This film is based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel and was adapted by American screenwriter James V. Hart. It takes a few liberties with the book, including a lot more romantic scenes. However, it does retain certain elements of the novel that are usually emitted from vampire films in general, including the idea that Dracula can move about during daylight hours. The notion of vampires being destroyed by sunlight was invented by motion pictures. It was first used in Nosferatu (1922) and has been continued in films such as Blade and Underworld as well as TV series’, most famously, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, it isn’t part of vampire folklore at all. Original lore stated that vampires only became powerful after sundown and that during the day they could still move around if they wished, they just didn’t have any supernatural abilities.
The romantic elements that were added to the film result in it feeling far more like a doomed Gothic love story than a horror. The beginning is reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, if Juliet had chosen to become a vampire rather than kill herself. The tag line for the film is simply ‘Love Never Dies’. What the film effectively does is humanise the famous blood-sucking, murderous villain. As a result, I often found myself sympathising with Dracula’s plight. This sympathy may also have been caused by some truly awful acting by Keanu Reeves, playing Jonathan Harker. His terrible English accent and wooden performance left me struggling to identify with the man who is the supposed hero of the story and wishing his soon-to-be bride would ditch him for the far more appealing Dracula.
The other actors in the film are far more effective. Winona Ryder does a decent job as a likeable Mina Murray, Anthony Hopkins’ Van Helsing is a quirky, eccentric Professor with a wry sense of humour and Gary Oldman does brilliantly with his roles as Vlad, Dracula old and young, as well as some monstrous versions. I think his performance as the older Count is the most successful, with his playful yet sinister demeanour; “You will, I trust, excuse me if I do not join you. But I have already dined, and I never drink...wine.”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula has many plus points. Above all it is a very stylishly directed film. Francis Ford Coppola said the film pays homage to others of the genre, pointing out the shot of Dracula rising out of his coffin (a homage to F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922)). Also, the blood splashing onto Lucy’s bed from the sides of the room is a homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Lucy vomiting blood all over Van Helsing is a homage to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973).
The film also benefits from some great sets, costumes and make-up. In fact, everything you see on-screen is impressive. It does suffer slightly in terms of story though. The basic plot is quite simple but there is a lot of switching back and forth between London and Transylvania, there are many different sub-plots and the film is just too long. I do imagine it would be fairly difficult to develop a coherent narrative from the novel though, as it is made up of letters and diary entries from the various characters. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is very heavy on spectacle but rather light on substance. If you’re looking for a horror film with vampires, you may want to look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a love film with vampires, this may be just for you.