Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Waits, Richard E. Grant and Sadie Frost.

dracula1

Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula’ – that’s what this movie interpretation of Bram Stoker’s celebrated novel should be called. Written in 1897, Stoker’s book was way ahead of its time in the way it spun its narrative web via the diary entries of the novels cast of characters. Furthermore, it was shockingly dark and erotic, with a deeply sinister edge and a subtext about men rediscovering what it is to be ‘true men‘. Through James V. Hart’s screenplay, Coppola re-arranges a lot.

Through great use of light, striking art design and some beautiful period detail, Coppola creates a menacingly atmospheric tone. Just like in the influential 1922 Dracula film, Nosferatu, Coppola employs creepy shadows and all manner of ‘things that go bump‘ to achieve a sense of ominous malevolence in the early stages.

As Count Dracula, Gary Oldman is a resounding success. Oldman has such deep reservoirs of talent and authenticity, that he can help you believe in just about anything. Outside of the pages of the book, his performance is my favourite, most dynamic take on Dracula.

While Oldman mesmerises in the titular role, sadly, Keanu Reeves is ill-equipped to play Jonathan Harker, one of the book’s most significant characters. The young Canadian actor looks constipated in the role, seemingly fighting the inclination to slip into the air-headed vernacular of Bill & Ted. Other characters seem diluted from the book – Richard E. Grant is flimsy and forgettable as Dr Seward while Cary Elwes is another miscast actor in an important role. Thankfully, Sadie Frost is a delight as Lucy, while Winona Ryder is fine as Mina. As the lunatic of the piece, Tom Waits is excellent, as is Anthony Hopkins as Dr Van Helsing, wrong-footing the audience with an eccentricity that serves the overall strangeness of the piece.

I don’t love it as much as I could have, and the uneven editing intermittently irritates – the boat sequence deserved so much more than an brief montage sequence. As Stoker’s book is such a classic, the omissions and detours from it are likely to be reason enough for many to pour scorn on this interpretation of the legend. For my two-penneth, the film stands on its own as a haunting love story, set against a backdrop of the drama of the book. 4/5

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About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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13 Responses to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. filmfunkel says:

    Did you know that Anthony Hopkins also plays the Orthodox priest who tells Dracula his wife is damned for committing suicide?

  2. Jay says:

    Great time of the year for this, don’t mind if I do.

  3. vinnieh says:

    Excellent review, this is sumptuous horror of the highest order. I only recently found out that one of Dracula’s brides is Monica Bellucci.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Yes, I was surprised to discover that. She’s exactly the right amount of intoxicating beauty for that kind of role. Some of the casting choices frustrated me, but like you say, the horror tone is perfect. Thank you.

      • vinnieh says:

        She is a stunning woman and very talented performer. This movie was really close to the source novel, whereas other movies really differ.

      • garethrhodes says:

        She’s a captivating screen presence. I recently watched Malena, she blew me away in that. I re-read Bram Stoker’s original novel only last month. Actually, you know, I was surprised how many detours there were in the film. Dracula himself is a background character in Stoker’s novel as the diary structure of the book fixes firmly on the victims and those chasing him. Also, there isn’t so much of a whiff of the over-arching love story that dominates the theme of Coppola’s film. Again, this took me by surprise.

      • vinnieh says:

        I loved her in Malena. It’s been years since I last read Dracula, may have to read it again.

      • garethrhodes says:

        Yes, it’s an excellent read. The ‘Lucy’ stuff was quite faithfully done in the film and the overall tone of the film captures a large essence of the book, I think.

      • vinnieh says:

        It’s good to hear from you again mate, it’s been a while.

  4. I’ve been wanting to review this film for my horror blog but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I watched this version of Dracula with my father when I was younger and loved it. As an adult, I’m a little more ambivalent. I agree with you that the creepy shadows are fantastic, and I actually didn’t mind Reeves in the role of Harker. I think he makes a more layered Jonathan Harker than the actor (I don’t know his name) who played in the 1931 version. I’ve been told I need to read the book, and I’ll have to check out Nosferatu as well.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response. I completely understand your ambivalence – I share it to some degree. Some of the casting choices didn’t quite work for me, especially after having read the original novel just before watching it. Richard E. Grant was a weak Dr. Seward, which I found to be a disappointment, but then Oldman and Sadie Frost were terrific. On the whole, the atmosphere was excellent – capturing at least a slice of the essence of the book.

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