ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn
November 13, 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In honor of the occasion, Park Circus has re-released the film into theatres in a 4k scan from the camera negative. Watching it after being a fan for so many years, brought me back to the night I first saw it.
On Friday November 13, 1992, following a disastrous game of pool with a friend, I departed The Ferris Wheel pub on Market Street in the small town of Oswego, NY and headed to the local movie theatre alone to catch the late showing of the latest adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Back then, I was a 20-year-old student working my way through a TV/Film and Radio program. Being a fan of horror films and vampires in particular, I had seen just about every version of the novel ever made. Most recently, in my “Intro to Cinema” class, I had studied the German expressionist film Nosferatu (1922) along with other historically important genre titles such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Un Chien Andalou (1929.) When I entered the lobby on that atypically warm autumn night, I carried an attitude of skepticism. How fresh could a new version of Dracula possibly be? A little over two hours later, I exited with mind blown. Not only had screenwriter James V. Hart and director Francis Ford Coppola managed to capture the most faithful version of the novel I’d ever seen, they had also incorporated the true history of the “real” Count, Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes and his struggle against invading Turks in the 1400s. Most impressively, Coppola had composed a visual love letter to the history of cinema, simultaneously incorporating actual clips of the earliest silent short reels and utilizing, almost exclusively, in-camera effects as the earliest masters did. It was and remains a film for film lovers and filmmakers, warts and all.
Let’s discuss the wart right away and move on. Yes, Keanu Reeves’ attempt at a British accent is terrible. But, the rest of the film is so damn great, that it didn’t matter in ‘92 and it doesn’t now. In fact, I’d wager that if Johnny Depp had played Jonathan Harker, in line with the studio’s desires, the love story between Prince Vlad and Mina wouldn’t have worked as well as it does. It is precisely Harker’s wooden demeanor that makes it possible for audiences to understand Mina’s attraction to the far more emotionally expressive lovelorn Dracula. With Depp in the role, Harker would have no doubt been more likeable, reframing the Prince as a lesser competitor. With an unlikeable Harker, we fully get why Mina strays from her fiancé. At the same time, we want to see Dracula find love again. He lost the one thing that mattered most to him in service to his god and feels betrayed. He’s sympathetic. A key component to any classic monster with staying power. Oldman is, as always, resplendent. Further contrasting with past adaptations, neither Harker nor the charismatic Van Helsing are the heroes in this film. It’s Mina’s show. Not only does this acknowledge and continue the rich history of strong female protagonists in the horror and sci-fi genres, but it makes for the most powerful ending of any Dracula film ever made. Mina will love her Prince forever but the means by which she delivers both Vlad and herself to spiritual salvation is brutal. Her one single act with the sword at the film’s conclusion blows the feeble attempts of Harker, Holmwood, Quincy and Dr. Seward out of the water in comparison.
Watching it again in the warm autumn of 2022 in a cinema in London, I relished in both its quiet modernity, and its embrace of old-school technology. I delighted in ever iris wipe and match dissolve all over again. The 4k negative scan is beautiful, bringing to light details in the costumes and sets I never noticed before. Every frame is gorgeous. If the 30th anniversary edition is playing anywhere near you, leave the bar early and see it. See the amazing cinematograph display its images in its most recent digital incarnation. Let it carry you back through a cinematic timeline not only to 1992, but to 1897. Movies like this one never die.