Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
In addition to myself, I’ve been lucky to have some talented friends who have been contributors to Super No Bueno. Since the launch in January, however, something was bothering me. It felt as if a component was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on what, or rather, who, it was.
And then it occurred to me. There was no female voice present. I might not know much, but I do know that there isn’t anything that can’t be improved with a woman’s touch.
Once I figured out what was missing, it didn’t take me long to figure out who to call. I met Cassidy on a Facebook film appreciation group last year. She always checked in on various discussions and made funny, astute, or honest observations. However, what really got us chatting was our mutual love of horror films.
So, that brings us to this new project: He Said/She Said.
In a nutshell, Cassidy and I will decide on a film to watch. It will usually be horror, but ya never know. We view the movie separately and then come up with a list of questions about the picture for the other person. The result of this interaction will be the column.
Cassidy chose the first film. Originally we deliberated about what the maiden effort should be. I knew I wanted something older. Something iconic. The moment that she suggested Bram Stoker’s Dracula I knew we had our movie.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest watching it first.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dir: Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)
Cassidy: Being that the film is so fast-paced, did you feel that it held a greater focus on style or coherence?
Zep: It’s not so much the pacing of the film that is in question. There are two cuts circulating that run 2 h. 10 m. and 2 h. 35 m., respectively. In my opinion, that is plenty of time to say what one has to say. However, it is the overall dedication to set dressing, costume, music, and mood that clearly indicate that director Francis Ford Coppola put a major premium on aesthetics. He was more concerned with how the film felt rather than what it said. Other than a few scenes, he was faithful to the original source material, but the emphasis he placed on the cinematic elements reveals his true intentions.
Cassidy: How do you feel the movie used symbolism to portray the notion that love conquers all evil?
Zep: The entire film is about Dracula pursuing his lost love. The story opens in the mid-1400s with Vlad (Dracula) abroad fighting the Turks. After his wife, Elisabeta, received the false news of his death, she was heartbroken and took her own life. Upon returning home, Vlad, finding his wife dead, went berserk. He knew that her soul was damned for committing suicide, so he renounced God, embraced the Devil, and struck a cement cross with a sword. He drank the blood that poured out, sealing his fate.
Dracula spent centuries looking for his lost love. Finally, when he saw the photograph of Jonathon Harker’s wife, Mina, he became obsessed. She happened to be a physical double of his long-dead Elisabeta. The love for his wife took him to London in search of her replacement. Time, nor distance, would stop him.
By definition, Dracula is evil…but he committed himself to darkness because of the loss of his love. He gave up his eternity for Elisabeta. That’s an incredibly intense sacrifice.
Cassidy: What do you consider to be the most moving scene of horror in the film? Why?
Zep: Like you, I watch a lot of horror. I love slashers, cannibals, stalkers, and monsters. Basically, if it’s gory, I’m in. But that being said, there is something so thoroughly repulsive about the scene of Renfield in the asylum eating the bugs.
Beyond the obvious that eating insects is gross, I think what truly bothers me is Renfield’s total submission to Dracula’s will. Loss of control scares me. Even as a teenager I used to think about how scary Alzheimer’s Disease is. That loss of faculties is something I hope to never experience. It’s the same with Renfield. He has been reduced to a babbling fool who is little more than Dracula’s zombie. He does as he is told and his only desire is to please Dracula. That total suppression of the human spirit is terrifying to me.
Cassidy: What is your favorite character? Why?
Zep: Well, I could take the high road and name Gary Oldman as Dracula. He took an iconic character who has literally been portrayed hundreds, if not thousands, of times and put his own spin on it.
Or I could say Tom Waits as Renfield. Waits, known most prominently as a musician, gave a chilling performance as Dracula’s vassal servant.
Heck, I could even name Keanu Reeves for his surprisingly solid performance as Jonathon Harker.
But not me, Cassidy. Not today. Today I’m taking the low road and am naming Sadie Frost’s performance as “Lucy Westenra.” I found her to be so incredibly sexy. She lit up the screen every time she was on camera. And she was the perfect foil for the demure and virginal, Mina. Winona Ryder is an attractive woman, but there was something about Sadie Frost. She brought a feral intangible to the role that was both raw and irresistible.
Cassidy: Well, I guess that leads straight into my next question. Vampires tend to have a sexual connotation. How do you feel Bram Stoker’s Dracula portrays that?
Zep: Well, this movie is nearly ALL about sex. It drips with lust and carnal desire. Early in the film, Dracula leaves engaged Harker at his estate to be sexually ravaged by his demon brides. Later, Lucy is overwhelmed by Dracula who, in the form of a wolfish beast, has sex with her during a violent thunderstorm.
Even Dracula’s manner of feeding, or converting a person to being subject to his power, is overtly sexual. Traditionally, a female’s neck has been viewed as one of the most delicate, vulnerable, and sensual parts of her body. The intimacy involved in the act of drawing a victim in and penetrating her neck is akin to the act of intercourse.
Zep: Who delivered the strongest performance?
Cassidy: The strongest performance award has to be given to Gary Oldman. A great actor should be able to evoke great emotion in their audience. Gary did so in many ways with his performance. His perseverance, his pain, and most importantly his passion was so moving. His fervor for his lost love Elisabeta was felt in every scene with Mina. The way he gazed at her, into her soul. His eyes burned with a passion that wrapped around me as I watched their interactions. On the other side of the spectrum, his primal thirst for blood was stellar. From walking through his creepy castle with his shadow in tow to pursuing Lucy in the garden as a creature of the night in search of lustful vengeance; he put his all into the character.
Zep: The soundtrack is a key element to this particular film. It can almost be considered another “character.” What is your opinion of it?
Cassidy: I strongly agree that the soundtrack helped propel the story into an emotional roller coaster. The classical score was outstanding and gave meaning to many of the scenes, particularly the love scenes. I actually cried when Dracula was speaking to Mina about how long he had searched for her and “crossed oceans of time.” What female wouldn’t want to hear THAT? In many areas of the film, the music did the talking for the characters. As the score became more aggressive, you anticipated action or death coming. My favorite part of the musical aspect was when an adagio began to play. It gave the film a sad undertone that emphasized the tragic love story it portrayed.
Zep: What is your favorite scene in Dracula?
Cassidy: I’m a hopeless romantic and feel that even though this is considered a horror classic, the struggle of pain and love within the film is so critical. My favorite scene is when Mina meets with Dracula and asks him about his background. She proceeds to describe his home, and he tells her about his lost love. He spoke with such pain about Elisabeta and her unfortunate fate. Regardless that he is the villain, I took a moment to see him as something other than a monster. I asked myself, does he feel he deserves all this pain and anguish over what happened to Elisabeta centuries ago?
Zep: I’m obsessed with the portrayal of Dracula’s shadow in the movie. What effect, if any, did it have on you?
Cassidy: Dracula’s shadow was rather intriguing. It gave, perhaps, a slightly comical element to the film. Most times, the shadow moved to its own accord. It was not always in sync and playfully gave the creeps to poor Jonathan during his stay at the castle. I like how it added an eerie feel to Harker’s visit to Transylvania.
Zep: What would you change about this movie?
Cassidy: If there was something I could have changed about the movie, it would have been to tighten the overall coherence. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was great and had a ton of style. It was very fast-paced, but sometimes it zipped through scenes before I was able to process the moment.
Zep: Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well-performed, visually stunning interpretation of the novel on which it is based. The costuming and cinematography are breathtaking. There are some memorable performances as well. This is a modern classic.
Cassidy: All in all, I feel the story broke ground by capturing the imagination of how you could view a classic Dracula story. The costume design was exquisite. It had a great mix of horror, humor, and hopeless love. I would have slowed down the pace just to savor some of the story. While I was able to follow the plot, it left me with small questions. I felt as if some of the dots weren’t connected.
That being said, I give this an enthusiastic “thumb’s up.”
-Cassidy Edwards & Zep the Bear