Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel Dracula was a moderate bestseller during its author’s lifetime, but its real success occurred after his death. The twentieth century saw multiple motion picture adaptations of the novel and the title character, from the Universal horrors of the 1930s to the Hammer pictures starring Christopher Lee. Though the Lee instalments have an exciting, fun edge to them, they didn’t bare much resemblance to the spirit or plot of Stoker’s original. Francis Ford Coppolla’s 1992 version attempts to recapture the spirit of the text. It’s a sumptuous, though not entirely successful, adaptation that blends overblown melodrama with some deliciously nasty thrills.
Though the plot is now well-known (a Transylvanian count haunts a young solicitor then proceeds to wreak havoc in England), Coppolla’s invests it with such colour and sensual passion it feels fresh and compelling rather than old and tired.
The viewer is offered a feast of cinematic delights. Eiko Ishioka’s costume designs are stupendous, as is Wojciech Kilar’s magnificently atmospheric score. The cinematography, by Michael Ballhaus, who has worked on many Scorsese pictures, floods the mise-en-scène with over-the-top colours: gorgeous purples, bloody reds, midnight-blacks. Everything is turned up to a hundred.
The movie’s most obvious flaws make it all the more interesting. The horror verges on the camp at times (an aspect that may well be deliberate), but may feel unconvincing rather than effective to today’s audiences. The acting is also questionable at times, particularly Keanu Reeves, who delivers the weirdest interpretation of an English accent since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
But overall this is a visually impressive, enthralling spectacle; a sexing-up of a gothic masterpiece that feels as raw and wonderful as it did to first read it.
A note on the disc: Sony’s blu-ray disc release of the film offers up an adequate high definition widescreen presentation, though it is not in 2.40:1 as it says on the case (it’s in 1.85:1). The image quality is not a clear at times as one might hope, but it does justice to the film’s exaggerated colour scheme. Sound quality is excellent.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is released on Blu-ray disc and DVD in the UK by Sony Pictures, Certificate 18.