Director – Francis Ford Coppola
Cast – Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci
Release Year – 1992
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Boy do I just love the idea of a top notch director finally taking the reigns of a horror film after a lustrous career in other genres. Director Francis Ford Coppolla gave us many classic films that will stand the test of time. The Godfather I, II, and III, The Conversation, and one of my all time faves, Apocalypse Now, are just a few of the incredible films he has put forth in his career. This is Mr. Coppolla’s one and only horror film, and he delivered it with amazing cinematography, direction, and gratification for all who view this film.
The film follows a young lawyer named Jonathan Harker(Keanu Reeves) who is sent on assignment to Transylvania to close a sale of 10 London properties to the eccentric Count Dracula. During their exchange of paperwork Count Dracula sees a picture of Harker’s fiancé, Mina Murray(a hot Winona Ryder), whom he is to wed when he returns from Transylvania. Mina bears a very striking resemblance to Dracula’s one and only love, whom he lost many centuries ago. Believing this to be his destiny and only attempt to reclaim his love, the Count wages a battle with the young Harker and a few of his cohorts in a battle of destinies.
This film is ultimately as much a love story as it is a horror film. The horror Coppolla throw into this film is amazing, and shows that this legendary director really knows how to throw in the “creep factor” very well for someone not known for this genre. In the end however the love story surpasses the horror aspect, but then again this is based on Bram Stoker’s novel which did have a strong amount of romanticism. Pretty much every basic vampire film is about love and lust with just a few not really going for the “romantic aspect” such as Near Dark, The Lost Boys, and Fright Night. If you go into this film expecting to see more romanticism than horror, then you should come out with a very positive experience. Watch it for what it is, not for what you want it to be.
The background to the love story between Dracula and Mina is what really makes this story an interesting one. Feeling betrayed by The Church that he so valiantly defended many centuries ago, Dracula renounced his faith for a life of emptiness until he learned of Mina, who he believes is his reincarnated wife. His attempts to redeem what he had with her forces him to morph into several different forms, including a wolfman, wolf, bat, mist, and even rats. He collective power he has is awesome to see on screen, and makes the story all the better. Several other characters are thrown into the mix to spice things up a bit. We get the infamous Anthony Hopkins, fresh off his Oscar for The Silence of The Lambs, as Van Helsing. Hell, we even get Saw star Cary Elwes as Lord Arthur Holmwood, the fiance of one of Dracula’s victims who is out to get the Count as well.
So lets get to what’s important here…the horror! As I mentioned earlier, the horror in this film is a bit sporadic after the first movement, but it is effective and well shot. The first movement of the film is my favorite, and I really wish that tone would have been kept for the film, but this is an adaptation, so straying away from the original novel was not going to happen. The very first scene we get with Count Dracula is amazing and shows the great talent that Gary Oldman has as an actor. Coppolla’s camera work in this opening scene is amazing, especially the scene involving the map and the “shadow”, you’ll see. What really impresses me is Coppolla refused to use modern digital technology for his effects and instead opted for old fashioned film editing and camera tricks. That’s a plus in my book any day.
Aside from Gary Oldman’s perfection in this film, we get good character performances from Anthony Hopkins and Cary Elwes. Hopkins as Van Helsing really adds a lot to the help and helps with the pacing as well due to him keeping you glued to the screen each time he makes an appearance. His lines were well scripted, leaving him no choice but to be awesome. Music genius Tom Waits also has a role in this film as Jonathan Harker’s predecessor, who is now mentally insane(thanks to Dracula) and resides in a mental institution. This film uses a young Keanu Reeves as it’s lead protagonist, and I think that left many fans to dust off this film as a bit overrated. I do not agree. Keanu gave no Oscar performance in this film, but he wasn’t bad either. He did his role well and sold his character. What more can you ask for?
The film paces very well, and I give all cinematic praise to Mr. Coppolla for that. This film won Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Effects, and Best Makeup, which should be enough to leave you with the impression that this is a beautiful film to watch. This crew did an amazing job, but I credit Coppolla with a lot due to him handpicking his crew for this film.
There is not much I did not like about this film. I personally wanted more horror and to see more scenes of Oldman in his eccentric Dracula form, but the story did not call for that so I can’t really dog this film for that.
Overall, this is an amazing film that I recommend all to watch. If you are not a horror fan you should still enjoy this film for it’s love story and amazing production value. Horror fans are guaranteed to enjoy this film as well. I mean, c’mon, how often does a great director make the switch to the horror genre and give us a masterpiece? Watch this now.