Bram Stoker’s Dracula: An Exercise in Multiple Cinematic Personalities

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: a sumptuous horror masterpiece?

It is, actually. And it’s a lot of other things, too: a lush costume melodrama, a sweeping historical romance, a B-movie that Hammer Films would be proud of…

Yes, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is all of those things. It’s a hot, sexy, bloody, silly, gorgeous film no matter how you look at it.  It’s a great movie, actually.  But it’s definitely not the most… well, cohesive piece of work.

Why not? Director Francis Ford Coppola brought us The Godfather, and that was nothing if not, I dunno, focused. Ditto The Conversation. Ditto, uh, One From The Heart, sure. Coppola even had an almost 100-year-old novel to draw from. So why does Dracula feel like the director’s most kaleidoscopic work, a kind of “greatest hits” package of different visual and acting styles?

Maybe because Coppola encouraged nothing but collaboration — and, indeed, a sense of community — from his cast from the start. The director approached this project as one big theatre game — the first “cast meeting” consisted of the principal actors sitting around in a circle and reading the novel out loud. That “meeting” lasted two entire days.

Francis Ford and his merry band of thespians then spent quite a while living together in a commune of sorts — “Coppola Camp,” if you will — rehearsing their scenes, playing improv games and other such activities you might expect from a summer stock troupe. Coppola even let the actors change their lines to better suit what they thought would work for their characters.

So imagine it, the whole lot of them — classical trained theatre actors like Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and Richard E. Grant mixed with young bucks like Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, living like hippies with the guy who made Apocalypse Now and putting on a production of Dracula.

It sounds like fun, most definitely.  And Bram Stoker’s Dracula is practically shimmering with creative energy.  But it’s no wonder the final film feels like it’s so many different things at once. Oldman’s acting his heart out while Hopkins seems to think he’s in an Abbott and Costello movie. Reeves and Ryder look hot and a bit overwhelmed by it all. Grant grabs the wrong side of his neck in one scene after Renfield (Tom Waits, natch) clearly attacks him on the other.

Ultimately, though, it worked, didn’t it? We bet if you stumble across Bram Stoker’s Dracula every time it’s on TV, you don’t change the channel, do you?

No, of course you don’t. Because it’s awesome.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1992 ©1992 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.