Bram Stoker’s Dracula review – Gary Oldman is Pierrot from hell in blood-red 90s take
Francis Ford Coppola’s vampire tale is now revived in cinemas for its 30th anniversary, with Gary Oldman the fierce and anguished count who hundreds of years ago renounced God and embraced an eternity of parasitic horror in his rage at the unjust death of his countess (played by Winona Ryder). Dressed like the Pierrot from hell in his vast Transylvanian castle, Dracula then buys property in Victorian London, and appears there in the style of a sinister young dandy, on the scent of a woman who looks exactly like his late wife: the winsome Mina (Ryder again), fiancee to the equally demure young lawyer who journeyed to Romania to draw up Dracula’s contracts: Jonathan, played by Keanu Reeves.
This Dracula isn’t from Coppola’s great 70s/80s period, but it has a melodramatic and operatic energy and draws on the look and feel of Hollywood’s pre-Code salaciousness and the silent movie madness of Nosferatu – though the expressionist shadows are blood-red, not black. And it’s also notable for having a cast of male actors who could each quite plausibly play Dracula: Anthony Hopkins, Richard E Grant, Keanu Reeves, and Cary Elwes. Hopkins is Professor Van Helsing, who is to school his young friends in the ways of vampire-killing: Hopkins has great fun with the black comic craziness of the role. Reeves plays Jonathan with that innocent, faintly torpid calm which audiences would come to know and love for the next three decades. Grant is troubled Dr Seward, tending both to Mina and her super-sexy best friend Lucy (Sadie Frost) who is to embrace Dracula. Tom Waits has an eccentric performance as the tormented lawyer Renfield, who dealt with Dracula before Jonathan, and whose moral weakness and vulnerability to temptation made him Dracula’s slave. Monica Bellucci appears as one of Dracula’s three brides, writhing in a state of softcore undress around Keanu Reeves, a moral ordeal which turns his hair a fetching shade of grey.
Coppola’s brash movie feels more fun now than it did 30 years ago, and Oldman’s performance is outstanding. The movie has interesting echoes of The Silence of the Lambs, which had come out the year before, with its dangerous people locked up; but when the count has scruples about condemning Mina to an eternity of vampiric thirst, the film appears to prefigure the romantic world of Twilight. The stylised cinematography from Michael Ballhaus and production design from Thomas Sanders both look great. There’s nothing anaemic about this Dracula. But is it recognisably the work of the director who created The Godfather? Perhaps – though it was a few years later that Abel Ferrara with his films The Addiction and The Funeral brought together the ideas of vampirism and gangsterism, both concerning lost souls.
• Bram Stoker’s Dracula is released on 7 October in cinemas.