A hopefully humourous review of "Bram Stoker's Dracula"
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” – A biting review.
Dracula is a classic story. Written by a sexually frustrated Irish public servant named Abraham Stoker and first published in 1897, it has since been the subject of Thirty seven thousand movies. Most of these were apparently churned out in a three week period in 1968 by Hammer Studios. These several thousand movies represent England’s foremost contributions to the world of arts and culture alongside “Bucks Fizz” and “On the buses”.
As seedy, sordid and bloody as many of these movies were, they were bloody (pardon the intentional pun) entertaining. If nothing else, they made me appreciate that all male vampires dressed in evening suits and looked like Christopher Lee, and that female vampires were an assortment of buxom, scantily clad, very un-undead looking blonde ladies.
However, the version of the “Dracula” story that sticks in my mind is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. To my mind, and that in itself is a very strong caveat, this version of “Dracula” is the best translation of the novel to the big screen. It was released in 1992, eighteen years after Paul Morrissey’s very fleshy and extremely silly “Blood for Dracula” and thirteen years after Werner Hertzog’s remake of “Nosferatu” starring Klaus Kinski, who may or may not be wearing any make up.
At this point, I suppose a quick rundown of the story is in order.
Prince Vlad, played by Gary Oldman (famous later as Vlad the Impaler) swears an oath to defend Christendom against the rapidly advancing Turks. While he is off fulfilling his oath, his true love, Elizabeta played by Winona Ryder (yeah, that’s what I said) receives a message telling her that Vlad has been killed. She jumps off the roof of the castle and kills herself and when Vlad finally returns, victorious and learns that as a suicide, Elizabeta cannot be given a proper Christian burial. Vlad is furious at what he sees as a treacherous betrayal, and on the spot renounces god, thereby damning himself for all eternity.
Next thing we know, its 1897 and ambitious young solicitor Jonathan Harker, played by Keanu Reeves (I feel a shudder every time I say those words) is being packed off to Transylvania to finalise some real estate matters for a mysterious Transylvanian nobleman, Count Dracula.
He goes off and leaves his fiancée Mina Murray, played by Winona Ryder (yup, again) in the home of her childhood friend Lucy Westenra, played perfectly wanton by Sadie Frost. Lucy of course is being courted by three different but naturally attractive suitors Bumbling but earnest Doctor John Seward, played by Richard E. Grant, who incidentally happens to be in charge of the insane asylum down the road. Next is the rugged Texas Cowboy, Quincey Morris, ten gallon hat and Winchester rifle and all, played by Bill Campbell (He was in twenty or so episodes of Dynasty, I cant believe you haven’t heard of him). Last but not least is Arthur Holmwood, soon to be Lord Arthur Holmwood, played by Cary “Unlike some other Robin Hoods” Elwes.
While we are entertained by Lucy teasing each of her suitors and Mina’s tut tutting in a gloriously bad English accent, Mr Harker makes his way by rail across Europe, arriving at Dracula’s castle after a hairy coach ride along a cliff top pursued by wolves that sound hungrier than they look. He meets the count (still played by Gary Oldman) who utters the famous greeting “I am Dracula” in an ominous Hungarian lilt. When I first saw the count, now over four hundred years old, I was amazed, I also need to apologise to Glenn Close, the widely acclaimed American actress. I say this because I thought it was her. It seems silly now I know, but man she looked old, even back then. After my initial shock, and eventual realisation that it was really Garry Oldman again, I noticed that Dracula wasn’t wearing his usual uniform, the evening suit and cape. Instead he was wearing a very eastern looking robe and had his long grey hair tied up in two very distinctive looking buns.
In short order we are treated to some of Dracula’s best lines “I never drink… wine” and “The children of the night what music they make”. In equally short order the real estate business is complete, but Dracula notices the locket picture of Mina, a dead ringer for his long dead Elizabeta. He immediately decides to imprison Harker and steal his woman from under him.
At the Castle, Harker encounters Dracula’s “wives”, three very hungry vampiresses, including a young Monica Belucci in what seems to be her English language debut, although she only speaks Hungarian in the scene. More importantly from my point of view, she got her boobs out, which impressed me greatly.
Dracula heads for London, and Harker finally escapes from his captivity in Castle Dracula.
Dracula reaches England after growing younger and killing off the entire crew the “Demeter” on the voyage. Shortly after landing he spots Lucy Westenra, and after all he’s been dead a long time, so he lures her outside during a storm and has his wicked way with her, starting her along the way to an un-lifelong career in vampirism.
Meanwhile, Dr. Seward is flummoxed by Lucy’s sudden illness and so invites his teacher and mentor, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, played by a suitable manic Anthony Hopkins. The old doctor immediately diagnoses vampirism.
At the same time, Dracula pursues Mina, the likeness of his long dead princess. He almost turns her into another of his vampire brides, but is overcome with guilt at inflicting damnation on her that he stops. Shortly after, Mina gets word of Jonathan’s ordeal and rushes off to marry him.
Enraged, Dracula kills Lucy. Van Helsing leads the three suitors to Lucy’s crypt, where they learn the terrible truth. Lucy is a vampire, and a particularly frightening one at that. This scene was particularly chilling for me. Buried in her intended wedding dress, Sadie Frost manages to be both horrific and coldly seductive. It doesn’t help her, she gets a stake in the heart and her head chopped off.
Mina and Jonathan arrive home shortly after to join the group as they hunt down Dracula’s hiding places in London. Dracula gets to Mina though and finally admits his dark secret to Mina, that he is a Vampire. She takes it pretty well really, and wants him to make her like him. Again Dracula shows some kind of lingering humanity and refuses to condemn Mina to an eternity of damnation. She finally makes him do it (are they married already?) but he is thwarted in the middle of an act which is made to look very sexual by the fearless vampire hunters.
During this scene we see some more of the legendary abilities possessed by Dracula, he changes himself into a green mist to kill his former assistant Renfield, alters his shape from man to giant bat like creature to completely disappearing in an explosion of rats.
The group then race against time to save Mina while the pursue Dracula to his homeland, where the hunt climaxes in a melee in which Harker manages to mortally wound Dracula. Mina rescues her prince and drags him into the chapel, where centuries earlier, Vlad had damned himself by renouncing God. She finally gives Vlad freedom by finishing him off by tenderly chopping his head of with a big bowie knife.
The last thing we see is light flooding down through a beautiful stained glass skylight picturing Vlad and Elizabeta, together again and happy. Teary stuff huh?
Back in the 1950’s one psychologist described Dracula as “a kind of incestuous, necrophilious, oral-anal-sadistic all in wrestling match” which as a teenager made me read the book over and over again looking for all those dirty bits. While these naughty bits are mainly metaphorical, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is certainly heavy with sexual references, both literal and figurative. Vlad has been dead a long time, but he is still capable of carrying out the physical act with Lucy while he delivers the highly symbolic bites on her neck. The scene in which the gang of vampire hunters act as “Bitus interuptus” and barge in on Dracula finally in the act of turning Mina into a vampire, it is another highly sexually charged one. This alone, quite apart from the buckets of blood that get splashed around the place should suggest to mum and dad that this movie isn’t one for the kids, unless they want to answer a lot of awkward questions later.
This movie won three academy awards, for best sound effects (lots of splashing and chomping mainly), and best make up and best costumes. In these last two categories it’s easy to see why.
Firstly make up. Vlad’s appearance varies widely through out the movie. When we first see him, he is old. As I said earlier, I thought it was Glen Close, (I am going to hell for it, I know). Vlad is 400 or so years old and looks it, all wrinkles and long clawed skeletal hands. Then when he hits England, he adopts the form of a hairy Wolfman/Apeman/Baldwyn brothers type creature to begin his molestation of Lucy. When he begins his seduction of Mina, he is in the form of a young handsome Prince. However, when he is interrupted before he can fully seduce Mina, he adopts the form of a giant Batlike demonic thing before escaping as a flood of rats. Not a bad effort chaps, have a gong.
The other “Oscar” went to Eiko Ishioka for her costumes. From Vlad's long eastern looking gown and armour that looked Scratchy the cat after Itchy the mouse has pulled his hide off AGAIN to Lucy’s wedding/funeral dress, the costumes are something to behold. In fact Lucy’s dress was based on the Frilled Necked Lizards that roam around in Australia. Until you’ve been chased by one of those things in a cemetery, you really can’t appreciate just how scary they are, despite the fact they are only about a foot long.
I wont bang on about the cast any more than I already have, except to say “FOR GOD’S SAKE, KEANU REEVES! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING”?
To close, I will say that there are some stunning images in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. The fleeting view of Van Helsing the mighty vampire hunter, exhausted and spattered with the blood of Dracula’s “wives”, the grisly shadow puppet depiction of Vlad’s desperate battle against the Turks in 1462, (the kind of performance that gets a letter sent home to your parents from your school) or the visual of Lucy’s severed vampire head segueing into a very rare roast beef on a plate are vivid examples.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a high quality re-imagining of a classic story and is well worth watching, if only to chuckle at Keanu trying to get his tongue around the English language. For me it rates 4 bloody stakes out of 5. Watch it, but not at Glen Close’s house, I am still not convinced that it wasn’t her.
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