When I was 14, I watched horror films with a completely different eye than I do today. I wanted to see some gore, story was negotiable if the kills were good, and skin potential raised a film’s watch-ability. You have to remember…this was the 1990s. The internet hadn’t blossomed into the thing it is today.
One of the films that I made damn sure to see (once it was on home video) way back then was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It wasn’t because it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It wasn’t because it contained multiple Oscar winning or nominated actors. It wasn’t even because of the hype surrounding the film (I rented the Sega Genesis game when it first came out…Ugh. That was awful.). It was because I was a horny teenager looking for something with skin that would not raise the brow of my parents at the video store.
I hated it.
I still remember that to this day. Ugh…it was so full of itself. It was dry. The horror wasn’t original. The ending just kind of happens. The trio of female vampires was alluring to this teenage boy’s mind, but outside of Sadie Frost, they are the only skin in the film. I still thought of Winona Ryder as that girl from Beetlejuice, and her romance with Dracula was confusing to say the least.
So I did what any good horror fan does, and I sat down to watch it again. It’s better now to me. It makes more sense. The cinematography is phenomenal and it’s no wonder that the film received 3 Oscar nominations for its visual components. Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins are solid in their roles (though Oldman does shine as Dracula). And yet….there’s just so much more this film could have been.
Keanu Reeves just fails as an actor here. His scenes consist of him either looking like he’s just popped 12 Valium and trying to stay awake to looking like he just pushed a little too hard on a fart and is afraid of what may have just happened. Ryder is not much better, and cannot grasp the “sensual” side of her role. Don’t get me wrong: Ryder is a beautiful woman. But in this role, she has a porcelain doll/asexual vibe to her. As Reeves was a brick wall, I understand her attraction to his character. But Oldman went all out seduction on her and she still comes across as untouchable on any level. What made series like True Blood or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer work was the seductive give and take between vampire and prey.
And while we are on the topic of Ryder and her love story, I need to get this out of the way: Bram Stoker’s Dracula is probably the most accurate portrayal of the 1897 novel that I’ve seen. It hits almost all the novel’s events, and it even incorporates the story as if it was a compiled event told through letters and news clippings. However, the additional love triangle between Dracula, Harker (Reeves), Mina (Ryder) DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. She is completely obsessed with the Count and shows no feeling toward Harker outside of a I’m-supposed-to-act-this-way courtship with the man. When approached by the vampire in her bed near the finale, she willingly accepts him and accepts all of the evil that comes with him…yet she battles against him simultaneously. Even the comedies Army of Darkness and Fright Night got this part right: When a character decides to go to the dark side: Position their character as an adversary. Hell, I would have even accepted the hostage/helper that we got in Vampires. But…nope. She loves him, but she’s leading these men to destroy him. Somehow, her soul is no longer damned because she destroys him? Why is he suffering for years at her decision that she can’t take back when a mere moment is all it takes for him to accept God again and be saved? Ugh…this whole setup and finale just make me go cross eyed.
But, yet…without all this, we wouldn’t get the quote the movie is known for. I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you. The love triangle seems pigeon holed in at the last minute, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. The rest of the film has some very solid writing. Again, it’s not breaking a ton of ground story wise, but it’s interesting. The special effects are big budget practical pieces that shine. Almost everybody is comfortable around the camera, and it’s sad that this fell off the way it did. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was big enough to be made into a Simpsons Treehouse of Terror episode (and is generally regarded as one of the bigger horror films of the early 1990s). 14 year old me hated it. 37 year old me appreciates the good stuff about it. Maybe 61 year old me will turn this on TCM one day and say “I saw this when I was 14. Back in my day, you rented movies from a video store. They came on magnetic tape. I loved it.”