Length: 128 minutes
Release Date: November 13, 1992
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Before the popular “Twilight” movie series and other modern vampire tales was the infamous Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” This iconic tale of love, lust, and terror is a true horror story unmatched by any of the recent blood-sucking films. Based on Stoker’s book, this cinematic version closely follows the novel with just a slight twist, which is ideal for those who read and enjoyed the book prior to seeing the film. Many moviegoers were disappointed that the film lacked the macabre feel of the book; it focuses on erotica by playing off Dracula’s love for his deceased wife against his intense desire for retribution. In spite of this one drawback, the movie is heavy on stunning visual effects and intense energy.
The movie opens in the year 1462. Vlad Dracula ( Gary Oldman ) is away fighting in a battle with the Order of the Dragon against the Turks. At home, his wife Elisabeta (Winona Ryder) is incorrectly told he was killed in battle. Completely distraught, Elisabeta commits suicide. Dracula finally arrives home, learns the news of Elisabeta’s suicide, and is distraught as his beloved is now damned forever for ending her own life. Dracula completely turns against God, destroys his chapel, and vows he will rise from the dead to avenge her death. In a fit of hurt and rage, he stabs the chapel cross with his sword and blood begins to pour out. He drinks the blood and becomes immortal.
Time flashes forward over 400 years to new law clerk Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), who has been sent to Transylvania to close a property deal for a Count Dracula. During his travel to the castle and upon his arrival, he begins to experience some extraordinary phenomena, including bad dreams and examples of the Count’s strange behaviors. In particular, Dracula becomes obsessed with a picture he sees of Harker and his fiancé Mina (Winona Ryder). Some of Coppola’s most stunning scenes are set inside the castle walls, where life never seems to be as it should be; shadows move, walls come closer, and mirrors cast no reflection. All these effects add to the mystery of the unfolding story.
Believing that Mina is the reincarnation of his wife Elisabeta, Dracula begins to make preparations to make her his immortal wife. Three months pass and Mina begins to worry about her fiancé. Leaving Harker at the castle to be seduced by his three vampire concubines, Dracula travels to London, where he attacks Mina’s friend Lucy (Sadie Frost), whom Mina is staying with while Harker is away. Lucy’s health begins to diminish quickly, so Professor Van Helsing is called in to help. He suspects her condition is the result of a vampire attack but says nothing. While he is there, Dracula finds Mina and tries to charm her, but her heart is set on marrying Jonathan. Feeling rejected and furious, Dracula turns Lucy into a vampire.
Finally, realizing Dracula is a vampire, Lucy’s friends set out to kill him. The remainder of the movie finds Mina remembering her prior life with Dracula and his attempts to make her his own, culminating in Dracula’s dramatic choice between good and evil. Just as in Stoker’s book, the film uses sexuality to define its characters. Dracula’s desire for Mina, her love for Harker, and Lucy’s flirtatious nature are all spurred by sexual yearnings.
This is not Gary Oldman’s first role as a film’s dark character; he played the role of Sirius Black in the popular Harry Potter films. Born in 1958, Oldman received a Bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts in 1979 and began appearing in a variety of plays and performances in the early ’80s. His other roles have included Solomon in “Red Riding Hood,” Shen in “Kung Fu Panda,” and Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK.”
Winona Ryder was praised for her role as Mina. Born in Minnesota and raised in Northern California, Ryder always had an interest in film and performing arts. She was the one who convinced Francis Ford Coppola to remake the popular Dracula story. She found out he decided to redo the film when she received a stack of scripts that had a copy of the film inside. Other popular roles of Ryder include Lydia Deetz in “Beetlejuice,” Susanna Kaysen in “Girl, Interrupted,” and Babe Bennett in the comedy “Mr. Deeds.”
The overall premise of the film is that true love never dies, which is a major diversion from Stoker’s main theme in the novel where Dracula is motivated by his thirst for blood. The movie is gory, violent and suspenseful, which makes it an ideal horror flick for sleepovers or a Halloween movie marathon. It’s an excellent choice for those who like a classic tale with a modern cinematic approach. The ending has a slight twist from that of a traditional vampire film, and it is one that will leave you on the edge of your seat until the final curtain closes.