BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA
(Columbia TriStar, rated R, 1992)
What is it about the Dracula story that continues to fascinate audiences?
There are no moral or ethical questions posed as in the equally overproduced Frankenstein saga.
Do women really see eternal life in a hellish environment with a suave bloodsucking bat as a romantic concept?
Apparently so, because it wasn't just teen-age boys -- the primary horror-film demographic -- that catapulted this film to box office earnings of more than $75 million last fall.
Yet, unlike the 1979 remake starring handsome Frank Langella, this one stars the decidedly less attractive Gary Oldman. And one would think his twin party hat-like hairdo would be a real turnoff, even to 19th-century English women. But, no, not even his drooling monster incarnations seem to discourage his admirers.
Of course, the special effects here are superior to prior installments. But few reach spectacular status.
About the only intriguing new element in this version is the prologue, which establishes Dracula's motivation and his undying (and that is a serious commitment in this case) love for his woman (Winona Ryder), which he has a chance to prove centuries later when he meets her look-alike reincarnation in England. This provides the audience some sympathy for his character.
Anthony Hopkins is enjoyable as a frank-speaking doctor who is intrigued by the metaphysical aspects of the situation and volunteers to act as an exorcist. And his lack of tact at the dinner table describing the grisly details of a beheading provides the film's only laugh.
There are, however, problems with the film that provide some unintentional laughs. When it comes time to have Dracula wander the streets of London in the daylight -- something even a novice vampire-movie viewer knows is against the rules -- a narrator justifies the scene by informing the audience that it is only a popular misconception that vampires can't be seen in the daytime. (Yet, later, an entire chase scene revolves around Dracula being unable to function until the sun goes down. Go figure.)
It is also puzzling to understand why Dracula doesn't put on his best face -- literally -- when he is wooing his lady love. He is constantly wearing his old-man guise even though he can easily re-create his less-off-putting young warrior image.
But the biggest mistake was the addition of a totally unnecessary character played by Tom Waits. Too many times the flow of the story is disrupted by cutaways to this bizarre man in a lunatic asylum who lives in fear of the wrath of the satanic Dracula.
Die-hard fans and laserdisc owners will want to consider viewing laserdisc versions of this film. Columbia has an edition for $39.95 that includes a featurette on the making of the film. The Voyager Company has assembled its own version, which includes running commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola, detailed descriptions of the special effects, footage taken from rehearsals and a history of the Dracula legend.