We’re vampire mad here at the Information Store this Hallowe’en. With the recent release of Dracula Untold in cinemas and our review of Dracula, the novel that started it all, we can’t get enough of the Count!
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the most faithful film adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel. Released in 1992, it was a highly imaginative Gothic version of the famous story. In 1462, a fearsome warrior called Vlad the Impaler (also known as Vlad Dracul) protects his homeland, but when his wife is killed, he defies God and is cursed to become a blood-drinking vampire.
Centuries later, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to the home of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), now an eccentric aristocrat. He discovers that Dracula’s castle is a place filled with mystery and horror, not least of which is the Count himself. He is imprisoned in the castle as Dracula makes his way to England. Dracula meets Mina (Winona Ryder), Jonathan’s fiancée, who looks exactly like his long-dead wife, and tries to seduce her. At the same time, Mina’s best friend Lucy (Sadie Frost) is sleepwalking and growing ill. Mina follows her and discovers that she is being attacked by a monster that is drinking her blood. As Jonathan Harker manages to escape the castle, Lucy’s condition worsens and the three men who proposed to her, John Seward, Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris, try to save her life. It is only when Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), Seward’s old mentor, comes to examine Lucy that they realise she is the victim of a vampire. The group of heroes must pursue Dracula across Europe to slay him, but he has infected Mina with his vampiric blood and it is slowly turning her into his minion. Can they catch him before he returns to his castle in Transylvania, where he will be almost impossible to kill?
Francis Ford Coppola took a gamble on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He was a famous director at this point, having made the first two Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, and he was proposing to make Dracula as it had never been seen before on film. The character was so well-known from Bela Lugosi’s portrayal in the Universal films that it was a challenge to put a new spin on it. Coppola would be making a Dracula film without any of the things people expected from an adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Coppola told the designers on the film to avoid imagery that had already been used in adaptations of Dracula and to draw on their research and their nightmares, and they certainly brought an imaginative new look for the iconic vampire. Eiko Ishioka, a Japanese graphic designer, received an Academy Award for her costume designs, and while they vary between entrancing to a bit ridiculous, somehow they work as part of the look of the film. The soundtrack is as rich and baroque as the visuals, and when parts of it were recently featured in the first series of the TV series American Horror Story, its status as an iconic piece of horror music was cemented.
The cast is for the most part superb. A common complaint levelled at the film is that Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder were miscast, and their accents are painfully bad – as is Reeves’ acting. However, Ryder makes Mina very likeable and Reeves’ wooden performance is vastly overcome by the other talents in the film. Gary Oldman manages to be frightening as Count Dracula, even when he’s wearing silly-looking outfits and wigs, and he also captures the pathos of Dracula trying to win back the reincarnated version of his wife. Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Van Helsing isn’t subtle, but he comes across as someone who could legitimately take out Dracula (though Peter Cushing, in the Hammer Horror Dracula films, was always my favourite Van Helsing). The supporting actors are good as well, Tom Waits giving a brilliant performance as Dracula’s minion Renfield, Cary Elwes managing to bring a bit of humour to Arthur Holmwood and Richard E. Grant as a highly sympathetic Dr John Seward.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is over the top and melodramatic, but it’s beautiful, relatively faithful and very, very Gothic.
If you liked this…
Read the original novel, reviewed here.
Try some of the other great film adaptations of Dracula.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922), a silent film directed by German Expressionist film-maker F.W. Murnau, was originally intended to be a direct adaptation of Dracula, but Bram Stoker’s descendants threatened to sue as a breach of copyright, since Murnau didn’t obtain the rights before he started the project. He reacted by adapting the story so all the names of the characters were replaced (Dracula became ‘Count Orlok’) and the whole thing was set in Transylvania. Nosferatu is creepy in its own right, visually stunning and, for all the ridiculous overacting common in silent films of the time, very effective at capturing the monstrousness of Dracula.
The Dracula everyone thinks of when you talk about the Count is Bela Lugosi’s famous depiction for Universal Pictures in Dracula (1931), directed by Tod Browning. It came out of Universal’s series of iconic horror films, which brought us Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and The Mummy, and Claude Rains as The Invisible Man. This adaptation changes the story a lot, with Renfield rather than Harker going to see the Count in his castle at the beginning, and instead of Lucy, Mina is the victim Dracula becomes obsessed with. However, this adaptation brought us Lugosi’s compelling performance and the iconic look of Dracula, not a monstrous creature but a charming and dignified aristocrat, and it’s well worth a look.
Learn more about Dracula, with the South Bank Show’s feature, a recording of which can be found in the BOOK ZONE at 823.91, and Count Dracula Goes to the Movies: Stoker’s Novel Adapted, 1922-1995 (BOOK ZONE 791.4372).