I have quite a few movies I consider my favorites; “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Untouchables”, “JFK”, “Legends of the Fall”, “Tombstone”, “A River Runs Through It”,and “Last of the Mohicans”, to name a few. High on the list is Francis Ford Coppola’s take on “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Far from being a horror movie this has always struck me as a tragic love story. I know, I know. Dracula is a blood sucking vampire. But he wasn’t born that way. In this film he is a Prince, a warrior, and a loving husband. It is his grief over the suicide and loss of his wife, Princess Elisabeta that drives him to renounce God and go on a murderous rampage across centuries.
Dracula is brilliantly played by Gary Oldman, whose accent alone can stir the heart of any hot blooded female. Betrayed by the church he was defending when the Princess took her life, told her soul is irredeemably lost, he curses the God who has separated them. If he can’t have her in heaven, damn it he’ll have her in hell. In truth it is the priest who says she is doomed to hell. God never gets a say in the matter. But Dracula has made his decision, and off he goes to drain the ladies, (and men and children), of his domain dry.
However when pickings get slim he opts to broaden his horizons and head to London where the burgeoning populace will afford him a wider range of blood types to sample. Although the activity of a blood sucking vampire is implied to be a physical hunger like one you might have for pizza or Chinese take out, I have always felt the hunger he experiences is sexual. He is hungry for the touch of a lover, a spouse, a romantic liaison. Otherwise why would he have three brides and be in the market to increase his harem? We know he isn’t Mormon. Nor is he a Middle Eastern sheik. He’s just a lonely guy who got the rug pulled out from under him by his enemies and his church.
The casting in the Coppola film is nothing if not curious. I understood Oldman at once. The man is a positive genius is every role he plays. Who could ever forget his pill popping Stansfield in The Professional, or his Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy or my particular favorite, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK? More currently we have Commissioner Gordon in the Batman movies. But what was going through Coppola’smind when he cast Winona Ryder as Mina Harker? Or even less likely, Keanu Reeves as Jonathon Harker? I love those actors, don’t get me wrong. But they just don’t fit the parts. Anthony Hopkins is over the top as both the Prince’s priest and as Van Helsing. However I always though Van Helsing was a few pints short of a gallon (Like that liquid measurement reference?) so I could go with it. And after all he is the ultimate Hannibal Lecter, so okay. I even got a good giggle out of Tom Waits as Renfield. He actually did a great job as the crazed, bug eating protégé of Dracula.
The stunning Sadie Frost as Mina’s friend Lucy, Dracula’s British bride, is not only a delight to look at, she is passionate, funny, and wonderfully naughty.
The soundtrack for the film is perfect. Heck I even confess to being touched by Annie Lennox singing The Vampire Love Song over the closing credits. I guess what I’m trying to say is this; if you view Coppola’s Dracula as a horror film you’re missing one hell of a love story. Forget Romeo and Juliet because those teens knew nothing of the passion and angst Dracula experiences when losing the love of his life not once but twice.
Maybe I’m looking for love in all the wrong places. However I found undying love here, in the embrace of Dracula and Mina when she pleads, “Take me away from all this death”. As she lasciviously sucks the blood from the open cut in his chest, he throws back his head and growls in ecstasy. What says I’ll love you forever better than that?