Fortress of Horror 13 - Bram Stoker's Dracula

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Fortress of Horror 13 - Bram Stoker's Dracula
There Will Be Games

We've all become God's madmen, all of us.

Let's cut right to it, Bram Stoker's Dracula is a polarizing movie, and it's not hard to see why.  On the one hand you have some absolutely lush visuals, its positively drenched in atmosphere, and has stellar performances from Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Waits.  You'd be hard pressed to find another film adaptation of the novel that follows its source material so closely.

On the other hand, you have Keanu Reeves.

I read up on the process of making this movie, something I don't usually do, but I found certain elements of it too compelling not to investigate further.  Francis Ford Coopola saw this film as a true period piece and felt that the special effects and editing techniques should match those of the era he was emulating.  He doesn't usually follow storyboards for his pictures, but did so here, going so far as to animating them and editing in scenes from the 1946 French version of Beauty and the Beast.  He showed this to his SFX team, showing them what he wanted his movie to look like, saying that he didn't want to use any modern day computer generated or aided effects.  The SFX team declared the task "impossible," so Coopola fired them.  He brought in a new team and stayed true to his vision, the payoff clearly visible in the beautiful dreamlike quality present throughout the entire film.  Great sets, costumes, and make up complete the visual package, Dracula's bat form being an all-time favorite monster makeup of mine.

And then there's Keanu Reeves, his hair is a different color nearly every time he's on screen.

Oldman's turn as the Count is exactly what he should be in this film, with just the right amounts of sympathy and menace.  There will never be a better Renfield than Tom Waits.  Renfield is such a minor character, but he's iconic to the mythos and Waits is nothing short of definitive.  I love Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing.  He's somewhat emotionally detached from the grisly work he must do, and he adds a level of humor to Van Helsing that you don't often see.

So with so many great actors packed into this thing, WHY IN THE HELL WOULD YOU PUT KEANU REEVES IN IT?  See, I know there's an answer to this, just as their is to his ever changing hair color, but I'm not buying it.  His English accent might, might be the absolute worst accent I have ever heard in any movie, TV show, etc.  Fortunately, most of his role doesn't require him to do much but be flat, but man, whenever he needs to express, well, anything, really, the movie damned near falls apart right then and there.  Oh, and Winona Ryder isn't all that great either.

As it stands, I still think this is my second favorite Dracula movie ever made (first goes to Horror of Dracula), and certainly the best adaptation of it if you're judging it against Bram Stoker's novel.





There Will Be Games
Josh Look (He/Him)
Staff Podcaster

One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for Fortress Ameritrash and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.

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drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #234872 23 Sep 2016 10:09
I'm a Dracula FANATIC. Dracula is my God Damn Spirit Animal.

I bloody love this film. Warts and all. Though over time, I do find the warts more and more troublesome.

As an OBD aside, I own more movie tie-in merchandise for this film than any other pop culture property in my library: Board Game, RPG, Miniatures, Statues, Costume Book, Movie Book, Novelization, Posters, DVDs, soundtrack, Tshirts, Pins, Trading Cards, Comics... LOVE IT ALL.

But here's my wart that I find most problematic. The screen writer, JAMES HART, and his insistence that Dracula is Vlad Tepes. Bram Stoker barely understood the history of the "Son of Dracul." He chose the name 'Dracula' because it sounded good and was rooted in Eastern Europe. Mind you, this is a gross abbreviation of Stoker's research - but I'm sure you F:ATies will forgive me. I'll happily offer references and annotations if you'd like.

Hart takes this nugget of coincidence, which is the same damn thing the Romanian tourist industry does, and goes to town. When anyone claims 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' is a faithful adaptation of the novel - I want to scream like a wolf in the night. I mean, make music. The film hits a lot of correct notes, but Vlad Tepes is NOT the vampire Dracula. And the film's "love never dies" theme is horse shit.

Subsequently, 'Dracula Untold' is rubbish. Though mildly entertaining with beer and pretzels.

I adore the sound, score, art direction, and costuming. It won Oscars for a reason. The constant throw backs to film history and German Expressionism is superb. The acting? Eh. W. R.' s breasts make up for a lot of sins. K. R. should have been cast as Quincy, but I guess marketing powers got their way. A shame. G.O. is awesome, and learning of his frustration with F.F.C. during the shoot is great.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #234877 23 Sep 2016 10:22
I've read the book several times, and I know the movie is not 100% accurate, but I still think it's the most accurate film that I've seen anyway. Quite a bit of it is note for note, but yes, the overall love story focus and Dracula being Vlad Tepes is a very big deviation. Still, for my money those aren't as significant or numerous as deviations made in nearly every other Dracula film ever made. For as many times as the story has been adapted, I'm not sure why somebody hasn't said, "Why don't we just do it as written the book?" Same goes for Frankenstein, which, by the way, the "Mary Shelly's Frankenstein" that surely spun off from this doesn't even come close to amount of charm.

I first watched this movie at way too young an age. I think much of it was way over my head, a couple of scenes downright terrified me, but it's never really left my system in some capacity pretty much since its release. I used to have way more merchandise for it than I do now, but I still have those Topps comic books with the Mike Mignola art.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #234879 23 Sep 2016 10:44
I don't know how much mileage my wife and I have gotten out of impersonated Oldman accents and "You've cut yourself shaving!" but it's a lot.

I'm often one for dumping on a movie for being different from and usually worse than the book if I liked the book, but BSD, I think, succeeds pretty well at what it does, even thematically, though its thematic content (as noted, "love conquers all," is far different from what Stoker had in mind--well, at least in relation to the vampire). Stoker's book was about a lot of things, but probably mostly about Enlightenment and Western values (one of the characters--Lucy Westenra--is even named "the light of the West"). But Stoker's book is also a crackerjack adventure story, and that's what BSD succeeds at best. As for Reeves, I have no idea, really, but only one year later (1993) he would be the worst part about Branaugh's Much Ado about Nothing, so there was apparently something in the air.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #234882 23 Sep 2016 12:32
Bram Stoker's Dracula was almost a great movie. I still like it, even though I have somehow fallen asleep near the end each of the three times that I have seen it.

GOOD: The overall look of the movie is great, and there are some searing moments, like when that large shadow of a crucifix falls across Lucy in the crypt. Several actors turned in fine performances, especially Oldman. The story is good, though not exactly true to Stoker's book. Dracula's manipulation of shadows is eerie and is probably the entire inspiration for the Lasombra clan of the World of Darkness.

BAD: Keanu and Winona shouldn't have been cast in this movie, but were certainly chosen for their popularity at that time. I have liked both of them in other movies, though. The costumes were way over the top at times, distracting a bit from certain scenes. The movie runs a little too long. I suspect the story would have survived the loss of the scenes in London where Oldman is poncing around in a kewl outfit with anachronistic spectacles. And I hate the Lasombra, for being little more than Clan Gary Oldman Dracula.
Black Barney's Avatar
Black Barney replied the topic: #234889 23 Sep 2016 14:27
lol, best review ever. I didn't even remember Keanu having an accent, I can't imagine how bad it must be. I remember Winona was insufferable in this. So sad cuz you have Oldman and Hopkins which are total workhorses in acting. I didn't know Tom Waits was in it. That's awesome.
Ancient_of_MuMu's Avatar
Ancient_of_MuMu replied the topic: #234899 23 Sep 2016 16:29
When a movie has an iconic visual style (e.g. Dracula, 300, Sky Captain) I am willing to forgive most of its sins, so consequently I have a soft spot for this movie. The one thing that does strike me about the awful Keanu Reeves performance is how hard it is to be the relatively bland protagonist amidst other quality characters. This is why I have a lot of respect for actors who have pulled it off (Mark Hamill in Star Wars, Will Wheaton in Stand By Me, among others).
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #234907 23 Sep 2016 20:23
I remember this film being pretty divisive when it came out...might have even gotten panned a little bit. However, a film is a living thing and doesn't just exist in the brief moment when audiences first discover it in theaters. Some films receive stellar reviews only to be largely forgettable many years later. Others films gain traction/followers who apreciate the film later on in the VHS/DVD/Blu Ray market.

Bram Stoker's Dracula falls somewhere in between. I personally believe that time has been very kind to the film overall. Josh mentions many of the creative decisions that Coppola pushed for and those are the reasons the film still matters. Film makers aren't making anything like BSD today....hell they weren't even attempting this shit in the 90s. As such it feels like a very unique experience and despite it's numerous flaws, remains incredibly watchable. The film is visually and sonically pleasing on a level that I just find intensely satisfying. It has an almost operatic sensation to it. If you let the film suck you in and take you on it's grandiose journey it's quite a ride.

Someone at Sony must fucking love this film because it's ALWAYS picked when they unleash some new line that boasts great picture and sound.. I remember them doing it with the "Superbit" DVD version and just last year they did it again with their "Supreme Cinema" Series Blu Ray. It's seems to be one of their favorite movies to show off. Given just how good the movie looks and sounds I can't say I blame them.

I think the movie was sort of derided for it's lavish, almost over the top, style back in the 90s. I remember it being the target of tons of parody and humor. However, in 2016 the film can be removed from that bullshit and seen for what it is. It's a flawed adaption of the book, with mixed performances, but draws you in with it's Gothic pomp, and almost regal production design. This is a film I always like to revisit because I seem to enjoy it more and more as time goes by. As a lover of cinema that is crafted in sound-stages, with make up and practical effects, you know, real movie magic....fuck... they definitely don't make em like this any longer.
stoic's Avatar
stoic replied the topic: #234909 23 Sep 2016 21:30
Of course, this movie is the one that I think of when I think about a dracula movie. But, I'd honestly rather watch Count Dracula (1977), the BBC tv series/movie since it's more faithful to Bram Stoker's book. Second to that, I like the Horror of Dracula (1958) because it stars Christopher Lee.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #234910 23 Sep 2016 21:52
I love this movie without shame. It is so overblown, overwrought and camp that it plays like the apotheosis of the gothic horror style. Coppola just really cut loose with this one, I think it's his most unrestrained film other than Apocalypse Now. It's grand guignol on a big scale, and it remains one of very, very few EPICS that the horror genre has produced. It's very telling, I think, that most criticism of the film starts and stops with Keanu Reeves...who wasn't miscast, necessarily...he was just kind of out of his league and it makes him stick out horribly among the other players.

The whole Vlad Tepes thing is pretty dumb and it sort of steers the story in the wrong directions (like Drew said- James V. Hart) but I think that it needed all of that to keep it from becoming the sort of Victorian parlor room drama that gothic horror can come across as (witness Browning's take on it). Fisher had the good sense to put Van Helsing in a fistfight with Dracula at the end, at least. But the phony history gives the story a scope it doesn't even have in the book...which is essentially about a shady real estate purchase, an infested cargo ship, miffed rich folks, and various restrained sexual impulses and not much else.

There are some pretty creaky bits (Dracula hanging out in London, like Steve said) but when this movie is firing on all cylinders, it really is sort of one of a kind. I also think it has been a very influential film over the years, any time someone tries to resurrect a classic movie monster they tend to go the same route of trying to give it a larger scale- The Mummy, Wolf Man, etc.

But yeah...this was definitely a 1990s film through and through on every level...I remember waiting in line for like two hours to see it opening night with my first real girlfriend on one of our first dates.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #234917 24 Sep 2016 10:40
I've never seen that BBC series...I'll have took into it.

"Parlor room drama." Perfect description of where the Universal movie falls short for me. When I was a kid, much of watching a monster movie was the wait to see the monster, especially true with Universal pictures because the makeup was so fucking good. Most of the time I had no problem with the slow build in those old movies, the color version of Phantom of the Opera being the only one that broke my patience. Yet Dracula was weird, you see him and his castle in all it's creepy glory right out of the gate. But that was a movie I could rarely sit through as a kid, and I struggle to do so as an adult as well. Nothing compares to those first scenes with Renfield at the castle, and for iconic as Lugosi's performance is, that set is the star of the movie. Once that stuff is over, I check out shortly thereafter. How much talking about how you're going to kill Dracula do you need? Hell, he even comes over at some point and all they can do is taunt him with some "we know you're a vampire" shit. The Spanish version is better, certainly better special effects and much...sexier, but it still feels way too damned long.