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Francis Ford Coppola's newest film, Bram Stoker's Dracula, is an intelligent, well-made vampire movie that unfortunately spends too much of its time looking good to be an effective, terrifying horror movie. It looks great, and it's a tribute to the great Universal horror movies of old (including the original Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Tod Browning). But pretty pictures do not a scary story make, and this is the movie's ultimate weakness. It's as undead as its star.
The movie tries to be a tale of tragic love, rather than a straightforward horror story, but the scenery and atmosphere overwhelm the actors so that you can't feel any emotion for any of them at all - not even for Prince Dracula himself, whose heavy accent is incomprehensible at times; nor for professor Van Helsing, who is expertly played in a controlled, not quite over-the-top performance by Anthony Hopkins. The other actors in the film fare badly, turning what could have been an emotional, intense tale of love, loyalty and humanity into a silly soap-opera with pointy teeth. The minor characters, including Winona Ryder's Mina and Keanu Reeves' Jonathan Harker, exist solely to be victims for the Prince or willing recruits in Van Helsing's band of ghostbusters. They have no emotions and feelings of their own, and we never see them as true characters. This robs the film of much of its intensity.
Coppola pays tribute to the famous German Expressionist horror films (especially Nosferatu, which is mentioned by name and which the Old Prince resembles) and the classic Universal monster movies, giving us lavish sets and special effects galore - but he loses control when he includes surreal images of splashing blood and confusing "montage" images that try to grip the audience but end up confusing them instead. The movie's best moment is, in fact, an imitation of Coppola's own famous climax to The Godfather in which a wedding takes place. But most of the scenes in the film are confusing, especially during a sea voyage where people who have not read the book will only scratch their heads and try to figure out what's going on.
The best vampire stories have an erotic feel to them, as the drawing of blood becomes more of a sexual act than a mere feeding on of victims, though the eroticism of this movie is about as subtle as a blow with a wooden stake. The connection between feeding on victims and sex is bludgeoned into us, using so heavy-handed an approach that even a seduction/rape scene involving three women is nothing more than a turn-off. Coppola has invested so much time and effort into dazzling the eyes that he has drained the film of heart and feeling, in much the style of Stanley Kubrick.
In the end, Bram Stoker's Dracula fails to be the horrifying, heart-stopping horror film it could have been. It's a feast for the eyes to behold, but underneath the sets, cameras and special effects there's very little room for a person to *feel* anything. As a result, we don't care for the characters as much as we should - and a movie without memorable, energetic characters is like one of the undead. It's a movie without a soul.