10/10/13

BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA - REVIEW


Bram Stoker's Dracula is a weird one.

Thinking back to it after having not seen it in a while, I always remember really awesome visual stuff and isolated iconic moments crossed with key silly things like Keanu Reeves' entire performance. Having finally re-watched it, it's just as "varied" as I recalled: stylish and inventive yet wacky and flawed.

I probably shouldn't like this movie as much as I do but...

There's a charm to it that's almost impossible to ignore.

For one thing, director Francis Ford Coppola really went for it, never sugar-coating anything and, in the process, brought to the screen a bold version of Bram Stoker's classic novel no-one else could have possibly made and which certainly leaves its mark when you first see it. The film's main arc involves Vlad The Impaler's (a genial Gary Oldman) undying love for his late bride who happens to have a descendant/lookalike (played by Winona Ryder) in 1897, which is when most of the film takes place. You get to see Dracula in various forms: as a fierce and cruel warlord, as a creepy, blood-thirsty old man, as a werewolf, as a bat-man and as a Johnny Depp impersonator. The late, great Eiko Ishioka's amazing, over-the-top costumes help make this Dracula so memorable as a movie version, as does the stunning cinematography, art direction and score. The film never really pretends to be subtle which both works to its advantage and to its detriment. This makes some scenes come off as a bit goofier than they probably should be and others as appropriately camp. Anthony Hopkins' Van Helsing and the first half hour of the film in general is very Hammer horror with a nice burst of Nosferatu thrown in. But then Dracula shows up as a big ape and you start to chuckle. Coppola keeps the diary-like structure of Stoker's novel and, for the most part, he does a terrific job at bringing key scenes from the book to life in a more brutal way than we're used to seeing. The film certainly lacks the subtlety of the novel, which is a bit of a shame, but it works as what it is nonetheless.

This is quite probably the horniest vampire film around.

And all vampire films are horny as hell.

Man, everyone in this movie is either intensely sexually frustrated or totally up for anything. Which, of course, means we get many, many scenes where characters are either moaning incessantly while turning into vampires or flat-out screwing/biting each other for ages. Which is why the movie's third act is definitely its most forgettable part: there's a lot of travelling, waiting and sexing. That's pretty much it. It's still good, just much less immersive than everything that comes before it. It's easy to see why Mel Brooks felt he had to spoof this movie, there's definitely a lot of joke material here. Keanu, Tom Waits' bug-eating Renfield (Waits is especially great in this movie, by the way), the continuously unsubtle symbolism, Cary Elwes' entire presence, the vast amounts of blood and sexy, sexy violence, all the ingredients are there for a fun parody. And yet, Bram Stoker's Dracula has enough style, talent involved and captivating moments to make sure it never becomes a joke. Gary Oldman proves to be the perfect choice for Dracula, giving a layered, unforgettable performance from start to finish. Solid support is also given by Winona Ryder, Sadie Frost, Richard E. Grant, Waits and, of course, Anthony Hopkins, who is clearly having a ball playing such a dramatic, iconic character as Van Helsing.

I've already picked on Keanu Reeves, whose vacant Jonathan Harker, is enjoyable to watch for all the wrong reasons but even his forced Britishness and permanent cloudy facial expressions bring some welcome entertainment! Had the film picked more of a consistent tone and stuck with it, it easily could have qualified as the best vampire film out there. It feels like it really wanted it all: the subtle character/story development of the novel, the campy Hammer horror schlockiness, the classic, gothic Nosferatu aspect, a more modern, edgier, more erotic take on this whole story... Sadly, the film doesn't pull all that stuff off and it doesn't all gel. Perhaps had they gone for Hammer all the way or focused on the more implied tone of the book, Bram Stoker's Dracula would have been the ultimate Dracula film. That said, as it stands, it's certainly a unique and beautifully crafted film that's simply a must for vampire or horror movie fans.

While certainly flawed, Bram Stoker's Dracula remains a brilliantly savage and mischievous take on Bram Stoker's classic story. Visually, it's unlike any other vampire film out there and it's got enough iconic scenes and terrifically OTT performances to confirm it as an impressive achievement and one that's most definitely worth seeing.

Recommended.

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