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Archive for the ‘Bram Stoker’ Category

Bela Lugosi's DraculaFilmmakers generally take liberties with novels when they turn them into movies. And they should. What director wants to make a movie that is simply a faithful adaptation of someone else’s work?

At the same time, it comes as no surprise – for those with a nose for box-office profit – that the liberties directors like to take with novels often have to do with matters of sex.

This is certainly the case with two familiar versions of Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula: the 1931 movie directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi and the 1992 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola, with Gary Oldman in the title role.

In Stoker’s novel, Dracula is a predatory monster who is indifferent to his victims. He is also a peripheral character. Dracula is largely absent from the pages of the book after the scene shifts from Transylvania to London.

In both 1931 and 1992 films, however, Dracula is a central character who develops a romantic relationship with the heroine of the story, Mina Harker.

Lugosi’s Dracula is a debonair aristocrat who tries to cart off Mina to be his demon bride against her will. Oldman’s Dracula, by contrast, turns up the dramatic volume. His vampire is a Romantic hero who finds in Mina the reincarnation of his much beloved, long-dead wife and who persuades Mina to fall in love with him and participate in her supernatural transformation.

The 1931 version is a classic, but the film is no longer interesting to watch except as a period piece. Its major problem is that it is just not scary anymore. The old-fashioned style of the acting, which mixes the naïve with the declamatory, doesn’t help. And the film is a victim of Bela Lugosi’s indelible performance, which is so familiar even to people who haven’t seen it that his original interpretation looks like a caricature.

Gary Oldman's Dracula directed by CoppolaCoppola’s version is a middling success, not a classic, but it’s more fun despite its problems. Most of these are caused by the cast. Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are bloodless in their roles, which is a big problem in a vampire flick; and a post-Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Van Helsing serves up a disappointing piece of lukewarm ham, instead of his savory fava beans and Chianti.

Luckily, there is an exquisite Gary Oldman as Dracula. Coppola’s film restores enough of the characters and story lines eliminated from the 1931 version to make the title’s claim to being “Bram Stoker’s” Dracula reasonable. Further, Coppola gives the film an interesting visual style. It doesn’t have the pedigree of German Expressionist films, from which Browning cribbed for his Dracula, but it is distinctive enough.

All in all, you could choose many worse films to get you ready for Halloween than these two movies.

But having rewatched both films and read Stoker’s novel recently, I have to admit the best vampire movie I’ve seen doesn’t feature Dracula and doesn’t come from Bram Stoker.

If you’re only going to watch one vampire movie this month, it’s hard to beat the superb combination of sex, style, horror, melodrama — and especially haute cheese — that Neil Jordan delivers in his film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Sorry, Bram.

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