As I’ve mentioned before, I have vivid memories of fetishizing a pack of trading cards featuring images from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), back in my formative years. Watching the film again to help get me into the Hallowe’en spirit, I still get a warm, fuzzy feeling while admiring the aesthetics… but everything else about this production makes me giggle or roll my eyes. The elegant, operatic costumes, the gothic set design and astounding “in camera” optical FX (which have aged a lot better than CGI usually does, it must be said) are a sumptuous feast for the eyes… but the nonsensical dialogue, wooden acting and wonky accents fatally undermine all of that care and craft. At one point I even considered switching to a foreign language track, in the hope that the groan-worthy script would be a little easier to swallow in subtitle form!
For those who don’t know, Dracula is the story of a reclusive Transylvanian Count who invites a naive English estate agent to his castle, in order to negotiate the purchase of several large properties in London… only to imprison the young man, as part of a scheme to initiate his innocent fiancée into the ranks of the blood-drinking undead, after “warming up” with her more flirtatious best-friend. Oh no! Apparently the young lady in question, ‘Mina Murray’, is the spitting image of Dracula’s long-lost love, ‘Elisabeta’… who, let’s be honest here, was a bit of a dim bulb: In the opening flashback sequence we see the two of them together, very much in love, bidding adieu as he heads off into battle… he survives, victorious, but while he’s away a sneaky enemy spy fires an arrow into his castle with a message claiming that he’s dead… so, stricken with grief, Elisabeta immediately hurls herself into the river, to die. Which is very romantic, I’m sure, but you’d think she’d want to see the body first… or at least wait until some of the other soldiers had returned, to confirm the totally-unsubstantiated disinformation. Instead, she just flings herself out of the nearest window. Daft cow.
Both Elisabeta and her contemporary counterpart are played by Winona Ryder, who I had a huge crush on back in the day… and she does look particularly lovely here, even if the sounds coming out of her mouth are slightly less agreeable. Keanu Reeves, who plays her fiancé ‘Jonathan Harker’, bore the brunt of the derision for his atrocious accent and awkward acting “style”… but Ryder also seems to be having trouble passing herself off as a native of our shores. According to Francis Ford Coppola’s DVD commentary, she was responsible for bringing the script to him in the first place, as well as for recommending Reeves… who the director damns with hilariously faint praise, simply saying that he was a nice enough fella. Mina’s gal-pal ‘Lucy’ is played by Sadie Frost, who is now better known for her appearances in the gossip-rags, than in motion pictures. I enjoyed her performance here, although her scene with Richard E. Grant after she’d been “embraced” by Dracula reminded me of The Crimson Petal and the White… except that Grant isn’t quite as creepy here, of course. It’s pretty clear from the commentary that Coppola had a crush on Frost, because he never passes up an opportunity to point out how sexy she is… although he also reveals that a lot of her moaning and panting was over-dubbed by singer/performance artist Diamanda Galás, who is credited for her “special vocal performances”. While we’re on the subject of S-E-X, who would have guessed that an unknown naked hottie with no real lines would go on to have a far more hardy and successful acting career than both of the leading ladies? That’s right, this film marked the English-language debut of ace Italian actress Monica Bellucci, as one of Dracula’s three “Brides”… who act as Harker’s lascivious jailors during his time in the castle, draining him on a daily basis to keep him weak and compliant. It’s a testament to the short-sightedness/selfishness of the male libido that this fate has always seemed quite appealing… I mean there are worse ways to go, right?
Much though I admire the “eye-candy” appeal of its erotic decadence… and Tom Waits’s brilliant performance as ‘Renfield’… I’m a little bemused to see that this film is still pulling in such rave reviews. For me this film is a blatant “bimbo”… lovely to look at, but too ridiculous to take seriously.