Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

An evil, wildly-aggressive evolution of Dracula w. novel-accuracy, horror escalation, inexorably-dark religious themes, poetry in ~bizarre avant-garde cinematography style, & poignant romance backstory by icon Oldman-led performances. Best vampire film. 9.2/10.

Plot Synopsis: Count Dracula, a 15th-century prince, is condemned to live off the blood of the living for eternity. Young lawyer Jonathan Harker is sent to Dracula’s castle to finalise a land deal, but when the Count sees a photo of Harker’s fiancée, Mina, the spitting image of his dead wife, he imprisons him and sets off for London to track her down.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Screen’s Big Vampire For 60 Years

After Lugosi’s 1931 Performance Established Dracula As Icon Of Pop & Macabre Culture, The Character’s Next Evolution By Coppola

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

One of the most iconic movie monsters we see haunting our streets every 10/31, vampires have become a pop culture icon since they were first introduced on-screen back in 1920’s Nosferatu. It wasn’t until 1931, however, that they become a legendary household name – when Carl Laemme’s Universal Monsters debuted a new creation that would define the character for generations: Browning & Lugosi’s Dracula. A macabre Gothic portraiture of one of the mankind’s most ancient unholy fears with a majestic countryside setting, lute-strum ethnical score, ocular themes, & bone-chillingly intense physicality-centric Lugosi-led performances, Dracula cemented an icon of movie history and new age of on-screen vampires. For decades later, the character plunged into the bottomless deaths of campy nonsense and franchise establishment – and it seemed the damnation might be worse than being undead and inescapable. That might’ve been true for anyone but cinematic royalty, and Francis Ford Coppola came in to rescue the character with the same kind of craftsmanship that produced legends like The Godfather & Apocalypse Now.. on acid and in a wild-fantasy motif that will perplex and challenge you long after the credits roll. An evil, wildly-aggressive evolution of Dracula with pure novel-accuracy, brutal/twisted horror escalation, inexorably-dark religious themes, poetry in bizarre avant-garde cinematography style amongst the most striking ever, & poignant romance backstory exposition by mythical Oldman-led performances, Coppola has delivered the most powerful vampire film and a canvas of cinematic brilliance that will define Dracula’s legacy for generations-to-come.

The Antithesis Of Every Dracula Before

A Blood-Soaked, War-Torn, All-Time Great Cinematic Historical Epic Introduction That Establishes Tone & A Malevolent Aggression

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

From the opening scene of the film, it’s clear that this vision of Dracula is far different than anything else we’ve seen beforehand. The opening scene of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the greatest establishment scenes of all-time in CLC’s vote: a masterpiece blood-soaked, savage, war-torn historical epic introduction that establishes the malevolent aggression and pitch-black omenic tone of the version right away. – and shows us a wildly-different version of our favorite on-screen vampire antagonist. The fall of Constantinople and siege of Muslim Turks over Christendom in medieval Europe demanded a hero to salvage the world’s most popular religion – a suave, handsome Johnny Depp-prime prince with bright red armor we are told is.. Dracula?! Here, without the white make-up, fangs, bat-droppings, or clichéd capes, the demon that has haunted our screens for generations is humanized and seems no different from us: a major risk that creates a new flavor and intrigue in the character on what turned him from a rich, royal nobleman into the bloodsucker we know him as. Dracula performs – dare I say – heroic acts from the point of view of the Christians – kissing his beloved bride goodbye as he slays and conquers the xenophobic religion threat in brutal animalistic ways on the battlefield. The blood-red, blood-soaked canvas of the battlefield is one of the most intense, violent, and mature sequences I’ve seen to-date: this is not a silly vampire film you should show anyone but adults, and it sets the scene magnificently in physical battle for the film’s major ideological battle: inexorably-dark religious themes when Dracula returns home after saving the cross.

Inexorably-Dark Religious Themes

One Of The Most Thought-Provocative & Heavy-Hitting Exposés On Religion & God – Agnosticism, Betrayal, & Greek Tragedy

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

The backbone of the film is the inexorably-dark religious themes and thought-provoking challenges of God it raises. Dracula returns home after saving the cross and all of Christendom for centuries-to-come, only for some rogue Turks to make his bride believe he has died in battle and coax her to take her own life being so madly in-love with and not wanting to live without him, while powers above do nothing. The brutal suicide and even darker (tremendously-insensitive) Catholicism rhetoric about it preventing salvation even though she was escaping despair and a life she did not want to live is unbelievably-dark alone – before adding Dracula back into the mix returning home to find out that this is his big reward by the God whom his religion and crusades just saved. The prince is broken at the realization he was being used and evidently-ambivalently-viewed or non-compensated by the powers-at-be, and rebukes the church and God who inflicted this upon him – as he receives punishment for his sacrilege to become the vampire we now know him as, bringing the story full-circle. The exposé and backstory is one of the most heavy-hitting, brilliant, and complex I’ve seen in a popular or horror film – painting the broken system of religion where this kind of systemic abuse can be possible, tragic things happen every day all around us, and poverty/violence/molestation/hunger runs rampant throughout the world.. while the ‘benevolent’. ‘all-knowing’, and ‘all-powerful’ God does nothing to stop (or even accelerates) them.

Inexorably-Dark Religious Themes

One Of The Most Thought-Provocative & Heavy-Hitting Exposés On Religion & God – Agnosticism, Betrayal, & Greek Tragedy

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Why does all this depression, strife, sadness, disease, and death exist in the world if there is an almighty power who can easily stop it? Why are we told to blindly-trust and devote ourselves to an invisible force who does not prove himself or that he does good for us or around us? Does he actively-ignore the prayers and justices of the world he ‘created’ or can he not do anything about it? The film raises these journalistically-voracious, thought-provocative, complex questions rooted in agnosticism/nihilism/atheism in one of the most viscerally-effective ways in cinema – through the backstory of a Dracula revealed in one freaking scene that’s more cineliterate and impressive than most full length films somehow making us feel intense empathy for the symbol of evil whose demonization has done nothing but scare or provide good Halloween costume fodder for us for decades: pure cinematic achievement by Coppola. The indescribably-dark exposition and horror that makes us feel unholy just for watching it (yet agreeing with the sanctity and logic of its arguments) doesn’t stop there – it is weaved throughout the entire film, with Dracula being surprisingly-humanized as a lover rather than a fighter (although he does exacerbate great power in those sequence to remain epic) grasping after the lost love taken from him by the God he once loved and fought for, but was turned to hate by his sick games/tricks we absolutely should not be coaxed by fear-mongering hell-narratives into accepting just because of the hanging punishment if we don’t accept the abuse and be thankful for it.

The Bram Stoker 1897 Novel-Accuracy

A Pure Wolflike Hunger To Paint The Source Material Perfectly & Revert Previous Films; While Still Referencing & Respecting Them

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Even when Dracula aptly-gets angry and renounced the God he served and who did this to him, God only then intervenes to punish him even further in the ultimate punishment: being turned into a hideous monster who is hated, feared, hunted, and must kill innocent creatures for blood for eternity. Finally, we’re given a strong reason why Dracula (and literally anyone without Helsinki Syndrome would) hates the cross: one never even responsibly mentioned in the original film or most others and one that fleshes out the character 1000x-over in a brilliant move by Coppola and the screenwriters. There is an overwhelming amount of sinful themes in the screenplay as well – in sex, money, alcohol, violence, and covetation motifs. Jonathan goes against his better judgment going to Transylvania after a tragic fate befell his predecessor in Renfield for money, Mina & Jonathan are jealous of Lucy’s money and appearance, Mina enjoys the fruits and prestige of her courtship by Prince Dracul forgetting entirely about her fiancé that was never pronounced dead and thus was cheated-on, and sex is the major weapon of Dracula and his brides luring, hypnotizing, and controlling the opposite gender with shocking force. The score reflects the aggression and naughtiness of these themes and anti-religion with descendoing string crunches from the very beginning scene, extreme-turbulence brass whirls, screeching fx, thunderous drums, and ancient chats by a choir sounding like they’re in hellfire for a package of dramatcisim and dark-edge that is juxtaposed by sweet sequences in the romance part, but packs the dramaticism and dark-edge the film desperately needed.

A Canvas Of Sin

An Omnipresent Backbone Driving The Film’s Events: Sex, Money, Alcohol, Violence, Atheism, & Covetation Of Thy Neighbor

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

The novel-accuracy might be one of the most endearing aspects of the film to Stoker-ites who found vexation in Lugosi’s 1931 original for how different it was in the liberties it took. This film earns its title of being called ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ because it corrects pretty-much everything the original film twisted: bats are only featured sparingly as one of the animal forms, wolves are omnipresent as the huge omnipresent feature of the novel, diary vignettes and calligraphy are used extensively to tell the story’s events through multiple authors’ perspectives and reference to the power of literature and novelization like the original book’s, Lucy is 10x-more fleshed-out, and the biggest flaw of the original is fixed in that the film spends much more time in Transylvania. Indeed, we spend the entire first 1/3 of the movie in the breathtaking and mysterious Carpathian mountain-clad aura of Dracula’s homeland – before going back for the finale to make use of its epic and reimagined sets/castle and not feel like just another modern city horror movie like the dozens filmed every year at major hubs such as NYC/London/LA/Tokyo/etc. Don’t get the film wrong though, it does not throw outward-shade at any of the past adaptations of the material – even referencing it cleverly by having things like Renfield’s encounter with the vampire happen off-screen before the film starts and direct ad-libbed lines like ‘I never drink.. wine’ be recycled here to pay homage to their best parts. It just goes above and beyond to be accurate to its source material while creating its own one-of-a-kind style and flamboyance, foremost seen in the man-of-the-hour himself: Dracula.

The Performances

A Mythical Cast Of Life-Timers In Keanu & Ryder Led By Hopkins’ Powerful V.H. & An Oscar-Demanding Oldman Performance

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

The performances of Bram Stoker’s Dracula made me audibly-stutter something I never thought would actually leave my lips: we might’ve gotten a better Dracula than Bela Lugosi. Gary Oldman is absolutely magical as the captain bloodsucker: a creepy malevolence in over-the-top eroticism that elevates the character to new (darker) heights while maintaining the slow-burning luscious delivery, accent, and atmospherics of the original – and showcases his Shakespearean pedigree and versatility as an actor. Despite his new older appearance in the pontifex-twisted red-robe and bizarre hairpiece ensemble that wouldn’t work if you described it to me on paper but, somehow, does while adding a new more religiously-contemplative flavor to the character, make no mistake: this Dracula is powerful. The command over elements of Earth like wind and storms, mysterious shadow with a mischievous mind/actions of its own behind every corner, and animalistic transformations to a wolf and bat-demon straight out of your nightmares (achieved breathtakingly without CGI – a testament to the make-up, costume, & VFX team craftsmanship) is astonishing. Not only that, but Oldman has so much unbelievable range that he’s able to play not only the grandpa-ish and sibylline Dracula worn down over centuries – but also a Johnny Depp-esque, dashing young energy-driven prince out of Disney fairy tales trying to woo his true love on the suave streets of London in the very next scene: a performance that merits multiple Oscars from the strikingly-authoritative opening scene alone.

A Masterpiece Of Visual Poetry

One Of The Most Striking & Bizarre Avant-Garde Cinematographical Canvases In Film History – Pure Craftsmanship & Innovation

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Beyond Oldman, the rest of the cast is filled with A-list and celebrated/accolade heavy-hitters: Keanu Reeves as the charming & driven law clerk Jonathan Harker, Winona Ryder as the vastly-different and more grounded/sumptuous Mina, Cary Elwes as distingué young Texan socialite Arthur, Sadie Frost as the boy-crazy redhead-turned-demon Lucy, and most impressively behind Oldman: Anthony Hopkins’ all-time great & tactful/practicable Dr. Van Helsing – the definitive version of the Dracula’s greatest foe and a rivalry for the cinematic ages. But none of the performances (save, perhaps Oldman) compare to the masterpiece visual canvas achieved by Michael Bellhaus’ cinematography. CLC will proclaim it to the heavens this film brilliantly subverts: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) is one of the most visually-striking, idiosyncratic, and avant-garde films ever made. The film balances nightmare visions/atmospherics with fantasy pieces loaded with dark religious iconography – all in a blood-red palette and brutalistic aesthetic is indescribable and unforgettable. Burning crosses, bat-demons, fiery church-domes, fallen shattered crucifixes, bleeding angel eyes, bubbling absinthe pours of luxuriousness, medusa heads having sex in castle-dungeons, wolf eyes glowing bright white in the night sky, and bodies impaled on sticks and decorated like trophies on a battlefield mark what might be one of the most religiously-twisted and aggressively-evil visual canvases ever made. The transitions and technical brilliance of the film deserves special recognition.

Love Never Dies

A Dark Love Story Of Eternal Romance That Melts Our Hearts & Crosses Oceans Of Time Evil We Empathize W. + A Blend Of Genres

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Constant use of long disorientative cross-dissolves, iris-ins, & graphic matches in thematically-resonant ways like the two bite marks of dracula into the eyes of his wolf form and peacock feathers into train tunnel entrances towards Transylvania (peacocks are a symbol of virtue & spirituality, here bludgeoned by ironic twisting) mark the editing. Innovative montage-shots like the train chugging at the edge of the notebook above, breathtakingly-visceral wolf-on-the-run POV runs, and the stop-motion film-splice shot that remains one of the most impressive classical/nostalgic sequences we’ve ever seen in modern film when Dracula spots Mina for the first time on the streets of London populate the painting of this dark love story perfectly. Bellhaus deserved a lifetime achievement award from The Academy for his pure avant-garde artistry and compositional innovation here, one that’s likely one of the Top 10 most visually-stunning & bizarre fantasy canvases ever created. The tale of eternal romance on display here is one for the ages – a heart-melting, evil-sympathizing star-crossed lovers arc Dracula has to cross oceans of time to find the bride taken from him by a cruel fate leaving him cold & alone for centuries in damnation. This film makes Dracula cry: a sympathizable humanity in the inhuman that’s boldly impressive screenwriting and executional prowess. The bleeding heart of the vampiric bad-boy, inimitable chemistry and slow-escalation of the budding romance, love-triangle dramaticism, and pause he takes when she wants him to turn her but he doesn’t want to condemn her to such a life for eternity (even though it’s the only way they can be together as they both want) is enough to warrant the inclusion of the film on all-time great romance films lists – a shocking bonus for a film no previous iteration had the balls or cinematic toolchest to surgically-stitch together when no one expected.

A Renfield Miscast & Finale Score

A Sacrilege ’60’s-Hipster Renfield, Mixed Keanu, & Chaotic Score In The Finale Are But Speed-Bumps In This Epic Reinvention

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Also in that surgeon’s arsenal is the ability to weave through a slew of cinematic genres where others would’ve just made a cookie-cutter horror vampire flick – here, there is romance, dark comedy, action/adventure, horror, vampire hunt thrills, and even western feel in the big, snowy-ash pistol-gunsmoked finale race against the sunset. Thank you, Coppola. The flaws in his Dracula film center around three points: Renfield, Keanu, & the finale score. The Renfield casting in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) might be one of the worst I’ve seen in modern horror: an old, fat, dadbod, frizzy-hair ’60’s hipster by a middle-aged/washed Tom Waits that droans about ‘mahsters’ until you cannot bear to hear anymore. The casting isn’t just an objectively vexatious and laughably-awful one – worse, it betrays one of the best supporting performances of early-horror: Dwight Frye’s heroin-wild, erratic, squealing lunacy as young real-estate-businessman-turned-bloodsucker Renfield of the original 1931 film. One of the best characters we couldn’t wait to see more of in the original film has now become one of the worst we’ve ever witnessed – a horror-sight worse than walking bat-demons every frame. Beyond that, Keanu’s acting is a little shaky here (nothing too bad, but still the weak link as he’s just learning how to act) and the plothole of him surviving a fall into the river from the castle when the exact same one killed Mina makes no sense. Finally, the ending score gets ~chaotic and poorly-executed in too-fast pacing and scrambling whirlwinds of trumpets coming from every direction. Some will find it overblown or overdramatic, but this is just the type of completely-new product and ground-up innovation we need from sequels – and it hits well tonally with a fantasy-only and dark religious product like Dracula.

Conclusion

The Best Vampire Film

A Cinematic Evolution Of Dracula By One Of Film’s Greatest Directors – With Novel-Accuracy, Horror Escalation, Dark Religious Themes, Poetic Visual Style, & Eternal Love

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Overall, F.F. Coppola’s reimagination Of Dracula is a masterpiece by a late-age maestro of cinematic genius that blends genres and creates a dark, thought-provoking fantasy it’s difficult to ascertain except by pure experience. Forget most original horror films: it might be one of the most idiosyncratic, innovative, and avant-garde films I’ve ever seen – of any kind. The film transcends the iconic Lugosi 1931 version and decades of Laemme-monster lore/serials to shockingly take the crown of not only the best film on the character, but best vampire film (of a subgenre loaded with competitors.) Bram Stoker can rest in peace knowing his 1897’s novel vision of the ultimate vision-accurate bloodsucker finally got its near-perfect iteration – one boasting some of the most twisted, beautiful, wild, complex, diverse, intricate, and unforgettable thematization, storytelling, visuals, humanity, macabre, and romance I’ve ever seen to-date: a true craftsman one-of-a-kind. An evil, wildly-aggressive evolution of Dracula with detailed novel-accuracy, brutal/twisted horror escalation, inexorably-dark religious themes, poetry in bizarre avant-garde cinematography style amongst the most striking ever, & poignant romance backstory exposition by mythical performances led by a herculean Academy Award-worthy Oldman showcase-of-range, Coppola has delivered the most powerful vampire film and a canvas of brilliance that showcases the magic that happens when cinematic legends take a trip to the dark side.

Official CLC Score: 9.2/10