Bram Stoker’s Dracula is 1992’s monument to all-star ensemble casts in period piece horror. Does that sound exciting? Well, you’re right, that is exciting. It’s hard to not get your hopes up when you hear Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, and Cary Elwes got together to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola in an adaptation of a classic piece of horror fiction. Does the film deliver on these high hopes or does it provide one of the most befuddling and disappointing experiences you’ll ever have. You’ll have to read through our spoiler filled review to find out.
Reviewed by: Mark
Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Harker, a newly minted real estate lawyer who is called to sell some land in London to an interested buyer in Transylvania. Turns out, this interested buyer is none other than the immortal Count Dracula (Oldman). No wonder the dude can pick up large swaths of real estate in a bustling economic super-city. Harker does actually close the deal, but afterward he is kept hostage at Dracula’s estate while the count himself travels to London to seduce Keanu’s girl, Mina (Ryder). Party foul.
While in London Dracula gets up to various no-goodery. One evening, he transforms himself into a werewolf and ravages Mina’s sister, Lucy. This encounter leaves Lucy with the famous vampire bite marks and the medical team examining her send up a flare for the famous Dr. Van Helsing (Hopkins). Dracula is also able to use his hypnotic powers to bed Mina and force her to realize she is the reincarnation of his lover from 300 years before. Eventually, he also turns her into a vampire so that they can live forever, together (awwwww).
Once Van Helsing arrives he attempts to save the young Lucy from her terrible fate, but unfortunately is unable to prevent her passing. Knowing what’s up, he and his team break into her tomb and fight her as a vampire before ultimately decapitating her and driving a stake into her heart. That is apparently the only way to fully rid yourself of a vampire.
Meanwhile, Harker finally escapes the castle and makes his way back to London. The ravages of Dracula’s wives have turned his hair gray for some reason. He connects with Van Helsing and the group is able to figure out Dracula’s plan. He’s shipped Transylvanian earth to each of his new houses so that he can rest there during the day. The gang then systematically destroys these lairs and forces the count to return to Transylvania.
Everything comes to a head in a showdown outside of Dracula’s castle back in Transylvania, where despite losing a few of their own the vampire hunters are able to land a killing blow on Dracula. He retreats into his castle with Mina, and the two exchange pleasantries before she finally ends his life, thus removing the curse from herself. It’s one of the happier endings you’re going to be able find that involves a decapitation.
What the Movie Does Right
It would be damn near impossible to not mention the cast as what draws most people to the movie. Yes, it’s a classic work of literature. Yes, it’s a period piece. But those things aren’t on the poster. What is on the poster? These names: Hopkins, Reeves, Ryder, Oldman, Elwes, and Coppola. Hell, Tom Waits is like the 9th billed cast member (he plays Renfield). This thing has a deeeeeep roster and for the most part the movie benefits from it, both in the sense that it’s an easy sell to get people to start watching, and in the sense that most of the acting is pretty stellar (there is one notable exception… more on that later).
If you make a period piece vampire movie you’re gonna need some sets, and BSD really nails these. The castle interiors are great, bustling turn-of-the-century London looks solid, the sprawling estates of the various characters all look highly believable, which is crucial for immersion. The one I would highlight above the others, though, is the tomb of the recently deceased (or is she?) Lucy. In fact, let’s jump right to that scene.
The best scene in this movie isn’t the bigass fight scene at the end or the gigantic set piece chase scene leading up to it. It’s the scene in Lucy’s tomb. Lucy had recently died of her vampire wounds, but the incredibly wise Dr. Van Helsing knows that she’s only getting some beauty sleep so the crew goes to attack her. What they find is Lucy in full vampire attire kidnapping small children to eat in her mausoleum. The general sense of atmosphere in this scene is phenomenal and is largely the only real “horror” you get in this package.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Hey, remember when I said that there was a notable exception to that good acting thing? Well, I was talking about the ageless Mr. Reeves. Look, I’m a keanu guy. I love basically everything he touches, but this? This is an incredible thing to behold in its ineptitude. There are whole “acting” compilation movies online dedicated to this performance. There’s one line he has about “bloody wolves” that was riotously bad. He later blamed the performance on being too tired and stretched too thin with some other movies so at least he’s willing to recognize that it’s not his best work, but…. damn.
Another item to note here is that the effects haven’t aged all that well. I will give a massive kudos to the team that put this together because they did almost all of the effects (literally only one exception) in-camera, meaning that there aren’t any “CG” effects or effects added in post. That being said, there is a recurring trick they use where they overlay either the cardiovascular system or the skeleton over someone’s body to show what the monsters see, and it looks terrible. There are a few other things here, but it’s largely encompassed in just the general complaint of effects not aging well so I won’t belabor the point.
Lastly, this movie is 128 minutes long. That’s waaaaay too long. Especially, for a period piece drama featuring Keanu attempting a turn of the century British accent. If you can get all the way through this thing and still be riveted, then good on you, but I found this to be incredibly hard to sit all the way through. They really need to put a warning for what you’re getting into at the start. At the risk of this review also becoming overlong, let’s now get to ratings.
Story: 5.5 - It’s a classic work of horror literature, and this is one of the better adaptations of the book. That being said, it drags a lot and there are places where you could have easily edited out whole storylines.
World-Building / Immersion: 2 - The world building part of this is a bonus, and the scene in Lucy’s tomb is very good. That’s it for the praise of this movie for this category. It’s too long, Keanu’s performance is incredibly bad and ubiquitous, and Dracula’s hair looks like a butt.
Scare-Factor: 1.5 - This isn’t a scary movie. It gets grandfathered in because obviously Dracula (and vampires in general) are part of ancient horror mythology, but if you’re looking for scary vampires this is not where you will find them. There is a snake at one point though so if you are ophidiophobic that could be a thing.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 3 - Massive props to the team that did this, since they did it (almost) all in-camera, but also that doesn’t necessarily mean the effects themselves are good or memorable. It just doesn’t age all that well.
Overall: 2.5 - This was a really hard movie to get through, and ultimately feels like an incredible waste of the cast’s talent. I find it utterly bamboozling that this is rated as highly as it is on imdb and the tomatometer. It’s a long, weird, and boring thing to commit to, and I want off of Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride.