The Quarantine Stream: 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' is a Bloody, Gothic Delight

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Where You Can Stream It: Shudder

The Pitch: Francis Ford Coppola takes Dracula – a story told on screen countless times – and manages to do something fresh with it! It’s the story you know but with a lot more gothic romance, torrents of blood, and amazing in-camera effects.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: As I’ve said multiple times in this here Quarantine Stream column, it’s basically Halloween season. And I’m ready to embrace spooky time with all my heart and soul by revisiting one of my favorite adaptations of Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola’s gonzo, over-the-top, gorgeous film that blends sex, horror, and romance in one big blockbuster package.

We all know the basic story of Dracula: a vampire comes from Transylvania to the U.K. and starts sucking neck. It’s been adapted to the screen over, and over, and over again. So how do you even begin to make Dracula seem “new”? If your Francis Ford Coppola, you go back to the novel. With a script from James V. HartBram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the most faithful takes on Stoker’s text, restoring characters and plot points that most adaptations leave out.

At the same time, Coppola’s film also veers wildly away from that material. Here’s the thing: you know how in all the movies about Dracula he’s portrayed as kind of a sexy figure, luring beautiful women to their doom? Well…that’s not in the book. Yes, Drac preys on beautiful young ladies. But he’s by no means attractive. Stoker portrays the count as a hideous, evil monster. He starts off as a decrepit old man, and even when he grows younger later in the story, he’s still pure evil. There’s no romance in Stoker’s text.

Well, Coppola and Hart said “Fuck that!”, and made their Dracula a full-blown tragic romantic figure. Yes, he’s still kind of evil, and yes, he still murders people. But he has a sad backstory – his bride killed herself back in the 1400s – and when he comes to England, he finds himself with genuine romantic feelings for the reincarnation of said bride, played by Winona Ryder.

The same basic set-up is there: Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves, using a questionable accent) travels to Transylvania to sell some property to Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). But Dracula traps Harker in his castle and heads off to the U.K. to drink some blood. Along the way, he grows younger and more handsome, and once in jolly old England, he sets about seducing Harker’s fiance Mina (Ryder).

Soon, Jonathan escapes, and Mina finds herself torn: should she remain true to her beloved Jonathan, or dump his ass for handsome Dracula? Along the way, crazy old vampire hunter Van Helsing (a wonderfully hammy Anthony Hopkins) shows up, and Harker, Van Helsing, and other vampire hunters (including Richard E. Grant as a drug-addicted doctor, Cary Elwes as an aristocrat, and Billy Campbell as a cowboy) are out to drive a stake through the vampire’s heart – much to Mina’s torment. And oh yeah, Tom Waits shows up, too, and eats some bugs.

Coppola directs the hell out of this thing, loading the movie with stunning visual effects, all of which were achieved in-camera – something that would never happen today. Featuring gorgeous, stylized costumes by Eiko Ishioka and one of the best movie scores of all time, courtesy of  Wojciech Kilar, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a cinematic feast worth sinking your fangs into.

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