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Bram Stoker's Dracula [1992]

The best Hammer Film ever made, though not actually from the Hammer Company.

Written 1992

There is a medieval battle-scene near the beginning of this flick in which a pre-vampiric Dracula and his armored pals take on an invading Moslem horde, hacking and stabbing at each other when suddenly a figure falls across the screen with what looks like twenty arrows in his heart. Did one guy fire twenty arrows all at once at this guy? Did twenty different archers hit him in the same spot somehow? I don't know, but it demonstrates to what excesses this film will go to during it's 2+ hours of screen time.

There are good things about this film, chiefly two; 1) It looks very good, and, 2) It's only 128 minutes long. They spent a hefty chunk of a fat movie-making budget on the scenery and costumes and effects of DRACULA, and it really does show. It is a gorgeous film that probably makes Victorian era art afficianados stare.

Back to those Moslems: losing the battle against our hero Dracula (indeed this is a twist, in the classic Lugosi film there's no fuddy-duddying about the nature of the guy with the teeth, we know Lugosi is bad right off the bat), the Moslems get sneaky and fire a note off to Dracula's girlfriend (or is it wife? I don't know) which states (untruly) that they have killed Dracula. Heartbroken, she kills herself by jumping out of the window at Dracula's castle. We watch her as she falls endlessly, like Wiley Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon, until she vanishes into the mists (or is it clouds? The castle looks like it's pretty high up.)

Next scene, Dracula comes running back from the battle, discovering his girlfriend's/wive's dead body in the chapel. Though dead, she's in great shape, laid out prettily on a slab, with only a little trickle of blood coming from her mouth. Considering she fell about two miles out of a window onto Transylvania's rocky hillsides, I expected much worse.

Well, I could go on, for example when Dracula pulls up in a carriage in the middle of the night to pick up Jonathan Harker and in silhouette Dracula's outfit makes him look suspiciously like Tweety Bird.

Gary Oldman's Vlad the Spooky Count was okay; Oldman could make playing Tweety Bird himself (herself?) extraordinary, but the script gets truly laughable by the time we get to the show-down in the last scenes. And the redemption angle that gets played on (rather unique among Dracula films) - - somehow I doubt God or anybody else is going to "forgive" a murdering bloodsucker just because he loved a girl, even Winona Ryder, so very much.

Anthony Hopkins plays a gonzo-Van Helsing, not really anything like the wizened old-Helsing of the original Batman, excuse me, I mean Dracula movies.

Whereas in the original films Helsing is a crafty little old man who "knows too much for a single lifetime" who ultimately outmaneuvers everybody in his effort to overcome Dracula, Hopkin's beefy action hero Helsing doesn't need brains or tactics, just swords and stakes, and a high-calorie meal for all of the exercise he gets chasing Oldman down.

Coppola must have paid attention to the aesthetics of those Hammer Dracula films from the 50s - 70s, because the set design and wardrobe for Bram Stoker's Dracula operate at the same level of over-stuffed Victorian luxury (though with an almost medieval twist mixed with Hollywood), but this movie is propelled by an enormous budget that Hammer never had on hand. (Indeed, Coppola's film won three academy awards, in particular for the makeup by Michele Burke and the wardrobe work by Eiko Ishioka. The set designs by Thomas E. Sanders and Garrett Lewis were nominated for Academy Awards, also.)

Is this film a good horror / monster movie? Yes.

Original article 1992 | Updated Jan 2014

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