Friday, March 20, 2015

The Best Dracula Film of All Time


By Brandon Engel - There are countless Dracula films in existence, but the best of the bunch has got to be Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It combines all the of best aspects of classic Dracula films, and it weaves biographical pieces real-life figures like Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory into its narrative. It also acknowledges Dracula’s place within the history of the development of cinema.

It’s only healthy that you resist this suggestion. Indulge me here a minute, though.

The Problem With Classic Dracula Films

Sure, Tod Browning’s Dracula from 1931 with Bela Lugosi is important iconic in terms of the history of horror films; however, that version is not nearly as entertaining for a modern audience. It was based on the 1924 play penned by Hamilton Deane, and the cinema style reflects this. Bear in mind that the film was produced when films with speaking parts were still called "talkies". Certain shots are held for minutes on end. Consider the rapid fire cutting of contemporary cinema. To the modern viewer this style would look no different than if someone recorded a Broadway play with a professional camera. Film, as an artistic medium, was still in its infancy.

Christopher Lee was an exceptional Dracula. Sure. However, he was the best part of those classic Hammer Dracula films though, which are predictable, and have the tendency to plod on and on. Those films are also visually striking, but the pacing doesn’t hold up.

Why Coppola's Version is the Best

So in determining that the Coppola film is the best, one of the things I’m gauging is the film’s relevance to modern culture. I’m also considering the sophistication of the cinematic devices used. Both versions of Nosferatu (whether we’re discussing the black and white F.W. Murnau version or the Werner Herzog version from the late seventies) are superb, but Coppola’s film surpasses them both. Coppola’s film employs more complex visual trickery, and it takes liberties with the narrative arch in a way that neither Nosferatu film did. There are many aspects of Herzog’s Nosferatu that did clearly

Today's audience craves fast-paced action and special effects from their horror films, something that Coppola's version delivers on both accounts. Coppola also introduces trickery that the earlier films did not, through montage and even puppetry in one memorable sequence.

What sets Coppola's version apart from the others is his faithfulness to the original text while also incorporating his own spin on the story through historical legends. An example of this is the opening opening scene. The narrator explains how Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler, was a member of the Order of the Dracul. This society was dedicated to protect Christianity in Romania from invading Muslim Turks after the fall of Constantinople. He's a “pious man” dedicated to “serving God in battle,” until he returns from battle to find that his wife Elisabeta committed suicide because she feared he was dead. He feels abandoned by God and renounces his faith, stabbing Christ on the cross and drinking the blood that secretes from the stone. This act is what turns him into Dracula, the immortal monster.

This scene as an entirely new layer to Dracula's character, as it gives him more depth than the typical horror-movie monster. It allows the audience to sympathize with Dracula, since all of his actions are ultimately driven by his desire to reunite with his true love. What’s more, the bit about Dracula having been a political/military leader in the past adds something new to his character profile.

Why Gary Oldman Was the Best Dracula

Gary Oldman beats out the likes of Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski for a couple of reasons. The first is that Oldman brings a sexual, alpha male energy that is lacking in the performances of Lugosi and Kinski. Both Lugosi and Kinski were masters of the odd and creepy portrayal of Dracula, going for the repulsive monster angle. Kinski was more sympathetic than Lugosi, but he was still sort of like a pathetic sewer rat. On the other hand, Oldman conveys from the opening scene that his Dracula is a tortured soul driven by a desperate desire to reunite with his wife. It is for this reason that Mina and Lucy both find the Count alluring. Oldman brings a human element to Dracula that is lacking from Lugosi and Kinski.

What’s more: the Dracula character undergoes a significant transformation in this film. Sure, there were sequences of the Browning version where trickery is employed to make it appear that Lugosi transformed into a bat, but that is hardly a testament to Lugosi’s abilities as an actor. Oldman can alternate between ages seamlessly.

Convinced?

Dracula is probably a permanent fixture of pop culture. But have I not persuaded you that Coppola’s film is best? Perhaps you should gauge for yourself. The Coppola film can be streamed off of Netflix, and the Tod Browning Dracula shows all the time on stations like Turner Classic Movies (here for details about local showtimes). Compare and contrast them for yourself.

Which vampire film is your personal favorite?


Dracula

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times

In the Shadow of Empires: The historic Vlad Dracula, the events he shaped and the events that shaped him

In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires


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