In 1897, London solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to Transylvania to meet his new client Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). Dracula falls in love with Harker’s fiancée Mina (Winona Ryder) when he sees from a photograph her resemblance to his wife, who killed herself 400 years previously. Dracula imprisons Harker in his castle and heads to London to find Mina. Bloody Eastern Europeans, coming over here, biting our women…
Made in 1992, Dracula AKA Bram Stoker’s Dracula AKA Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a bizarre mismatch of a film. It has the high production values and visual splendour of an award winning epic, but the laughable acting and softcore preoccupations of a trashy horror flick. It’s essentially A Transylvanian Vampire In London.
Let’s start with the good stuff. This shouldn’t take long. The production design is immaculate, realising a grandiose Gothic setting through its lavish costumes and sets. Coppola’s direction is often inspired, the camerawork contributing to the imposing atmosphere. Best of all is the shadow which accompanies Dracula out of sync. It’s brilliantly executed and very creepy, pulling us in to this immersive world.
Everything else, though, pulls us right out again. I’m amazed I’ve gone this long without complaining about Keanu Reeves’ notoriously bad performance. He can’t do an English accent and Coppola doesn’t seem to mind. Once again this seems to be a case of an American filmmaker not realising how English people speak, but it’s not just the accent. His performance is so bad it makes you wonder how it ever made its way into such a big movie. If there is a role suitable for Keanu Reeves, and that’s a big if, it’s painfully obvious that this isn’t it.
But Reeves is just the worst of a bad bunch. I don’t know if they still do, but the nutritional information on the packaging of popular meat-based snack Peperami used to claim to contain 108% pork. That’s still not as hammy as the performances in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Winona Ryder appears to think she’s in a Jane Austen adaptation, and weirdly looked exactly the same twenty years ago as she does now in Homefront. Maybe she’s actually like Dracula and is secretly 400 years old. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins depicts Van Helsing as a mad drunk, and apparently only plays doctors. And Thor’s dad.
Oldman plays the old man in a characteristically chameleon-like performance, transforming himself into the heart-shaped-haired vampire with impressive physical and vocal realisation, and again the costume, make-up and hair departments deserve considerable praise. But he doesn’t so much chew the scenery as completely suck it dry, in a turn that’s really too operatic to be particularly scary.
The story and pacing are all over the place too, with characters constantly introduced and under-developed, played by the likes of Richard E. Grant and Tom Waits. I’ve moaned recently about when characters, particularly in horror films, have to play catch-up, spending half the film working out what the audience already know. In this case, it is literally half the film, before they work out that he’s a vampire. This is parodied brilliantly in Bart Simpson’s Dracula from Treehouse of Horror IV, when despite all the ridiculously obvious evidence Homer continually insists that vampires are make-believe “like Eskimos”. The film opens with some great fantasy set pieces, including a battle sequence and Harker’s time trapped in the castle. But when the drama moves to London, it becomes an almost conventional costume drama.
But my Jane Austen comparison was perhaps unfair. Austen would never write female characters as insulting as this. They giggle away like insufferable schoolgirls, then Mina falls for Dracula immediately, despite her being in love with Harker and despite him looking like Slash from Guns N’ Roses. She’s taken in by his European slimeball schtick like a pubescent idiot, and doesn’t even mind that much when he kills her best friend. All he does to seduce her is tell her that he’s a Prince. She doesn’t question it, she just falls into his arms, because supposedly women are like that.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula sucks, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s an embarrassing two hours for the once great director, and it desperately wants to be taken seriously, which is impossible when everything is so enormously over-the-top. The most fun I got from watching it was singing “all my friends, Winona Ryder” to the tune of Low Rider by War, whenever she was on screen. You’ll all be doing it tomorrow.