At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Bram Stoker’s Dracula “92”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Bram Stoker’s Dracula “92”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Horror/Stars: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Jay Robinson, Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, Florina Kendrick/Runtime: 127 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that, out of all the famous monsters that we have been treated to quite a few distinct takes on from a cinematic perspective, few if any have seen the range of material quite like the famous (or infamous dependent on your point of view) member of the bloodsucker community that is Dracula. Indeed (among other examples) not only has he been an overprotective yet loving dad/business owner (the Hotel Transylvania franchise), but he has also been presented in a parody light (1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It), played by Gerard Butler of all people, and even given a 2014 Luke Evans film that….well to be honest I am still very much confused as what that exactly was supposed to be. Out of all of these though, perhaps the most iconic take is when Dracula is presented as a genuinely menacing individual though not without a perverse sense of style and charm as movie goers were treated to in both 1931 and 1979 with his portrayal from both Bela Lugosi and Frank Langella respectively. Then of course there’s the take from 1992, and film I am reviewing for you today, and honestly this slice of cinema is one that is kind of an outlier in the pack to be honest. Not because of how Dracula was portrayed mind you, but because of audience expectations. Indeed not only had the slasher horror film phenomenon that was seemingly everywhere during the 80s fizzled out, but there was at least 4 years to go before Scream would come on the scene and bring horror back to the forefront once more. As a result of this, plus the fact that this film had iconic helmer Francis Ford Coppola as director and a cast of genuinely talented people, this film found itself being viewed as the movie that would resurrect the genre and give it both profitability and credibility once more. A feat that…..I’m not entirely sure it was able to achieve. Sure, it made money at the box office, but the reaction from movie goers at the time was more ehhhh than anything. I guess when a movie goer is used to seeing a psycho go after dumb young people they really aren’t able to accept a film that is less that and more a throwback to the Universal monster movies of ol’. A bit of a shame really because all things considered this really isn’t a bad movie. To be sure, there are some flaws here and there, but with the aid of really potent work behind the camera and really good work in front of the camera by a game cast of talent Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a commendably game effort to bring back a bit of the bite that once made horror cinema a force to be reckoned with.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of the timeless story by Bram Stoker, our story begins by taking us back in time to the long-ago year of 1462 where we see that, in the aftermath of a victorious battle against the ruthless Turks, a courageous prince discovers that his lovely bride has met a tragic and untimely end. Adding insult to injury however is the proclamation by a bishop of the church that, due to her taking her own life, she will not be able to meet our warrior in Heaven, but instead is going someplace….a bit less pleasant to spend eternity. Angry that the Lord would seemingly permit his bride to meet her end whilst he was engaged in passionately ensuring the Church saw its existence on Earth renewed, we see that the warrior turns his back on both and declare that, when he dies, he shall return and the powers of darkness shall come with him. Cut to a solid 400 years later in the thriving metropolis of jolly ol’ London where we see that, following a work colleague inexplicably descending into madness, a young solicitor named Jonathan Harker is assigned by his boss to make his way to the country of Transylvania and close a very important business deal of no less than 10 estates across London that are being purchased by an enigmatic individual known as Count Dracula. Unfortunately for Harker, we see that this business trip also means that he will have to further delay his own wedding to a lovely and upstanding young woman named Mina. Now normally, this would be the part of the story where you might assume that the business trip goes off without a hitch and Harker returns both triumphant and in good time much to the happiness of both his fiancée and boss whereupon our story ends with our intrepid boy wonder not only happily married, but with a higher corporate standing to his name. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly that kind of story. Rather, this is the kind of story where we see that by choosing to embark on this particular trip our boy wonder has begun a different kind of journey. One that, by the time it’s done, will involve not only himself and his blushing bride to be, but the bride to be’s free-spirited friend Lucy, a trio of fellow gentlemen named Dr. Jack Seward, Lord Arthur Holmwood, and Quincey Morris respectively plus a wise old polymath doctor named Van Helsing, but also bring this group of individuals face to face with an ancient and diabolical evil. One that, the world may have never seen the likes of before, but that this group will have to find a way to best at any and all cost. As for if they are able to do so or not…that I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now right off the ol’ stake, it is worth noting that the work done behind the camera on this particular cinematic outing is actually really freaking good. This starts with the work done by Francis Ford Coppola at the helm and, whilst it might not be his finest hour as a director, it also is a fairly solid effort all things considered to say nothing of one where we can see Coppola is definitely willing to pull out all the stops to help this film stand the test of time. Key among these is a fantastic gift on his part for utilizing both light and shadow in such a way that they aren’t just rendered here as aids to the overall atmosphere of the film, but also as a vital to the telling of the narrative itself by being both ominous yet also forewarning in equal measure. To be sure, the phenomenal work done by the production design team with particular regard to both the on-point period attire worn by the cast and how they manage to be visually and thematically enriching whilst being distinct to the riveting set pieces on display is just as incredible. So too for that matter is the work done by the same team in managing to recreate, quite faithfully I might add, the world of Victorian era London. All the same though, it is Dracula’s creepy, ominous, spine-chilling, shadow-friendly, and quite gloomy castle estate that manages to steal the show in this regard. Indeed not only is it in this location where we see Coppola really start to bring the film to life to say nothing of brilliantly showcase it’s overall grim and haunting nature, but also where we see him begin to construct the key components that will help get the audience ready for when the action transitions over to jolly ol’ London. A transition that might be viewed on the part of some viewers as a rather artificial decision, but which nevertheless does a great job of, from a pathos perspective, perpetuating the almost overwhelming vibe of murky and bleak fear that seemingly walks hand in hand with the infamous Count where ever he happens to be. Besides those well-played elements however, it should be noted that the work done here by both Michael Ballhaus as well as Wojciech Kilar are most assuredly just as worthy of praise here too. In regards to the former, we see that Ballhaus does a masterful job at the cinematography in such a way that not only does the overall film look absolutely gorgeous, but it also feels like we are watching something more akin to a dream (or nightmare depending on your perspective) than a live action motion picture especially in moments where we are seeing the world through Dracula’s rather distinct point of view. As for the latter, we see that in regards to the musical accompaniment that Kilar is able to provide this film with a pitch perfect score that manages to both chilling and yet almost melancholic in a sense in equal measure. Suffice it to say then that the work done behind the camera on this film is nothing short of artful with just the right hint of haunting magic thrown in for good measure.

Of course, the other big element that helps to give this slice of cinema the bite it needed would have to be the work done by the cast of talent in front of the camera. However, having said that, I guess I should bring up the elephant in the room first. That being that, for as much as I love this actor both as a talent and as easily one of the nicest people in the universe, I really am not a fan of Keanu Reeves’ performance here as Jonathan Harker. Yes I know the man is genuinely trying and for that I do think he should be at the very least mildly applauded, but the British accent he is attempting to utilize at best works in the same way Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent did for Mary Poppins (hint: it most certainly didn’t) and at worst is something that, much like Russell Crowe singing, the human ear should never have to hear. Along with that though is the fact that Reeves’ performance in general doesn’t really seem as engaged as everyone else in the film to say nothing of the fact that his interactions with the rest of the cast seem more forced than organic. I mean I get that, without going into spoilers, Harker only begins to fully interact with the rest of the group in the 2nd half of the book more or less, but that still doesn’t take away the fact that Reeves, for as talented of a guy as he is, simply is not the right guy for this particular role. With that in mind though, I can thankfully say that the rest of the cast most assuredly is able to make up for that casting misstep fairly well. This starts with, of course, Gary Oldman as the titular character and he is phenomenal. Not just in the scenes where he is genuinely menacing or creepy, but also in moments where Oldman actually gives this creature an astonishing degree of humanity as well with particular regard to his interactions with Mina upon arriving in London. Suffice it to say that Oldman has long been one of the finest actors of his generation and this film definitely showcases that and much more. Alongside Oldman though, I really do dig the heck out of the work done here by screen icon Sir Anthony Hopkins in the pivotal role of Professor Van Helsing. Yes it might take a fair bit of time till he shows up in this, but the moment he does we see that Hopkins is able to bring a phenomenal amount of passion and manic almost over the top energy to the role whilst also looking like he is having the time of his life. Indeed it’s always a delight when an actor of this caliber is able to take on a role like this that lets them just cut loose and have fun and that is definitely the case here. We also see that, in the role of Mina, Winona Ryder doesn’t do that bad of a job all things considered. I mean not only is her British accent better than the one given by Reeves, but we also see that she is able to provide Mina with a wonderful degree of dignity and heart that help her make the character her own. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in pitch-perfect, both in terms of character selection as well as acting efforts, from such talents as the eternally delightful Richard E. Grant who was literally the first person I thought of as Dr. Jack Seward whilst reading the book, the fantastic Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, an extremely well-chosen Sadie Frost in the pivotal role of Mina’s friend Lucy, and Tom Waits as a fairly impressive Renfield it’s clear that, Keanu aside, the work done by this cast of performers is fangtastic in every sense of the word.

All in all and at the end of the day is Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992 a perfect stake to the heart of this iconic character? Sadly no. In fact, if that’s what you are looking for might I recommend the 1931 cinematic adaptation with Bela Lugosi? I think you might find that more to your liking. With that in mind, does that mean that this particular adaptation is void of any bite whatsoever? Honestly, I wouldn’t say that either dear reader. To be sure, it might not have received the best reception in the world when it first came out, but all things considered this isn’t too bad. Sure, there are some issues to be found here and there with this film, including a very questionable performance, but the rest of the work done by the cast of players in front of the camera not only fit their respective characters to a t and the work done by the crew behind the camera does an absolutely magical job at bringing this truly iconic story to the big screen with particular regard to the direction, costumes, and especially the visual effects utilized to bring the legendary Count to life in a way that, up to that time, hadn’t been done before. Suffice it to say that if you are the kind of person who prefers their take on the Dracula saga done in an unabridged format complete with a cast of three-dimensional characters, a slow yet steady sense of dread, and is a fantastic page-turner from beginning to end to say nothing of a classic of literature…..then definitely go read the original source material. On the other hand if you are the kind of person who either doesn’t want to spend a solid week reading the quite lengthy book and is ok with just sitting down to watch a cinematic equivalent to the Cliffs’ Notes for this particular story that has more than enough style and flair as well as game performances to spare which together will hopefully prove enough to help you overlook some fairly glaring issues then please give this slice of cinema a try. Sure you can do a lot better, but you can also do a whole lot worse. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Bram Stoker’s Dracula “92” a solid 3.5 out of 5.