There was a time where horror films were not all about torture porn, found-footage or demonic possessions – this was a time when the genre was less indulgent in killing people. Francis Ford Coppola is known for his epic productions, such as The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979), but after the intense criticism from The Godfather III (1990), his next project is to direct an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel, Dracula.
In 19th century London, newly qualified solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to Transylvania to settle the accounts of Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). After seeing Harker’s fiancee Mina (Winona Ryder) is the reincarnation of his late wife, Dracula travels to London to pursue her, leaving a trail of bloodshed.
Giving its strong and varied cast – Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, as well as Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes and Sadie Frost in supporting roles – Oldman dominates the film, whose performance as Dracula sets a standard for how modern audiences see a classic character. Mysterious, eerily sinister yet impassioned by his love for his wife, there is a sense of empathy for Dracula as his actions are motivated by her.
In contrast, Reeves’ Harker personifies the ‘light’ of the tale as opposed to Dracula’s ‘dark’; noble, loyal and strong-willed; even under the influence of three half-naked seductive vampire brides, he doesn’t drink their blood. Also, when his fiancee willing drinks the blood of a vampire – knowing what would happen – he stands by her side.
Coming off the success from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and My Own Private Idaho, Reeves has a change of scenery in Jonathan Harker. Most of his screentime sees him as a weak and withered shadow of the fresh-faced lawyer who appears in the first third of the film, which almost excuses his expressionless state and somewhat stiff narrative. Nonetheless, he is more of a righteous hero than Hopkins’ Van Helsing, whose occasional eccentricity and nonchalant approach in dealing with Dracula is enough to make you doubt whether he is taking the character seriously.
In terms of style, the adaptation is quite different compared to the Hammer Horror features that are synonymous with Dracula – Coppola’s approach leans towards the sensual rather than the scary, with its rich colours, gothic surroundings and a musical score primarily consisting of slow strings is a stark contrast. But it is a change of direction that didn’t go unnoticed as commercial and critical success followed its release.
It may have lots of blood in it and some parts do make you want to squirm, but the truth is that Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula is just a love story whose horror elements eclipse the simplistic plot.
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