playing at a role rather than inhabiting it.

Turns out, Dracula’s doing just fine after many centuries, even though he’s pretty pale, has two hair breasts, and all the powers of a Gary Oldman in his glorious prime. Harker is like, hey, even though your castle is super spooky and there are wolves everywhere and you look like Evil Pope, I’ll hang with you for a while. Bad move, Harker, because Drac finds a picture of Mina (Winona Ryder), who is Harker’s fiancé but also possibly the reincarnation of his long-lost love.

Centering Dracula around the concept of reclaiming a lost love gives him more depth than a mindless monster — although a monster he remains. I never really bought Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder together as a couple, no matter how many longing stares or anguished overacting was wrought, but it at least gives Drac motivation and purpose.

So Drac makes it his mission to woo Mina while also raising up his own vampire army in London and showing off his many forms. Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Anthony Hopkins (as Van Helsing!), and Monica Bellucci show up for some of the festivities, and a grand battle is had by all.

I won’t lie — Bram Stoker’s Dracula never put me in danger of falling under the spell of the actual story. It’s not just that I tend to yawn instead of scream at vampires; there’s only so much you can do with boring source material. But egads, this movie is a feast for the eyes. It’s like touring a haunted house on a grand scale, with plenty of scenes eschewing reality for stylized mischief and demented nightmares. I particularly liked the use of animated shadows to give us insight into the power and true intentions of Drac.

I actually saw this for the first time only this year. But even I was quite aware of what a stamp it made on pop culture back in the ’90s. There were video games and parodies and countless imitations. It was hard to escape noticing it in 1992, at least for a while. Everyone agreed that it wasn’t exactly a good movie – but that it was an unforgettable one all the same.

Coppola went way outside of the box with this one, creating a delightfully odd excursion for a familiar horror icon. Sure, some of the performances — Reeves and Ryder in particular — aren’t really up to the task, but there’s no denying that there’s a lot of skill at work. It’s an overblown, hammy production that has to be seen by any fan of gothic horror — or ’90s cinema — at least once.

Didja notice?

  • That’s some weird kissing techniques, Drac
  • Drac really freaks out at his love’s death
  • Stabbing a cross makes everything in the room bleed, apparently
  • ahaha Keanu Reeves’ accent
  • The eyes in the sky
  • How Dracula’s shadow doesn’t always match his movements
  • Girls, maybe we need to stop looking at this book already?
  • Don’t let Dracula shave you
  • The ol’ snakes-in-the-hair
  • Were those two female vampires fused together?
  • Mina’s entire circulatory system overlaid
  • The old timey newsreel bits
  • The great transition between Lucy’s bites and the wolf’s glowing eyes
  • Loved those roses wilting
  • That does not look like a very hygenic way to transfer blood
  • So Drac can turn tears into diamonds? That’s neat.
  • “I just want to cut off her head and take her heart.” But hey, no autopsy!
  • Someone dusted Keanu’s hair with grey powder
  • The many, many forms of Dracula

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