Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The vampire according to Francis Ford Coppola

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is thirty years old: Francis Ford Coppola’s idea was to remove Dracula from a tired and abused horror imaginary, and bring him back to his literary origins, to make a film out of the canons, fashions, styles.

I crossed the oceans of time to find you“. These are the words of Count Vlad, alias Dracula, to Mina Harker, reincarnation of his beloved Elizabeth. It is one of the historical phrases of Bram Stoker’s Draculathe film by Francis Ford Coppola that has thirty years (it was in fact released in American cinemas on November 13, 1992). They are words that tell us like the Dracula di Coppola is first of all a poignant love story, a fairy tale where the prince and princess did not live happily ever after, but were destined to damnation and an eternal, unattainable desire. Francis Ford Coppola’s idea was precisely to remove Dracula from a tired and abused horror imaginary, and bring him back to his literary origins, to make a film out of the canons, fashions, styles. When Bram Stoker’s Dracula came out in the cinema scene in 1992, it was something never seen before, far from everything that passed on the screens. Revised today, it hasn’t lost an iota of its value. And he hasn’t aged in the least, because even then he was completely out of time.

From Transylvania in 1492 to London in 1897

Gary Oldman in a Dracula scene

Gary Oldman in a Dracula scene

In 1492, the Ottoman Empire has now conquered Constantinople and is ramping up in Europe. In Transylvania, the bulwark that defends the Church is a Roman knight of the Holy Order of the Dragon, Vlad Draculea. Back home, he discovers that his beloved wife Elisabeta, upon hearing the erroneous news of her death, has committed suicide. Vlad denies God and the Church, calls into question the forces of Evil and becomes the vampire: Dracula, Nosferatu, the undead. So he went through the centuries and it was to him that, in 1897, Jonathan Harker went to conclude the sale of a series of buildings in London. Dracula recognizes in the photo of Mina, Harker’s girlfriend, the reincarnation of his love for him, Elisabeta. And so he leaves for London …

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The model: Nosferatu of Murnau

A scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula

A scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The original title of the film is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The title Draculain fact, it was in the hands of Universal and had already been used in the film industry. And then give the sense of fidelity to the novel. In fact, Bram Stoker’s book is betrayed in the film. The thing that really interested Francis Ford Coppola was to remove Dracula from the horror imagery that had characterized him up to that moment. The exception, in this sense, had been Nosferatu, prince of the night by Werner Herzog, remake of the masterpiece Nosferatu the vampire of Murnau. And Coppola’s model for his Dracula was just the Nosferatu of Murnau.

Gary Oldman with Keanu Reeves in a scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula

Gary Oldman with Keanu Reeves in a scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

An impressionist film

Oldman with Keanu Reeves in a scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula

Oldman with Keanu Reeves in a scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Francis Ford Coppola’s idea was to make an impressionist film. He would have liked to minimize the furniture and play a lot on the lights and costumes. The studios asked him to make sets with more realistic sets instead. But that spirit has not been lost. Even if the action takes place in concrete, believable locations, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is anything but a realistic film. It really has something of an impressionist film. Think of the use that Coppola makes of shadows, which are never the real projection of the light of the figures in the background, but essences that have a life of their own, that stretch menacingly around the characters, anticipate their moves or carry out others. Throughout the film, shadows play the role of extending the threat and dark omens. But let’s also think about the razor scene: the walls of the scenography gradually move forward, so as to give the whole a sense of claustrophobia. And this too, somehow, has to do with impressionism, whose backdrops were often drawn with unreal perspectives to give an alienating effect to the images.

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A patina of antique

Bram Stoker's Dracula: Gary Oldman in an image from Coppola's film

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Gary Oldman in an image from Coppola’s film

Bram Stoker’s Dracula it is an artisanal film, where the memory of special effects in post production is reduced to a minimum and where everything, or almost everything we see, takes place on stage. There is, in the film, a patina of antiquity, starting from a montage that binds the scenes in a very particular way, and often closes and reopens the iris between one scene and another. In the scene that anticipates the entry of Dracula and Mina into the cinema – a tribute to the Lumiere Brothers and to all the Seventh Art – the characters move as in the first films by crank. Seeing a film of this type in 1992 was a very special experience. Cinema had come from years in which, after the horror classics, there had been an attempt to actualize the vampire figure with contemporary adaptations, such as Miriam wakes up at midnight and Lost Boys, which began to present vampire stories for teenagers (a trend that , as we know, it would later take hold more and more).

Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder in a scene from Coppola's Dracula

Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder in a scene from Coppola’s Dracula

The chemistry between Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder

Gary Oldman with Winona Ryder in a very sensual scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula

Gary Oldman with Winona Ryder in a very sensual scene from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

But watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula you really get the impression of seeing so many films in one. The component of horror is present, but what strikes even today is the feeling of witnessing a story of desire, full of sensuality. The story of a love destined to last over the centuries is romantic, fascinating, capable of conquering anyone. Bringing such a sensual story to life is a cast in a state of grace. Gary Oldman, who appears on stage in all his charm, as well as in numerous more monstrous versions, is perfect for the role, and the chemistry between him and a Winona Ryder, in the role of Mina, at the height of her beauty, is exceptional. The actress is perfect in nineteenth-century dresses as it was often, in those years, in those of a girl of today. The cast also includes a young Monica Bellucci, as one of Dracula’s wives, and an intense Sadie Frost, actress and then producer that we would never see again at this level in the following years. Jonathan Harker is a young Keanu Reeves, chosen to have a grip on the female audience and perfect result for the part. Anthony Hopkins is the vampire hunter, Van Helsing. And in the cast there is also Tom Waits, in the role of a man who calls himself a disciple of the vampire and who is locked up in the asylum.

Two hours of shadows, blood and sensuality

Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder in a sequence of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder in a sequence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula something unrepeatable in the history of cinema has remained. Although the operation of philological horror (with Coppola as producer and Branagh as director) would have been retried with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with Robert De Niro in the role of the creature, but it would not have completely succeeded. The vampire, in the cinema, would still have lived in fascinating adaptations such as Interview with the Vampire, by Neil Jordan, with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but then he would have become the preserve of the imaginary created by TV series and films for teenagers. According to some, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the last great film by Francis Ford Coppola. The advice is to review it (it is streaming on Netflix). You will experience two hours of shadows, blood and sensuality. It is a story that will envelop you. And it won’t leave you for a long time.

Bram Stocker's Dracula: Keanu Reeves with Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu and Florina Kendrick

Bram Stocker’s Dracula: Keanu Reeves with Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu and Florina Kendrick

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The vampire according to Francis Ford Coppola