Have you ever watched a film you remember loving when you were younger or a movie your parents would not stop raving about how good it was when they first watched it and think to yourself “Wow – is it just me or did this film did not age well?”
Whether it be for aesthetic reasons, humor that is outdated, or just changes in tastes, this is a phenomenon that happens to all of us. This concept has come to fascinate me recently and I have started to purposely rewatch movies that I have not seen in years that I remember enjoying and examining them without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia to see if the feelings still hold true.
That, my dear readers, is the concept behind this new series: to go back and examine films that were big hits on their initial release or are considered cult classics by today’s standards and see if they do indeed stand the Test Of Time.
For this premiere entry, I decided that in honor of the Halloween season and the 25th anniversary of this film, I would reexamine the Francis Ford Coppola Gothic-horror love-story – Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
When the film was originally released in 1992, many in Hollywood felt that Francis Ford Coppola’s vision was….well, nuts. In building his Dracula, Coppola took elements not only from the original novel but from earlier film adaptations, such as the the classic Bela Lugosi film, Nosferatu, the Hammer Horror films and even the 1974 made-for-TV Dan Curtis classic with Jack Palance as Dracula! He combined these tributes with erotic visions of blood and sex.
The highly-stylized ideas and hyper-sexual nature of the film made many at Columbia Pictures predict this film would be a box-office bomb. However, Coppola still had power in Hollywood at the time due to the recent success of The Godfather III, so the film was green-lit. The film was not only a success but it also won three Academy Awards (Best Make-Up, Best Costume Design and Best Sound Editing) and it made Gary Oldman a household name. It also inspired goths everywhere to invade Hot Topic in the hopes of recreating the appearancs of both Mina and Dracula.
Does it hold up in the year 2017? While there are a few things that still stand out as very well done, overall the answer is no. But before we tear this film down faster than an angry drag queen facing a bigot, let us explore the elements of the film that do still work.
Dracula is still stunning in terms of its visuals and sounds. The movie is just as beautiful as it was back in 1992, evoking not only the look and feel of both the Hammer Horror films of the 1960’s and the grand scale of the early Universal Monster films but also giving us a Gothic fairy tale come to life. The costumes earned the Oscar they won. The make-up effects still hold up today (especially the half-man/half-bat look Dracula has at one point) and the musical score is still lush and grand. Annie Lennox’s ending credits song, Love Song For A Vampire, is still as melancholic and beautiful as it was when it was first played, evoking the tone of the film’s intent perfectly.
The main element that truly stands out is Gary Oldman’s performance. Prior to this film, he was mainly known for his portrayals of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy and Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK. Dracula not only brought Oldman acclaim and fame but it made Hollywood realize how versatile he was as an actor. His performance as Dracula is still as grand and sweeping as the lush sets and costumes. Yes, his hair still looks like a butt at one point (an element that was endlessly parodied for years) but his presence on-screen was commanding and fun to watch.
The acting from the rest of the cast is… not good, honestly. Anthony Hopkins, who won an Oscar in 1991 for playing Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs, plays the vampire hunter Van Helsing with all the subtlety of Miss Piggy doing Shakespeare. He is far too manic and comedic. Winona Ryder is similarly comical in her attempts to seduce Van Helsing. She tries to be sexy but her attempt seems forced and awkward.
When it comes to bad acting, however, one cannot get past the Keanu in the room. Keanu Reeves was woefully miscast as Jonathan Harker and while his acting did get better in time, he still had the emoting ability of a sponge at this point in his career. In the scenes where he is being seduced by the vampire brides, instead of being scared yet turned on, he seems to be annoyed at getting a boner. Another issue is Reeves’ inability to produce a British accent, which leads to some of the films most laughable moments.
Talking of the vampire brides, another element of the film that hasn’t aged well is its attempts at eroticism. While this movie was not the first time Dracula was portrayed as a sexual being, the execution left much to be desired. To give one example, the aforementioned scene with Keanu leads up to blood squirting out of Jonathan Harker’s nipple like milk from a cow teat. It’s jarring and makes one wonder why Coppola felt anyone would find this exciting. The greatest example of awkward hyper-sexuality comes where the ill-fated Lucy sleepwalks her way through a hedge-maze only to be sexed up by Dracula, who at this point is half-man and half-wolf. Winona Ryder’s look of confusion mirrored my own.
Can I still recommend this film? I would say yes if you have never seen it before and are curious and are only renting it. I would warn you, however to prepare yourself for a film that hasn’t aged well in most respects. In my opinion, Dracula has not held up to The Test Of Time.