Monday, March 23, 2015

Brandon Engel wants to explain why Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is the greatest vampire tale to light up the silver screen

Today, my friend (and fellow author) Brandon Engel is guest posting. He's going to talk about why Francis Ford Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is the greatest vampire tale to light up the silver screen. And if you have the time please be sure to check out these other articles written by Brandon in the past:

Today Brandon Engel remembers legendary writer Ray Bradbury for the magician he was

Today author Brandon Engel reminds you of why Arthur C. Clarke is considered one of the Deans of Science Fiction

And please check out my interview I did with Brandon's permission back in October 2014

Got twitter? You can follow Brandon @BrandonEngel2
Greatest Vampire Movie? You’ll Never Guess Our Pick!

Get together with any ten random horror geeks and the subject of vampires will inevitably pop up. But what about Dracula? When it comes to old fang-face himself, he's been done to death in film media. And somebody always starts the debate about which Dracula movie is the best. You can raise shocked gasps all around by simply dropping the title:

Bram Stoker's Dracula. Yes, the 1992 one. What could provoke such a claim?

In the first place, the star power has to count for something. This is Francis Ford Coppola directing and if The Godfather doesn't impress you, check out The Conversation sometime for an unknown gem. Coppola has even recently stated that both The Conversation and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were quite artistic films in an interview on The Director’s Chair on the El Rey Network (details here). This is evident in all aspects of the film, including the spectacular performances by the actors and actresses who portrayed the classic characters.
Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola
The big bat himself is played by none less than Gary Oldman. Take his Zorg from The Fifth Element or his Mason Verger from Hannibal and tell us he can't carry off a villain protagonist role. The rest of the cast is so stellar you almost forget Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder are in this.

But so much for name-dropping. What about the classic Dracula film canon? Surely Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee have claim to the best Dracula! Or even Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu, surely Gary Oldman can't hold up a cape to that infamous portrayal?

Yes, but stop and think about those films. We all love the poster but very few of us actually love the movie. As much as the Goth crowd has adopted Nosferatu on a T-shirt, very few of them can actually sit through the whole film. Try it sometime. You'll begin to realize after the first forty minutes that all the classic depictions of vampires are slow, plodding, drawn-out affairs paced like a chess match. The UK Dracula might be the most famous but UK horror films (especially of that era) tend to be dry affairs with long conversations in drawing rooms and not much biting going on anywhere. Classic Dracula is held back, restrained, and wrung out of every drop of passion.
I love Gary Oldman's unbelievably creepy wig.
Coppola's movie gets the story moving more in pace with modern audience expectations. At the same time, Coppola is one director who has done his homework. There's references to everything from Elizabeth Bathory (the bath-in-blood countess) to Vlad the Impaler (great fun at parties) here. Coppola follows the Stoker novel faithfully almost to a fault and yet captures it all with fresh intensity. This is important because it brings us back to what makes Dracula scary in the first place: the fact that he's a myth bred directly from the real life doings of famously savage people. Too often the classics of literature are performed with stiff respect by people who don't quite grasp why the material is important. Coppola starts with how legends of vampires hit people back when they first started and captures the spirit from there.

Dracula, here, has a backstory that makes sense, romanticism in his portrayal, a passionate motive for doing what he does, and ten times as much macho as the leading sparkly Twilight brand. With the exception of Keanu Reeves playing his usual drone, the parties concerned are confident with their job, almost panting with passion to bring their vision to the screen. And what does Gary Oldman get for his trouble? The fans complain that he's over the top.

Listen, if you think this is over the top, you'd probably also hate Al Pacino for his turn as Lucifer in The Devil's Advocate. When you're playing a larger-than-life mythic character who's been around for centuries, you'd better go over the top. Hammy is the only way you'll be remembered. Otherwise you're yet another dull high school drama club doing the stage version. The audience will politely clap at the end and move on to forget everything you said about the character fifteen minutes later. But if you pull out some stops and remind us that being an immortal bloodsucker who doesn't have to play by our rules is fun, you'll be remembered. Would the real-life Dracula care if we accused him of being a ham? No, he'll still be here a century from now when the rest of us are pretty much maggot chow.

Gary Oldman was the best Dracula. Try it on for size. He deserves some credit for at least making Dracula less wooden than the coffin he sleeps in for a change.


Thank you, Brandon.

Folks I'm taking off until next Wednesday's Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Good luck with the launch of A to Z you blogging fiends out there!


  1. I enjoyed that version and thought Oldman did a great job.
    Yes, it's about to get crazy around here with the Challenge...

  2. The stupid thing is calling it "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and then completely ignoring most of Bram Stoker's material. Read the book and then watch the movie if you don't believe me.

    1. I thought it was a fairly decent adaptation. I have read the book.

  3. I thought it was pretty good, actually. I didn't LOVE it, but I'd give it a solid B.

  4. It's a great movie, but I'm not sure it's the greatest vampire movie. I mean, as a child of the 80s, i will always have a soft spot for The Lost Boys. And i do really enjoy Interview With a Vampire

  5. I remember enjoying this movie, even though I'm not deep into vampire lore.

  6. Considering I've read Stoker's 'Dracula' probably about 60 times (first time when I was 8), hopefully my opinion counts when I say I completely agree that this is the best movie version :)

  7. I haven't seen that version, but I'll try catching it. I'll always love the original 1931 flick, but I'm sure it's not that faithful to the book. And one of these days I'll also read the book.

  8. It's definitely paced for a modern audience. And the effects are better (that's what hampers some older versions). I guess it's just I'm on vampire fatigue, so I won't get all excited about it.

  9. Supporting cast was awful, and the dialogue needed a rewrite. Gary Oldman is good in almost everything he's in.