Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

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*. Where did this movie go wrong? It did so much right.
*. I mean, it’s gorgeous to look at. Coppola looks like he had a lot of fun designing these operatic visuals. They’re so lush, and have nothing realistic about them. The film was shot entirely on sound stages, without the use of any digital or optical effects, giving everything a decadent retro feel. The nod to Cocteau’s Orphée as Harker slides down the wall of the castle had me grinning ear to ear. Sadie Frost as a pre-Raphaelite icon was the icing on the cake.

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*. The costumes are just as fantastic and otherworldly. They out-Hammer Hammer. This is a movie set (quite explicitly) in cinematic history, not any nineteenth century that ever was.
*. The score by Wojciech Kilar has a powerful ratcheting effect, and I almost wish there was more of it. If you’ve got a movie that’s blasting your eyeballs as much as this one, why not assault the eardrums as well?

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*. It’s a talented cast, and Winona Ryder has far more sex appeal than I think she’s ever been given credit for. I think she’s perfect as the good girl who wants it so bad. She even gives the ear of Dracula’s wolf a hand-job! And poor Gary Oldman is practically unmanned when she goes down on him.
*. Sex and vampires have always been a natural fit, and I think the decision to go full erotic mode here is justified and effectively done. Which brings me back to my initial question: Where did this movie go wrong?

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*. I think the main clue is in the title. This is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As I’ve had occasion to remark before, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a terrible novel. Now this is not a literal adaptation (though David Skal goes overboard in calling it the “most aggressively eccentric dramatization of the book imaginable”), but far too much of Stoker’s unwieldy plot and baroque blather finds its way into the screenplay. Stuff like Dracula calling his wife “the most radiant woman in all the empires of the world.” Ugh!
*. (As a quick aside, I’m aware of the fact that they called it Bram Stoker’s Dracula because another studio had the rights to the title Dracula. But this screenplay is closer to Stoker’s novel than most other turns taken at the novel so I’m using the title to make another point.)
*. Compounding this problem with the script is the way the lines are delivered. It’s a talented cast, but they’re way out of their element. Few of the English characters sound English. Hopkins doesn’t sound German. Oldman just sounds awful. Is that supposed to be a Romanian accent he’s speaking in? At least Cary Elwes is there holding up the side. I was reminded of his line in Robin Hood: Men in Tights where he says he’s the best Robin Hood because he’s the only one with a genuine English accent.
*. While I’m being so hard on the cast, kudos for casting Tom Waits as Renfield. That was inspired.
*. The less said about Keanu Reeves the better. I’m not going to go there. Even his prematurely grey hair looks ridiculous.
*. When did Dracula start suffering from depression? Murnau’s Orlok isn’t depressed, or even particularly sympathetic. Nor is Lugosi, or Lee. Herzog’s Nosferatu is probably the most pronounced example of the type, but Oldman is part of the same (post)modern tradition. He’s more in need of Prozac than blood. The centuries seem to have been a drag for him.
*. I don’t hate this movie. I’ve seen it a few times and parts of it are very good. But the good parts don’t add up to a satisfying whole, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid.

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