We all know Dracula. From Blacula to Doctor Dracula, the iconic antagonist has taken on many forms on the big screen in a frightening amount of spinoffs and adaptations. While these cinematic puns are acceptable and at times a guilty pleasure, when making a movie of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, one has to expect a certain amount of authenticity. Just as Dracula, the progenitor of all vampires has power over his victims, Bram Stoker’s original tale is the bible on all matters of the fictional character Count Dracula. Unfortunately, Francis Ford Coppola’s screen adaptation of Stoker’s book turns out to be just as hokey and trumped-up as any other movie cashing in on Stoker’s night-prowling incarnation.
The pages cut out of the movie are far too many to site. Suffice it to say that a handful of characters; a load of monologues and introspection; and entire scenes were totally ignored. This has serious side-effects to the accuracy of the film. But, the biggest change, by far, is the shift in theme and moral of the tale. The movie is a love story, and the book is a horror story. This alteration is incomprehensible and unforgivable-at least in my eyes.
The only reason I can think of for this shift is because, well, sex sells. And let’s face it-you can’t expect much in the T&A department from a book publish in the late 1800s, but the movie makes the convenient changes to open space for some girl-on-girl kissing, vampiress fantasies, and even beastiality. Coppola must have had a very interesting childhood with some of the scenes he dreamed up here. The most affection shown in the book is a pledge of friendship after three gentlemen callers are shot down by Lucy, England’s finest debutante and Dracula’s first victim on English soil. Stoker didn’t even allow a kiss after two characters marry! There are many, many more minor additions of unnecessary sexuality.
But if the humans characters in the book are depicted as prude, Dracula’s libido is comparable to that of a cadaver. He doesn’t seduce women; he doesn’t gush over heroine Mina Harker, and he’s not depressed. Stoker never gave insight into why or how Dracula came to be Undead, and perhaps if he knew that his work would be pilfered on a regular basis he would have solidified the genesis of the character, but Coppola’s Dracula has all the characteristics of a horny, balcony climbing, crybaby, bipolar teenager. In the book he is a true scoundrel; a fiend; the epitome of evil. Why mess with that?
One particular scene that didn’t make the final edit which could have been interesting were from Lucy’s romp as a young vampiress. The “bloofer lady” scenes are described as a pale woman calling young children at night and returning them to their families with tiny bite marks on their necks. Every night the children can’t wait for the bloofer lady to come, and the incidents became a common occurrence in newspapers. Lucy also had more than one encounter with Van Helsing in the cemetery, which were packed with suspense. The film saw fit to only show Lucy’s decapitation and exorcism.
One necessary change in the movie is giving Dracula a physical presence. The book thoroughly documents Dracula’s impact on other characters, but he is caught clasped to a victim’s throat only once. Nonetheless, his presence is felt, though not seen. He is more of a phantom or silhouette then flesh and blood. Readers are clued in after he has gone and victims are suffering from blood loss, or a villager clues us into the Count’s scheme as a third party. Obviously when you pay for your ticket you want to see the villain, and making him present is a necessary evil.
However, in giving Dracula his due on the big screen, Coppola decided to paint him with strange colors. He made him into several man-sized creatures, including a green bat (which looked totally cool); a Bigfoot-esque grizzly bear thing, an army of rats, and more. Stoker gives him the power of shape-shifting, and we see him as fog, a bat, and a wolf-but in far subtler ways. We never see the book’s Dracula attack anybody as an animal, though that is present in the movie, but this is subjectively acceptable, so I’ll leave it at that.
Moving onto other miscues, Van Helsing’s depiction in the flick is more of a madman than a scientist. The problem is that Van Helsing truly is an eccentric skirting on the fringe of genius and lunacy, but what the movie misses often is the reason behind his rhyme-explanations to all of the far-fetched drama the characters are embroiled in. Lucy’s death is bobbled. This comes from cutting her mother out of the movie; who actually adds morbidity to the household and a presence of looming death. Jonathan Harker is almost eliminated from the movie-and he is, if anybody, the main character of the book. Perhaps the ill-casted Keanu Reeve’s butchered Harker’s scenes beyond recovery, who knows. Quincey Morris, Arthur Goldamig, John Seward, and Renfield were casted and performed well.
Don’t get me wrong, Coppola’s movie has its moments: the production and special effects are bar-none for the time-period; and Gary Oldham (Dracula) and Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing) are brilliant. But overall, when issuing a movie as an author’s, you cannot change the message of the story and strip the characters of their true selves. If Coppola had removed Stoker’s name from the title, I would have no gripe with the decisions he made and my opinion would be far different. But, why alter a classic? The sheer egotism of the matter burns me up.