Bram Stoker's Dracula


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Winona Ryder as Mina Murray and Gary Oldman as Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

(pop culture)

The most recent of the many attempts to bring the novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker, to the motion picture screen appeared in 1992 from Columbia Pictures. Directed by one of Hollywood’s top directors, Francis Ford Coppola, it opened on Friday, November 13, and became the largest non-summer movie opening of all time.

Coppola had a goal of making a more accurate version of Stoker’s original novel, and his version relied more closely on the storyline of the book than any previous Dracula movie. The story opened with Jonathan Harker (played by Keanu Reeves) leaving his fiance, Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), to travel to Castle Dracula in Transylvania. His first encounters with Dracula (Gary Oldman) reflected the major incidents recorded in the book, though Dracula’s colorful appearance could hardly have been more different from his description in the novel. Their encounter as Harker was shaving produced one of the film’s most memorable moments. Harker had cut himself, and Dracula took the razor from Harker and licked it to taste the drops of blood. Harker was attacked by the three female vampire brides, residents of the castle, and was only able to escape after Dracula left for England.

In England, the three suitors of Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost)—Quincey P. Morris (Bill Campbell), Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes), and Dr. John Seward (Richard E. Grant)—rose to the occasion as Dracula launched his attack on her. Unable at first to determine the cause of her problems, Seward called in Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins). Van Helsing organized the opposition that finally defeated Dracula after tracking him back to his castle.

While Coppola’s version of Dracula is by far the most faithful to the book, it deviated at several important points. For example, as a prelude to the movie, Coppola briefly told the story of Vlad the Impaler, the fifteenth-century Romanian ruler who served as a historical reference for the Dracula character. This prelude indicated the influence of the books by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu, creating fans for Vlad, the historical Dracula. In introducing the theme of Vlad the Impaler, Coppola borrowed an idea from the Dan Curtis/Jack Palance version of Dracula (1973). Curtis used Vlad’s story to provide the rationale for Dracula’s attack upon the specific women he chose as targets in England. In Dracula (1974), Palance saw a picture of Lucy, Harker’s fiance, who was the mirror image of his lost love of the fifteenth century. He traveled to England in order to recapture the love of his pre-vampire life. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Winona Ryder played not only Mina Murray, but Elizabeth, Dracula’s original love. To continue the storyline, Coppola allowed Dracula to walk around London freely in the daytime (as Dracula seemed able to do in the novel), but he now used his time in the city to establish a liaison with Mina and, with his suave continental manners, win her love. In the final scene, Mina went to the dying Dracula and through her love facilitated his redemption as he died.

Vlad’s reaction to the death of Elizabeth (or Elisabeta), who committed suicide and hence could not go to heaven in Eastern Orthodox theology, provided Coppola with an explanation of the origin of Dracula’s vampirism. Since she could not go to heaven, Dracula blasphemed God and symbolically attacked the cross with his sword. Blood flowed from the impaled cross, Dracula drank, and presumably as a result was transformed into a vampire.

Coppola also enlarged upon the account of R. N. Renfield, another character in the original novel who was introduced as a resident of the insane asylum managed by John Seward, with no explanation as to the reason for his being there. His mental condition was explained by Coppola as a result of having traveled to Castle Dracula; Renfield became insane because of his encounters with the residents. This earlier connection with Dracula also explained why he, but none of the other inmates of the asylum, reacted to Dracula’s arrival and activities in London.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was accompanied by a massive advertising campaign which included more than one hundred separate pieces of paraphernalia and souvenir items, including a novelization of the script, a four-issue comic book series, two sets of trading cards, jewelry, T-shirts, posters, a board game, and several home computer games. The TNT cable television network sponsored a sweepstakes the week of the movie’s opening that offered the winner a trip to London, “one of Dracula’s favorite cities!” While it opened to mixed reviews (an occupational hazard with any horror genre film), the Coppola movie shows every sign of taking its place as one of the most memorable Dracula adaptations of all time. It opened in Bucharest, Romania, in July 1993, at which time a special drink, dubbed “Dracula’s Spirits” and made of vodka and red fruit juice, was issued by a Romanian distillery. In spite of the mixed reviews, the movie surprised media observers by becoming the largest box office opening ever experienced by Columbia and the largest ever for a non-summer opening. It played on almost 2,500 screens around the country and grossed more than $32 million.

Sources:

Biowrowski, Steve. “Coppola’s Dracula.” Cinefantastique 23, 4 (December 1992): 24–26, 31, 35, 39, 43, 47, 51, 55. One of a set of articles on the Coppola film in this issue of Cinefantastique.
Coppola, Francis Ford, and James V. Hart. Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Film and the Legend. New York: Newmarket Press, 1992. 172 pp. Rept. London: Pan Books, 1992. 172 pp.
Coppola, Francis Ford, and Eiko Ishioka. Coppola and Eiko on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. San Francisco: Collins Publishers, 1992. 96 pp.
Holte, James Craig. Dracula in the Dark: The Dracula Film Adaptations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997. 161 pp.
Rohrer, Trish Deitch. “Coppola’s Bloody Valentine.” Entertainment Weekly No. 145 (November 20, 1992): 22–31.
Saberhagen, Fred, and James V. Hart. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. New York: New American Library, 1992. 301 pp.
Steranko, Jim. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Preview 2, 49 (November/February 1993): 18–39, 59.
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