Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - Bram Stoker's Dracula

It's really Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, and Stoker might have had a fit if he'd seen it. This is also a film that managed, in 1992, to demonstrate that casting Americans in a British story can work very well (Tom Waits as Renfield) or very badly (Keanu Reeves and Wynona Ryder as Jonathan and Mina). It also showed that Gary Oldman can play any role with style and energy, even under a ton of latex gunge and/or silly wigs.

The film is visually brilliant, full of stunning images and old-school effects, with not a digital gimmick in sight. It would be tempted to watch it with the sound turned off, but the score by Wojciech Kilar is also rather wonderful. Costumes by Eiko Ishioka are also superb, ditching the dusty cape for a range of aristocratic garb. The big budget went onto the screen. Sets are hyper-lavish, backdrops splendid.

The film also moves at a reasonably fast pace - it's two hours might have seemed long in the last century, but compared to much recent genre stuff it feels rather brisk. There are some nice action scenes, and erotic malarkey that made me wish Coppola had tackled 'Carmilla' instead. Dracula's brides, led by Monica Belluci, are convincing and true to the original story.

But we all know, I suspect, where the problems lie. The bad acting, the bad accents, the feeling that as Van Helsing Antony Hopkins was having a private joke at Coppola's expense. The term 'random bellowing' has been suggested for his approach, and it's as good a description as any. Most horror movies offer inconsistent performances, but seldom have key players ranged from fine - Waits' Renfield, Richard E. Grant's sadly under-used Seward - to naff.

Gothic horror is always a bit daft, so there's no point in absurdities, even though there are a lot of them. For instance: Dracula in London encounters Mina on the street, tells her he's a prince, and persuades her to go to the pictures (bioscope) with him, where they watch some early porn. In 1897. There are also odd expository wobbles, as in Van Helsing's voice  over telling us that vampire can indeed function in daylight. Anyone who'd read the book would know this. Anyone who hadn't could figure it out.

But I still watched it all the way through. Even as I scoffed I found something to admire in every scene - well, almost. This is one of the most ambitious horror films ever made, and it deserved its slew of awards. It would have been even better with the right cast, but it's still damnably entertaining.


Aonghus Fallon said...

Yeah, there was a lot of speculation about what Keanu Reaves' English accent would be like, until Richard E. Grant said - 'Well, I can tell you one thing - Dick van Dyke can rest easy!'

If memory serves me correctly, the special effects were deliberately low-tech (some even reffed magic lanterns) and the opening sequence, one of my favourite bits, was meant to suggest shadow puppets.

A classic, despite Reaves and Hopkins, mainly because of Oldman. And who can forget Seward offering Renfield a puppy and Renfield's response?

Oscar Solis said...

I have to be in a real mood to watch this one. I can live with the accents. What I do mind is that the film tries to have it all ways with Dracula: He's sad, he's mad, he's bad, resulting in a tone that's constantly shifting and extremely uneven. Plus, that whole Mina/Dracula connection was explored already in the Jack Palace version. Hopkin's Van Helsing is just too over the top. The film is at it's best in the Dracula's castle sequences and nothing after that ever approaches the level of spookiness and intensity in those scenes.

Love the approach to filming the movie. The art direction, camerawork, sets and costumes are beautiful. The effects are wondrous and, arguably, should have been nominated for the Academy Award.

If I want to see a Dracula film it's always going to be a choice between the Langella Dracula, Horror of Dracula or the ballet film, Dracula, Pages From A Virgin's Diary. If it's just a vampire film, El Vampiro, a 50s Mexican horror film, is always a great choice. Very gothic.

valdemar said...

By a bizarre coincidence I decided to watch the Guy Maddin ballet Dracula last night, before reading the comments above. Great minds...