I can remember watching Dracula themed movies at the cinema in my youth on a Sunday night where the guys had a good laugh and the girls pretended to be frightened. They were pure gold as light entertainment and although full of corny lines and continuity faux pas they were an ideal antidote to the dread of the Monday morning to come. The Francis Ford Coppola presentation of Dracula (1992) changed all that. It is presented as a tragic love story with the Count having all the emotions of any living person. Gary Oldman steals the movie with a mesmerising interpretation of the title character and once again demonstrates his broad range of accents. With Dracula’s ability to transform at will the makeup artists really had to work hard for their well deserved Oscar.
The movie opens with how Dracula came to pass. In the mid-fifteen century a devout Roman Catholic Romanian knight leads the outnumbered defenders against the marauders from the East and with no quarter given gains an unexpected victory. His bride Elizabetha however receives a false message that he had been slain during the battle. Unable to live without him she kills herself hoping to be reunited with him in heaven. On his triumphant return he is devastated to learn of her death and is told by high priests that as she committed suicide her soul will reside with the devil for eternity. Distraught he accuses God of betrayal and begins a revengeful campaign of indiscriminate slaughter, drinking the blood of his victims. Shown in black silhouette with a blood orange background the scenes are quite disturbing.
Four centuries later and Count Dracula is buying up properties in London including Carfax Abbey. Jonathon Harker a dull solicitor’s clerk is sent out to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania with the necessary papers. There are some great camera shots as the traditional carriage and four black horses race through a violent storm up a mountain track to the castle at breakneck speed. When we see the king of vampires for the first time he sure looks repulsive and fragile and you wouldn’t shake his hand for fear it might fall off however he is able to change his form at will when there’s blood to be had. Jonathon has left his fiancé Mina back in England hoping to marry her on his return but when the Count sees her picture, to him it’s his long lost bride reincarnated. Jonathon is seduced and imprisoned by three horny vampire sisters while the Count sets sail for England.
Mina is staying at the opulent home of friend and flirtatious Lucy; a redhead who has three suitors, Dr Jack, Texan Quincey and money loaded Lord Arthur. No prizes for guessing whom she chooses. Meanwhile Dracula’s ship has arrived, although there are no crew members remaining, as they were fresh meat for their passenger. As all vampire movie fans know anyone named Lucy with red hair soon experiences fangs in the neck. For this victim Dracula transforms himself into a beast, like The Thing from the Fabulous Four but with lots of hair. Its attack on Lucy shows why the movie was given an 18 certificate as more than the neck is violated.
Dracula transforms himself into the handsome youth he once was and begins to court Mina his reincarnated love using the title of Prince Vlad of Sachait. She is immediately drawn to him and it could be down to him controlling her mind, or more likely she subconsciously remembers their love from a previous life. Mina should have known something was amiss when he turned her tears into diamonds, but she seems to be safe, as he cannot bring himself to drink of her blood even though he desperately needs it. Back at the castle Jonathon manages to escape and takes refuge in a nunnery and writes for Mina to join him so they can marry. On hearing this Dracula cries tears of blood. You can’t help but feel for the guy.
Lost to understand why Lucy has become so anaemic, Dr Jack calls in his teacher and mentor Professor Van Helsing who quickly diagnoses the problem and carries out a transfusion with contributions from all three suitors, without even checking if they were of the right blood type. The suitors now best friends and playing the role of the Three Musketeers (or is that Tusketeers) join forces with Helsing to protect Lucy and defeat Dracula. Alas the Count is much too clever and strong for them finishing off poor Lucy in an explosion of blood. After her funeral they enter her crypt but she’s gone shopping, returning with a young child the equivalent of a takeaway for a vampire. Adopting Helsing’s tried and tested procedure, a stake through the heart and decapitation of the head cures her hunger for all time.
Jonathon knows where Dracula sleeps and when he returns to England sets off for Carfax Abbey with the Tusketeers and Co in tow. Placing Mina in the nearby asylum for safety they set about destroying coffins and sterilising the earth. Dracula appears in the form of a demon and vapours himself over to the asylum where Mina is in bed waiting for him. In a strange twist of fate it is she who offers herself up to his blood lust and he declines not wanting her to become like him. She is now the stronger willed and he gives in as Mina begins to drink his blood when they caress. In the nick of time our band of brothers burst through the door but Dracula escapes transforming into a horde of rats. In need of recuperation he hightails it from England for his castle home but he cannot stop his telepathy with Mina, so Helsing hypnotises her to find the demon’s route and the chase begins.
Dracula being a wise old bird alters his route part way into his journey forcing the entourage following to split up. Jonathon and the Tusketeers become the Four Horsemen as they ride hell for leather to catch the Count who has taken wagon full of loyal gypsies for protection in a dash to the castle. Helsing and Mina take an alternative route and arrive at the castle gates first. While waiting for their friends, Helsing makes a quick diversion to lop off the heads of the vampire sisters. When the cavalry does arrive they are hot on the heels of the gypsy wagon. A fight to the death takes place in which Jonathon slits Dracula’s throat while a mortally wounded Quincey plunges a dagger into his chest. Laying there all tuckered out Dracula transforms back to his real age. Mina however is not repulsed by his appearance but caresses him. He asks her to give him peace and using Helsing’s trusted procedure she duly obliges.
Both Jonathon and Mina began as shy inexperienced wallflowers and through their experiences become forthright and adventurous. Both Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, who play these characters, interpret this transition from sheep to shepherds at just the right pace, no doubt well assisted by Coppola. An added plus is that Anthony Hopkins plays Van Helsing, so how can it fail to be a top-class movie.