“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was the first “Dracula” film I ever remember loving. It was years ago that I first saw it so I realize now how much of that was nostalgia but the film does still hold up, even if it is not as great as I believed it to have initially been. What really makes this film work is the presentation and the great cast as this time around the theme didn’t work as well for me.
The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and written by James V. Hart.
The story begins with Dracula (Gary Oldman) returning home to Transylvania after victory over the Turks to find his wife has killed herself based on a lie planted the enemy. He curses God and drinks blood from a cross he stabs. After we get a time jump where Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) must go to Romania to complete the deal with Count Dracula that Renfield (Tom Waits) was unable to complete.
Cinematography – This is a beautiful film with tons of practical effects. Michael Ballhaus did a great job of bringing this world to life. It feels like an epic fairy tale.
Dracula’s Curse / Origin – The idea of Dracula turning on God and that is why he is turned into a demonic creature is fascinating. You can see why someone who already didn’t care much for humanity beyond his country would go full bad. It works and is a strong start to the story.
Framing the Story – I love how the film captures the essence of the book in how the story is framed. We have Mina’s diaries, Jonathan’s letters and also Van Helsing’s words as well. This was how the book was told and this film pulled it off as a narrative and framing device to let us know more of the characters.
Renfield – Tom Waits is wonderful as the crazy Renfield who above all else just wants immortality from Dracula. It is fascinating to see as he seems to be analyzing the world around him in as the manic being he has become. Any scene he is in, is strong due to the performance.
The Brides of Dracula – The Brides in Dracula have a purpose in this and aren’t just display! In this they are first introduced when they try to prey on Jonathan. All the actresses are charismatic and they are the ones who hold Jonathan hostage after Dracula travels to England and they are the ones who attempt to turn Mina and stop Van Helsing from destroying Dracula. This is easily the best portrayal they’ve had in any adaptation. Bellucci, Bercu and Kendrick did a great job.
Lucy – Sadie Frost does a wonderful job as Lucy. In this she has 3 suitors and each are compelling in their own ways. You can see why they are drawn to her as she is confident in herself and dreams. This is really where the tragedy comes in as like in the books she is one of Dracula’s victims, though she advocates for help before her death and is nearly saved. Lucy like the Brides, have their best portrayal in this film.
Lucy’s Suitors – Lucy’s suitors and friends are Quincey Morris from Texas, Dr. Seward and Arthur Holmwood. Each is unique in their performance and take an active part in the story and stopping Dracula. With Morris dying in the final attack against Dracula.
Dr. Jack Seward – Richard Grant imbues Jack with empathy but also a bit of madness too. You can see how Van Helsing has rubbed off on him and also his care for Lucy. He sees logic in Renfield and it is thanks to his getting Van Helsing that Dracula is stopped. He is the best version of the character put to screen thus far.
Arthur Holmwood – Cary Elwes gives us the best version of this character. He fights for Lucy, loves her and joins Van Helsing in the fight. I almost wish Elwes had been cast as Harker, as Keanu didn’t cut it where Elwes elevated a minor role.
Dracula as an Antagonist – Dracula is a great antagonist. You have this powerful night demon that still feels empathy and sadness and is extremely dangerous. is human and monster design are amazing too as one is classy and cool while the bat-demon form is almost wolf-like. He never doesn’t feel dangerous which makes him a great villain in a role Oldman owns.
Professor Van Helsing – Anthony Hopkins gives us a smart, crafty, and slightly mad version of Van Helsing. It is great and works. This is an old man who has been defined exploring the strange and supernatural and the film is made better when he shows up.
Dracula’s Roma – Dracula has a bunch of Roma followers and it is never explained why they follow him. They are also racistly referred to as Gypsies throughout the film so there is that negative too.
Keanu’s Performance – Keanu’s portrayal as Harker is so wooden and his English accent is bad. He isn’t a bad actor but he should not have been cast in this role. He like so many Harker’s prior, just ends up empty and bland.
Mina’s Role and Adapting “Dracula” – Winona Ryder is a good actress but her role in this feels ill-defined. She is a fridged character motivating Dracula so her role as Mina never fully exists as her being Dracula’s reincarnated wife defines their interactions. So Dracula gets away with murder and she becomes one willingly wanting to join. I hated this. There is no Mina, only Elisabeta in a universe where the rules of reincarnation aren’t even explained. Mina and Winona deserved to be full characters not Dracula’s motivation.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a beautiful and flawed film that I highly recommend. For all the flaws, the story is solid, the cast is amazing and Dracula is an awesome film that still holds up as a favorite.
Final Score: 9.2 / 10