"You think to baffle me, you with your pale faces all in a row, like sheep in a butcher's. You shall be sorry yet, each one of you! You think you have left me without a place to rest, but I have more. My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side. Your girls that you all love are mine already. And through them you and others shall yet be mine, my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed. Bah!"
So I finished watching Bram Stoker's Dracula at last. As rushthatspeaks suggests, the whole film may be a prank on Coppola's part, but I find it all riveting because of the way it keeps being an engaging vampire movie for five or ten minutes at a time. I keep getting into it, enjoying the sexual tension and the creepy predator-prey dynamic and the psychological thrills and the weep-for-the-devil tragedy, and then BAM, rubber bat! blood geyser! ripoff from The Exorcist! And the actual Dracula fans in the audience sit back and go, "Yep, it's mood-killin' time."
Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and Richard E. Grant act their asses off; they're completely committed to their characters, and that's a beautiful thing. Hopkins as Van Helsing is the only one obviously trying for camp and irony, ranting, cackling, and humping Quincey Morris's leg. He has a rather dashing scar crossing one eye-socket, and a grisly sense of humor most likely earned in the shadow of death. Mina finds him more disturbing and off-putting than "Prince Vlad," who poses the real danger to her. Bookverse!Van Helsing looks a lot like Hopkins does here, in fact: a "sick old buzzard" as Morris calls him in the film. He makes crude jokes to people who have just been violated by Dracula, not because he's cruel but because he's clueless enough to think they'll find it funny. He roars with laughter, claps his hands, and weeps openly when he and the rest of Team Human are grieving at Lucy's death.
He violates holy relics with sketchy excuses. "I have a dispensation," he says as he grinds Communion wafers to powder, mixing them into a kind of holy grout to pack into a crack and prevent vampires oozing through in the form of smoke. In my limited understanding of Catholicism, a dispensation is when the Church bends the usual rules for you in a case of special need. They have to know what they're granting, whether it's permission to eat meat during Lent, to remarry, or to take holy orders despite being born out of wedlock. I am kind of pretty sure that Abraham Van Helsing didn't go to a bishop and say, "I want to take these wafers, which we believe are the body of Christ, and use them as anti-vampire Kryptonite. May I grind them up, put them on the ground, and rub them on people's faces?" But this is yet another area where Stoker didn't do his research and the book is all the better for it; Van Helsing is using poorly understood religion as a form of practical magic, and the book never pauses long enough to let you think twice about its righteousness.
(And thus did Stoker pave the way for a century-plus of horror-novel characters chucking Hosts and holy water around like you could buy them at Tedeschi's.)
Gary Oldman continues sexy. If I didn't convey that in my last post, let me do so now: he's not only dishy enough to get away with a moustache and a soul tuft, he's a skilled enough actor to make me forget all about his aged, hideous, bewigged phase, when he's in his young, shirtless, sparklyvamp phase. (He still has the long nails, but they're filed and clean, thank god.) And "actor" is the key word. By the time Dracula jumps into bed with Mina, Oldman's giving the sense of alienage, someone out of his own time and place, by using an outdated, non-realistic acting style. In fact, he's a nineteenth-century tragedian. Watch his body language when he finally owns up to being Tze Monster That Breathing Men Vould Kill. He hangs his head, refuses eye contact, and thrusts up a grandiose hand to stave off interruption: "Hear me!" Oldman is playing Henry Irving playing Dracula. No idea whether this was actually a decision on the actor's part, but that's how it comes across.
Check out some pictures of Irving. Look at those dark dreamboat eyes; admire that lithe body language and the way his entire physical frame conveys an emotion; cower in dread as his Shylock stares right into your soul. These days scholars of Dracula tend to call him Stoker's model for the Count. I am very leery of the kind of lit crit which says, "X was based on Y. End of story." It's usually a witless oversimplification. However, sometimes it's useful. To be sure, Stoker was Irving's theatre manager for 27 years, and if he wasn't a Renfield he may have been a Jonathan Harker at some point.
On a side note: Dracula fulfils the role of Dionysus. Has there ever been scholarship comparing the vampire and the god? The post-Dracula literary vampire's assault on the civilized world is a lot like Dionysus' destruction of the royal house of Thebes from the inside out in The Bacchae. I can name a lot of strong parallels without thinking twice, and I'm sure the classicists among us could do better. Let me see.
--Getting the obvious out of the way: they both induce bizarre phagia ("Rats! Rats!") and provoke overblown comparisons between blood and wine.
--They have passed through death and dissolution.
--They appear as animals (rats, wolves, bats; bulls, leopards, goats). Possibly different: they create animal illusions around themselves. ("Waitaminute. There are three palaces. You've got the head of a bull. Guess I'm drunker than I thought...")
--They'll turn your good girls bad. Vampires pervert women into sucking the blood out of cute kids and Dionysus will make you come home in your mother's arms.
--All the girls are crazy for them. Both in-universe and metafictionally speaking.
--They both tend to remind present-day writers and critics of Jesus, in a gross sort of way, or else evoke the Antichrist. Christian imagery sits awkwardly on them, but no one can leave it alone.
--Dracula and Dionysus come from the East. I don't pretend to understand how a god comes to be, but from what little I've read on this, all cults of Dionysus claim he comes from "the East," and from far enough away to be Outside Over There. Apparently everybody claims the god came from the East, even when there's no evidence of Dionysian rites existing east of a given site. Dracula, of course, comes from the land beyond the forest, where he's bored with illiterate peasants. They're foreign invaders, here to conquer new lands, boff your women, and pop your starched collars off.
--They attack men via women. Dionysus in the Euripedes play doesn't have to kill Pentheus himself; he can stand aside and laugh while [OMG SPOILER] Agave does it. Dracula apparently plans to vampirize Mina and Lucy, then stand back and watch the vampocalypse unfold throughout England. (And then what? Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)
There's nothing new under the sun. Other people have had this idea; a desultory Google shows me a brief mention in The City in Literature by Richard Lehan, and the introduction to another book, Vampires or Gods? by William Meyers. And yes, I know that by the same simple method of comparison I could claim brotherhood between Dracula and Elvis or Dionysus and Charlie Chaplin. I think it's still a striking parallel. Someone who is scholarly and who is not me should take this matter up at length.