Movie Review of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

by JoHarrington

Francis Ford Coppola directed this star-studded cast through the most faithful movie adaptation of 'Dracula' thus far. Gary Oldman stole every scene.

Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of 'Dracula' is visually stunning. It netted three Oscars and it was nominated for many more.

The cast-list is relatively small, but it reads like a mini Who's Who of the British and American A-list actors of the day. The director only took it on, because Winona Ryder asked him to.

Yet it's Gary Oldman whom we all remember. He out-acted and out-classed half of those sharing his scenes. And what scenes! 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' is pure theater, colorful sets with award winning costumes.

Bram Stoker's Dracula on DVD

An Undead Transylvanian Count Out for Blood

Since Bram Stoker wrote 'Dracula' in 1897, it's remained a classic novel. Francis Ford Coppola is mostly faithful to that original vampire tale.

There is something very strange about this client.  A foreign nobleman, all he wants is several properties dotted around London.  It could be a very lucrative business deal.  But when Renfield traveled out to Transylvania to deal with the paperwork, he returned utterly insane.

Now Jonathan Harker has been dispatched to apologize for his colleague and to get signatures on the dotted line.  He has no idea what horrors await, nor the manner of thing that sent Renfield mad.

Moreover, Harker is about to lead the monster right into the heart of his own city circles.  Imprisoned and unable to intervene, he knows that Count Dracula is heading straight for Harker's own fiancee, Mina Murray.

Yet there are bigger stories here.  There's the tale of a love which defies death and centuries.  Count Dracula has been waiting for his own beloved Elisabeta to be reincarnated, and now he thinks he's found her. 

Meanwhile Dr Van Helsing has made vampires his life study.  When he's consulted on the mysterious symptoms of Lucy Westenra, he realizes that he's finally on the trail of the real thing.  But can he act fast enough to stop this Romanian monster over-running the city of London?  Can he save the young women, who would give the vampire their virtue and soul?

And do they actually want to be saved?

Bram Stoker's Dracula Official Trailer

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula and Other Casting

The main antagonist was extremely well cast. He elevated every scene he was in.

Image:  Gary OldmanIn book and film, Dracula visibly changes aspect on a regular basis.  He can be young or old.  He can be nearly human or beast.  He transforms into a bat, a wolf or a green mist. 

Gary Oldman was equal to them all.  It almost goes without saying, because I'm happy to add my voice to those who'd say he's one of the best actors of his generation. His versatility was pushed to the limit in this role.

On the IMDb forum, someone asks if Dracula was Gary Oldman's best performance to date.  It's difficult to say, but only because he's generally this good.  However, he certainly pulled out all the stops to capture the dark essence of the vampire.

Gary Oldman is a method actor.  When the script called for him to utter a few lines in Romanian, he went and learned Romanian.  In rehearsals, he and Winona Ryder got on really well.  By the time they were filming, Winona felt some kind of threat.  Something wasn't right, though she could never put her finger on it.  She complained to the director that she instinctively picked up on the danger.

He was Dracula.  She was Mina.  She wasn't supposed to feel comfortable in those scenes.  As soon as filming was over, he suddenly transformed into Gary again and all was well.  But on set, he remained in character, always.

Bram Stoker's Dracula had a very strong cast.  Anthony Hopkins was sinister as Van Helsing.  Richard E Grant was manic as Seward.  Sadie Frost was the most convincing Lucy that I've ever seen.  Then there was Keanu Reeves.

It's practically a cliche to call his performance wooden in a review of this movie.  But it's a comment that's richly deserved.  It's also acknowledged by the actor himself.  He later apologized, stating that he was exhausted during filming, having recently done one film after another.

Reviewers are more divided on evaluating Winona Ryder as Mina Murray.  She wasn't in the same class as an actor like Gary Oldman, and it showed.  But that wasn't to say that she wasn't decent enough.  Her English accent was better than Keanu Reeves's anyway.

She's also been called insipid and wooden in the role, but that was her actual character.  Mina is supposed to be the epitome of a stiff upper lipped, prudish Victorian woman. Winona Ryder nailed that.

Bram Stoker's Dracula on Amazon Instant Video

Sex and Violence in Bram Stoker's Dracula

Dracula has always been about sex. Francis Ford Coppola's film version made that blatant. The eroticism moves swiftly from innuendo through to soft porn involving celebrities.

There barely seems a scene without one of the female cast members moaning or emitting an orgasmic breath.  For a story set in Victorian times, there's plenty of flesh on show. 
Nor is this confined to the ladies.  Francis Ford Coppola cast Keanu Reeves specifically because he was the hot male celebrity of the time.  He too ends up in a distinct state of undress.
Intertwined with it all are moments of violence and gore.  It's a vampire movie.  Most of this is implied though, rather than displayed in all its slash glory.  It was more explicit, but the test audience called it too gory, so Coppola cut those scenes.

How Faithful to the novel is Bram Stoker's Dracula?

The clue should be in the title, but that's not what Francis Ford Coppola meant. Nevertheless, it's more loyal to the original storyline than most.

Movie directors have always used Bram Stoker's story as a selection box. Taking a scene here, but ignoring whole sections there.

Francis Ford Coppola used it as his baseline. There are elements here which have never before been dramatized. It's the most faithfully reproduced version of Dracula to date. 

Characters unknown to all, but those who read the book, finally get their moment on the silver screen.  Quincey Morris and Lord Holmwood are the big examples here.  There are also scenes, like the voyage on the Demeter, which make it into the movie.  They are usually omitted.

Dracula, as Bram Stoker wrote it, is a tale told in diaries, letters and logs.  This is frequently honored in the movie too.  We see Mina writing her diary.  We glimpse the medical notes and the Demeter's captain's log.

However, this movie doesn't precisely take every nuance of the novel and film it.  There are still things left out and there are certainly bits added.  Bram Stoker never explicitly stated that Count Dracula had anything to do with Vlad the Impaler.  Nor was there any hint of the reincarnation love story in the original Gothic horror.

As movie adaptations go, it's close enough.  But Francis Ford Coppola was quick to clarify that he wasn't aiming for anything exact.  He included the author's name in the title as a mark of respect.  It was continuing a tradition from his other movies, in the same way as The Godfather was marketed as Mario Puzo's The Godfather.

Bram Stoker's Dracula [Blu-ray]

Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins. Count Dracula travels to England to find his long-lost love, but his nemesis Van Helsing is never far behind. Francis F...

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Bram Stoker's Dracula

DVD.2005 DATE

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Bram Stoker's Dracula (Superbit Collection)

The Superbit titles utilize a special high bit rate digital encoding process which optimizes video quality while offering a choice of both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. These...

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Oscars Won by Bram Stoker's Dracula

There is an art-house feel to this movie. It's epic without the use of any CGI (Francis Ford Coppola fired his special effects team, when they said it couldn't be done).

Much of the credit for the look and feel of the film goes to its costumes and make-up.  Gary Oldman (who won a Saturn Award for Best Actor in it) can transform himself with gestures and words anyway, but the outfits certainly helped.

Bram Stoker's Dracula won three Academy Awards.  They were in the categories of Best Costume Design, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Makeup.  All were well deserved.

Clip from Bram Stoker's Dracula - Lucy Hypnotized and Ravished

This snippet is R-rated in the USA. More is implied than actually seen, but the implications are horrific.

Bram Stoker's Dracula Does NOT Pass the Bechdel Test

Two major female characters and four cameo ones, all completely fail to utter a word to each other which isn't about men.

Image: Sadie Frost and Winona RyderMina Murray and Lucy Westenra are old friends.  They find themselves prey to a dark vampiric force. 

It will attack them, rape them, invade their very bloodstream.  Making it out alive is actually a minor concern compared to the fact that it could take their soul. Endless centuries of horror await, if they succumb.  But there's little to fight with.  It takes over their minds, their passions, their actions.

Therefore they patently have nothing more important to discuss than their respective marriages. 

Lucy (Sadie Frost) and Mina (Winona Ryder) fail to have a single conversation which isn't about a male character.  There are plenty of opportunities.  A huge portion of the script calls for them to share their thoughts.

I thought that the moment might come when Lucy was in extreme danger.  Only Mina's intervention pulled her back from the brink.  But in her lowest moment, all Lucy could talk about was Dracula.  He's male.

The Bechdel Test asks for two (or more) named female characters to have a conversation about anything other than a male character.  Despite theater audiences having a larger proportion of women watching these movies, their role models on the screen exist almost solely to lust after male leads.

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.

More Vampire Movies and TV Shows

David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve fight for top billing, in this art house, New Romantic vampire movie.
Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart swoon over each other in this human meets vampire High School romance. It's one of the most successful vampire movies of all time.
Loosely a dramatization of the second and third books in Anne Rice's 'The Vampire Chronicles', it is universally hated. Almost. Tear me to shreds - I loved it.
Lestat may soon be back on our theater screens, as the fourth in Anne Rice's 'The Vampire Chronicles' goes into development.
Updated: 05/15/2013, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 05/13/2013

I concur!

Jenny on 05/13/2013

Good film

JoHarrington on 03/30/2013

Thank you. I went to the pictures to see it. It was amazing up there on the big screen. I'm with you on this one.

MonisMas on 03/30/2013

Fantastic review of a fantastic movie. I remember when I saw it the first time, I was very impressed, I loved it so much.

JoHarrington on 03/27/2013

Francis Ford Coppola pretty much agreed to do this movie as a vehicle for Winona Ryder. But she was out-shone here. She's been in some brilliant roles before and since, but this time she was out of her league.

Tom Waits was tremendous! I'm with you on that one.

The garden scene was basically all about sex. I'm not quite sure why Dracula was a werewolf here though. He was a wolf in the book and he didn't have sex with Lucy.

Guest on 03/27/2013

Keanu Reeves doesn't need the excuse of exhaustion for his typically wooden performance. Both he and Winona Ryder were badly miscast. They looked even worse since they were working with topnotch British who out-acted them in every scene. I did enjoy Tom Waits, though. I always have the feeling his tongue is firmly in his cheek in his bizarre roles.

And that scene in the garden made me cringe with embarrassment every time I saw it. It was more laughable than sexy or even dangerous.

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