1992 dracula
Columbia Pictures
1992
R

“I want you to bring me, before nightfall, a set of post mortem knives.”
“An autopsy? On Lucy?”
“No, no, no. Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart.”

  • From Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola comes the classic and chilling tale about the devastatingly seductive Transylvanian prince who travels from Eastern Europe to 19th-Century London in search of human love. When the charismatic Dracula meets Mira, a young woman who appears as the reincarnation of his lost love, the two embark on a journey of romantic passion and horror.

I wonder–is Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire novel Dracula the book that’s been adapted for the big screen the most? Seriously, that seems to have been given the celluloid treatment almost as soon as the book was originally published, and movie making was invented. It’s probably not, but I would say that maybe it would be in the Top 10, if not the Top 5. I’m sure there’s a list on some pop culture website out there.

Anyway, Dracula is one of the big Classic Movie Monsters that you don’t even have to have seen any of the movies to know about. Dracula is an icon. But, most only know about Bella Legosi’s iconic take on the vampire prince, with the cape and the tuxedo and the eyes you could get hypnotized with for days…

Um, what were we talking about, again? Oh, right.

When it comes to the movies, what every big screen adaptation of the novel have in common–besides a vampire named Dracula (unless it’s Nosferatu, which is a different kind of adaptation entirely)–is that they all veer away to something different from the source material, despite claims to be faithful to the novel. And in 1992, movie auteur Frances Ford Coppola made his attempt at a “faithful adaptation of the book” a shot.

For those of us familiar with the novel itself, Coppola’s adaptation opens with a scene that’s nowhere in the book: An explanation of the origin of the titular character by tying in lore of the historical inspiration, Vlad Dracula, back in the 1400s, to maybe make some sense as to why the guy lives so long and has a thirst for blood. Eh, it’s a valiant effort. Anyway, from there the movie takes most of its cues from the novel itself, with some liberal helpings of artistic license slathered on to keep things from getting too bogged down from the source material’s literary structure.

So, after Vlad renounces God and desecrates the chapel by drinking blood from an impaled cross because his wife committed suicide (as you do), we flash forward to 1897, where a young British go-getter solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to meet with his new client, one Count Dracula, to discuss and arrange the Count’s new real estate acquisitions in London. The Count seems a trifle odd, but that may be chalked up to cultural differences and all that. However, after Dracula spots a picture of Jonathan’s betrothed–Mina–he believes her to be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife, and throws Jonny to his vamperic brides and sets off to England to find the woman of his dreams. Or something. Coincidentally, Mina’s BFF Lucy’s health starts deteriorating, which is determined to be the result of a vampire attack by the socially awkward Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, here looking nothing like Wolverine, and then Nina goes to Romania because she got word that Jonathan managed to escape Dracula’s castle, and the two get married there. Moving back to London, Dr. Van Helsing leads the charge to take down Dracula, but the Count totally evades them, killing off his former servant Renfield, then turning Mina into one of the undead, leading to a showdown between Dracula’s forces and Van Helsing’s Heroes on Dracula’s home turf. Wackiness and gloriously bad acting ensue.

The best thing going about this take on Dracula is the heavy Gothic atmosphere that oozes out of the film. Gary Oldman does an outstanding job as the titular antagonist of the movie, giving his Dracula a pathos and melancholy to the undead embodiment of evil, even when he’s wearing perhaps the goofiest looking hairpiece I’ve ever seen. Also, Coppola made this using old-school practical effects, essentially eschewing any CGI trickery to achieve that authentic old school feel of the movie. It looks great. And Sir Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is probably the best character in this movie. That said, all the reports of the acting being incredibly wooden and off from the other actors? Yeah, I have to admit that is on display here. Especially with Keanu Reeves, affecting a rather…interesting British accent, let’s just say. The same with Winona Ryder, playing the Mina opposite Reeve’s Harker. But, really, it’s Billy Campbell as the over-the-top Texan Quincey Morris that gets me whenever I watch this. It’s just such a greatly cliche’d performance, it’s like the quintessential version of how British people view Americans, it seems like.

Overall: I absolutely adore this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This isn’t the first time a Dracula movie was made that tied in the Vlad Tepes source for the fictional character–there was a 1973 television version that was done that did just that. I love the style, the Gothic atmosphere, the soundtrack used which goes great with a dark night and candles, there’s much here to like. If you haven’t seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Even if you end up not liking it that much, there’s going to be something here you will like. Worth a rental some dark, moonless night in winter.