Everyone knows the classic story of the vampire, Dracula. It is one of darkness, gloom, and horror. And now…romance? Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola adds a new spin to the vampire novel written so many years ago that works in more ways than one.
The film begins where the novel never went- Dracula’s tragic past. Vlad the Impaler fought in the crusades, only to come home and find the love of his life dead. This adds a new feeling of sympathy for Dracula that has never been felt by fans before. In a gruesome scene, Vlad is transformed into Dracula. Blood flows throughout the room, creating a chilling atmosphere, setting the tone of the film.
Coppola uses gorgeous sets and costumes, resulting in a dream-like setting. There are many bright hues of red and white, helping contrast the different characters. The most memorable scene evoking this use of color is one of Lucy, played by Sadie Frost. She is wandering outside at night in a beautiful, revealing red gown. It flows all around her as the wind blows and the music kicks up. The watcher truly feels as if they are part of Lucy’s trance.
Another strong character in the film is Mina Harker. Winona Rider gives a memorable performance as this pure, Victorian beauty. There is a stark contrast between Mina and Lucy’s characters, reminiscent of the novel. While Lucy’s portrayed sexual behavior does not lead to a good end, Mina’s goodness and purity help save the day. Coppola has heightened their sexuality in the film as a sort of social commentary of the roles of gender in our current time. Rider utilizes her innocent eyes and soft voice to add to the believability of Mina’s goodness.
The novel seems dark through and through, but Coppola’s film is not lacking in humor. Coppola uses the audience’s knowledge of the character, Dracula, to add to the comic relief of the film. In the scene where Harker first meets Dracula, his naivety is laughable because the audience already knows who Dracula is. Throughout the movie the director uses the viewer’s prior knowledge to his advantage, but he also throws in his own original backstory in order to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.
One aspect that doesn’t work so well is Dracula’s costuming. Although his character’s reactions to Harker are meant to be comical, I don’t believe his costuming is. However, when the audience sees the huge, heart-shaped hair and long ridiculous robe, the first reaction is to chuckle. Dracula’s character works. The wardrobe? Not so much.
The real question here is- does the backstory work? Is it believable? My answer is, yes. Dracula’s tragic love story is one that will shock audiences, whether fans of the novel or new viewers. Coppola strived to create something new out of a popular tale, and it works. Everyone loves a good tale of star-crossed lovers.