Monday, 11 May 2015
Vampire Week Day 7: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
For Kat, the girl who convinced me to give this film a go.
As so we end Vampire Week as we began, with Dracula!
Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 take on the classic gothic horror is certainly a very different experience than many other adaptations, claiming to be the closes adaptation of the novel made at the time and for the most part it succeeded, following the books plot pretty close from having Dracula start old and grow younger and even including characters that are omitted from most versions such as Quincey Morries. It's biggest divinations are in Dracula's back story, now it is a popular fact that Bram Stoker took the name for his vampire from Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, or known by his more common title of Vlad the Impaler and also Vlad Dracula. Since the novels publication the connection between the historical figure and the fictional character has been discussed even to the point where many believe Dracula is Vlad the Impaler, which is the rout this film takes. The back story presented here isn't from the book but instead based on a legend that Vlad's wife committed suicide when false news was delivered to her that her husband died in battle, the returning Vlad is devastated and when a priest informs him that due to suicide been a sin she will never be able to join him in heaven he lashes out, renouncing God and becoming the vampire.
The film's plot truly begins with Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) arriving in Transylvania and traveling to Dracula's castle to discuss his purchase of several properties across London, Harker is replacing his predecessor R. M. Renfield (Tom Waits) who after his last trip to the country returned to England quiet mad. Though at first Dracula is welcoming to the young man it soon turns into a nightmare for him as when Dracula see a picture of his fiancée Mina Merray who has a uncanny resemblance to his own wife Elisabeta (both played by Winona Ryder), the vampire sets off for England leaving Harker to the mercy of his three brides who rape and fed upon him in their masters absence.
Arriving in England Dracula takes on a wolf like form, he finds Lucy, Mina's best friend, rapping and biting her. The next day a now young looking Dracula meets and befriending Mina, as the two grow close her heart is conflicted between her love for Jonathan and her growing feelings towards Dracula.
Lucy has been growing weaker, believing her to be ill her former suitor Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant) dedicates his spare time to her care along with other former suitor Quincey P. Morris (Billy Campbell) and the man that won her hand in marriage Sir Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes). Realising something is very strange about Lucy's illness Seward summons his former teacher and friend Dr. Abraham Van Helsing who immediately recognises that she is the victim of a vampire.
Meanwhile Jonathan escapes Dracula's castle and send's word for Mina to come to Romania so that they can be married at once, she sends a letter to Dracula to inform him and goes. Enraged Dracula transforms Lucy into a vampire. Lucy appears to die and while the others morn her Van Helsing realises what has happened and knowing she will rise from her coffin enlists Seward, Morris and Holmwood to accompany him to her grave and mercy kill her. And the scene where he asks Seward give the film one of it's best humorous lines;
Van Helsing: I want you to bring me, before nightfall, a set of postmortem knives.
Jack Seward: An autopsy? On Lucy?
Van Helsing: No, no, no. Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart.
Returning to London Jonathan joins the others in their fight against the vampire, while attacking one of his properties Dracula goes to Mina, admitting what he has done to Lucy and all. Mina is angry, confused but admits to still loving him and that she even has memories of her life as Elisabeta, confirming that she is indeed the reincarnation of her. Though he wants to transform her into a vampire Dracula hesitates, not wanting to curse her like he has been, but she insists and he begins. The others burst in and chase off the vampire, Van Helsing hypnotizes Mina and they find out he is heading back home. So a race begins towards their final confrontation with the vampire!
This film really is an interesting experience to watch, it draws you into its world with its beautifully framed shots and use of colour, a great example early on is when Jonathan Harker is on a train heading to Dracula castle, outside the window the sky is a blood red and we see the vampires eyes appear watching over him. The whole film has a surreal dream like quality, some sets were made with walls that would close in to bring a feeling of claustrophobia, other sets are highly stylised such as Dracula castle or Dr. Jack Seward's insane asylum, giving the feeling this is its own little world that is both welcoming like a dream and strange and frightening like a nightmare. Use of colour is also great in this film and most scenes seem to have their own pallet, such as the opening where we see Vlad fighting a war, the sky is a deep orange but everything else is a black silhouette, it reminded me a lot to the introduction to the 1978 version of Lord of the Rings in a way.
Now I have to talk about the cast and address the elephant in the room, I've always liked Keanu Reeves, when he's given the right role he can shine and while I don't think he's as bad here as many have criticised before me he is certainly the weakest of the leads, especial when up against such powerhouses as Gary Oldman or Anthony Hopkins.
Speaking of Oldman's Dracula it is a great performance, an interesting take where the character doesn’t seem to see his vampiric powers as a gift or curse but his torment comes from deeper inside, his love for Elisabeta and Mina, his desire to have her and all others be damned. Oldman has a great task of portraying Dracula in several forms, the old man, the young man, the wolf and a humanoid bat like creature and he bring something new to each one.
Anthony Hopkins's Van Helising is a pure joy whenever he is one screen and for me when he first showed up is what changed this from a good film to a great one, he plays the character as the most wonderful eccentric, when he realises there is a vampire behind Lucy's illness he isn't fearful, he is ecstatic that he has worked it out and at the shear wonder of the discovery. He is my favoured character in the film.
The rest of the cast works too, ranging from good to to great such as the always awesome Richard E. Grant, an actor who has been a favourite of mine for a long time.
Though it may not be as iconic as the 1931 version this film is still a modern classic and would certainly be up there if I was to ever make a list of my top 10 Dracula films. There is so much more I would have written about such as Dracula's shadow or the final battle and so many other elements that make this film so good, if you haven't seen it already give it a go.