Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Lost in Adaptation

Can it be that even Francis Ford Coppola can’t make a decent adaptation? Stock up on garlec folks, The Dom’s looking at Dracula.

About The Dom

Reviewer of games, TV shows and movies. The Dom also likes to look at film adaptations of books and talk about what got lost transitioning from page to screen.

41 comments

  1. Loved the book (though I’ve only had the chance to read it once so far), and while I’ve heard of this particular adaptation I haven’t seen it outside of the Simpsons parody; I didn’t even realize Keanu was in it. XÞ

    Bit of a tangent, I’m reminded that the novel is the reason I decided to give my primary vampire character red eyes instead of her original violet (though I can’t recall why I then changed her hair from violet to blonde [to brunette-dyed-blonde]), unless it was to simply not rip off “Neurotically Yours”).

  2. I have not seen the movie OR read the book. Like most women, my first exposure to vampires was fanfic and then Twilight. LOL.

    • “Most women” are older than their early 20s.

    • Speak for yourself? Sorry to be rude, but I’m only in my thirties and I most assuredly found vampires through horror and fantasy books/movies that weren’t Twilight. Mind you, I’ve never read Dracula either… I think I tried once, but it just didn’t grab me. Beyond that, there was plenty of sexy vampire stuff in popular culture, but I never really liked vampires as much as I liked werewolves and other monsters/fantasy races (even when it comes to porn…) I’m not sure if that’s because my sexy vampire experiences were more limited, during my adolescence, or because I find blood squicky. Regardless, I kind of doubt finding Twilight in my formative years would have changed anything, because my preferences have always been a little off-kilter, but I’ll never know for sure. It’s always hard to have good taste when you’re young and generally inexperienced about life; ignorance breeds a lack of refinement. No one is safe from that entirely, and even when we’re older, there are such things as guilty pleasures.

      For the record, I’ve only seen Twilight with the Rifftrax playing. I think? It left such a small impression that I know I saw the commercials for it, but I’m not even sure I saw the whole thing via Rifftrax! And I’ve read a few excerpts of Twilight, but only with some critical commentary applied to it, so not the whole thing and always through a filter. Nonetheless, it never grabbed me, so I haven’t bothered paying either the books or the movies proper attention.

      Of course, I realize that I may not be most women, but… you know. That kind of generalization often triggers a reactive response when opinions differ. I… I realize I’ve said next to nothing, but I will be heard! Peace… ;P

    • you are joking righ? I hope you are, otherwise, speak for yourself.

    • That’s not what my first introduction to vampires was…

  3. Sorry but the book being non sexual?!? It’s the posterboy for victoran sexual hang ups. It’s one big fat portrait of sexual neurosis from cover to cover.

    • I have a theory that it’s not.

      I think we’re putting our own modern thoughts into it instead of seeing it how Stoker imagined it.

      It’s like the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and how everyone NOW calls it a date rape song, not considering that in the era it was composed a woman could not flat out say “Yes” and in fact, several times in the song, she DOES say “yes” just in a round about way. She’s playing “hard to get” to keep herself respectable.

      People keep putting their own twist on things. Like people claiming Poe’s Raven is a symbol of his depression. Actually, he just wanted a talking bird – it was a toss up between a raven and a parrot. I don’t think “Quoth the parrot, Nevermore” works as well.

      Or there’s this one dude, Leonard Wolf, who claims the book Dracula proves that Stoker was gay and in love with Henry Irving. His main proof? That Van Helsing killing Lucy in front of the other men was “symbolic of an older man teaching younger men how to have sex with women” and therefore “proved” Stoker was gay.

    • So I talked to a couple of historians and they both said the same thing.

      Victorians were ANYTHING but prudes. In fact, the only ones who beat them in pure over-done sexuality is hippies.

      Victorians were sluts.

  4. Bram Stoker may have written the ur-example of vampire stories, but his ability to write interesting characters was a bit shit. You pretty much nailed it when you compared the book to a found footage movie, and it’s the novelty of that, plus the benefit of being one of the only vampire stories for so long, that is a major reason the book found an audience and stayed around.

    If Coppola had stayed slavishly true to the characterizations in the book (as you seem to wish) it might have been a far more faithful adaptation, but to the movie’s detriment of being a lot more fucking boring.

  5. It was 1992. He wasn’t Neo. He was Theodore Logan of Wyld Stallyns!

  6. Maybe Stoker’s best book, that. It really shows he was occupied with other things while writing everything.
    He probably had some plans for that Renfield guy, but forgot them. He probably had a better ending in mind, but… mismanaged it.
    Best adaptation? I’d have to go with “Nosferatu.” Although “A Vampire in Brooklyn” gets a nod for some very interesting takes on Dracula’s arrival and stay in London.

  7. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is actually my favorite movie about both Dracula and vampires in general. I have nothing against Universal one staring Bella Lugosi and Hammer once starting Christopher Lee but I just don’t like those as much as I like this one.

  8. Dracula in the Book does Have readiming qualities …. but only if you interpret the subtext of story ..

    see the book make several comparison between the main charactera and Dracula .. its implied that the main character aint as noble and pure as they they would seem to be

    take this plus the context of the Victorian era people where extreamly sexually repressed and where extreamly conservatives … and you have a good argument that they are in fact using dracula and other vampires as an scapegoat to not recognize their own flaws

    and example of this is jonathan harker and dracula’s wifes

    in the book it seem jonathan harker was getting supernatural raped ..but since it is jonathan harker the one who is telling us this .. is it too hard to believe that he is just blaming them so he doesnt have to deal with the guilt of cheating his finance Mina? .. blaming the devil for his own sins

    • * take this plus the context that in the Victorian . people where extreamly sexually repressed and where extreamly conservatives * sorry for the grammar mistakes

    • Going along with this, I would argue that the novel was pretty much palpitating with subtextual sexytimes (hi metaphorical vampire blow-jobs! hi, Lucy really wanting to get tag-teamed by all her boyfriends at once but not having the vocabulary to say so explicitly even though she does write to her bestie that she wishes she could marry more than one man at a time!) that the movie made blatantly, if not boringly, literal on the screen. And then there’s Dracula, the rich decadent foreigner wandering our streets unchecked, stealing away all our virtuous women and filling them with his tainted vital fluids in order to dilute their good English blood and turn them into wanton sexually-aggressive she-beasts…yeah. There was a lot of sex in this book. Just throwing that out there. But the movie was pretty terrible so I’m not going to complain about the review.

  9. ThatCreepyReading

    Stop being British its weird

  10. lilith_ascennding

    It is actually implied in the book that Dracula does have some “human” emotions left in him (when the Brides are taunting Dracula by saying he has no heart, he replies with a mournful “I too have loved!”). Though, you are correct in that the book never openly acknowledged or built upon these emotions that Dracula may or may not still have. Sad to hear about what they did to Mina in the movie :(. It reminds me of what they did to her character in the sequel to Dracula written by Bram Stoker’s great great great nephew, Dracula the Undead. Yeah, never read Dracula the Undead if you were satisfied with the story and ending of Dracula because the sequel just shits all over it (only redeeming quality being Erzebet Batory/Elizabeth Bathory as the villain). Anyways, it pains me to see when people turn Mina from this upstanding, badass young woman into this weepy damsel in distress. How is it that a 19th century book is more feminist than a movie made in 1992 and a book published in 2009? Seriously, if anyone ever makes a film adaptation of Dracula where Mina isn’t a whiny little baby, then please point me to that movie. I’m fed up with one of my favorite female characters from my favorite classic horror novel being misrepresented in popular culture.

    • I agree about Mina, but I want to add that Van Helsing had a similar fate in pop culture, being portrayed as this badass, experienced and powerful vampire hunter and not at all like the character he was in the book.

    • Just poking in to say that this is a really good observation. Mina was presented as pretty much the ideal New Woman in the novel–highly educated, had a career and an independent income, went out vampire-hunting with the men and was accepted as a necessary and productive part of the team, then came home to her devoted husband and son. In 1890s terms, she was the woman who got to have everything: family, money, and adventure. That was an image of women that society was still struggling to deal with fifty years after this book was written. Granted, the novel rather hastens to note that Mina was no less a lady for all her book-learnin’, money-earnin’, vampire-huntin’ ways, and her chastity is definitely contrasted as a virtue compared to Lucy’s more overtly sensual manners, especially in the way that all the men in the novel leap to defend her purity from Dracula’s lust as if that, not her soul or her humanity, is the real thing that needs saving here. But I’ll give it a pass because 1890s. Girl was ahead of her time.

  11. Even if it was a bad adaptation, it was still a very entertaining and stylish movie to watch. I remember enjoying this one back in the day, and Gary oldman did a great job with the role he was given. He always had great energy on-screen, and was genuinely creepy at times.

  12. I read it when I was in my Goth phase; and was reading everything from the classic works of Gothic literature (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame…etc. ), to books on Gothic architecture (starting of course, with Notre Dame: the Cathedral which had started it all ), to the origins of modern Goth culture in England during the late 1970s.
    I found the novel pretty sexist.
    Ex: God himself, punishing Nina for something which is clearly not her fault; despite the fact that she hadn’t even killed anyone.
    But it was Dr. Helsing’s own sexism (the Victorian attitude that the female mind is a fragile as an eggshell, and that women need to be “protected” from unpleasant truths) which ended up costing Lucy her life, and her humanity.
    If they had just told her that she’d been bitten by a vampire, warned her that he would almost certainly be coming back for her, and taught her how to defend herself from him, that wouldn’t have happened.

    • Presumably the wafer burning thing would have happened regardless of the genders involved.

    • 1. The wafer burning Mina happened because of the vampire bite, it would’ve happened (as HMorris73 notes) regardless of the genders involved. She’s not being punished by anybody and, if I recall correctly, Van Helsing actually points this out.

      2. Van Helsing set up defenses against vampires in an attempt to save Lucy’s life, they failed. They wouldn’t have magically succeeded if Van Helsing had used the word vampire. In fact it would have made protecting Lucy even more difficult because her parents would’ve thought he was mad and wouldn’t have followed his instructions at all. Thus Dracula would’ve gotten Lucy faster.

    • 1.) Really, you don’t say?! Sexism, in a victorian era book? Get outta here!

      2.) Who fucking cares, if it is sexist?

  13. Right about the time Keanu sees some liquid dripping upward and just kinda dismisses it, you realize that something is off with the “normal” people in the movie. Everybody is a little bit dense or crazy or outlandish or kind of a douche… or all of the above. Makes it hard to get emotionally invested in any character’s fate. At times it almost feels like you’re intended to root for Dracula… and then, not so much. It’s like the movie itself was confused about that.

  14. sugestion for future video;

    Ella Enchanted.

    I suspect the “what they left out” section will be the longest part. the “what they changed” part will also be longish, even the mechanics of how the curse actually worksare different. both are a deconstruction of Cindarella though.

  15. for a while, I hated the Coppola version for being so innacurate to the book.

    Then I saw the LuGosi version!

    They actually replaced Harker with a sane Renfield in the first chapter, then cut out a ton of stuff, then… Armadillos in Europe? not even in a zoo or someone’s pet or anything, they were pests, wild armadillos. in the middle of Romania. they literally used Armadollos, which are native to the Americas, because the censors wouldn’t let them use rats.

    and then there’s all the polite conversations. ironically with all their talking they actually seem less like fleshed out characters. Harker was the protagonist in the first few chapters of the book but barely does anything at all in the movie.

    When in London, Garry Oldman actually looks more or less like Dracula is described in the book. Lu Gosi, well he wears black but that’s it.

  16. Love your review, I am a huge fan of Dracula (the book) I do like lots of the different tales of Dracula (some of them are hilarious) it’s a shame there will never be a true adaption the book I do love it…

  17. Dr Seward was a morphine addict in the book.

  18. I saw this movie when I was about 13 or 14. I recall being embarrassed by the excessive exposed boobs and out-of-place softcore action… I didn’t want to watch porn, I wanted to see a supernatural Victorian gothic horror! And that video game adaptation…

    Upon rewatching the film through adult eyes, Keanu’s performance and “British” accent were so laughable, I couldn’t get past it! I could swear, the scene with the Brides of Dracula engaging in that orgy with Jonathan, was reenacted in MeatLoaf’s video “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”.

    That reading of Mina & Lucy frolicking totally sounded like something MasakoX would read! I loved that bit with douchey Van Helsing, too.

  19. I once heard a talk by the guy who wrote the novelisation of this movie. Yes, apparently there was one. He also did ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, but couldn’t get them to put on the cover ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula – from the writer of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’. He wanted to. 🙂

    I’ve sometimes thought they should do a Dracula as a found-footage film.

    ‘garlec’?

    For those who want a tougher, more feminist Mina Harker on film, you’re gonna hate me for this, but maybe The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

  20. OMG I can’t believe I missed this! I love Bram Stoker’s Dracula… but not the film. =/

    Ugh, I saw this movie with my mom because we’d heard great things about the director and the film marketed itself as a faithful film adaptation of the book. So, naturally, we were both very horrified and uncomfortable from all the wanton sex and gore, silly costumes and sets, poor acting and phony accents.

    Apart from all that, Dom, I think you really hit the stake in the heart the main problem with the movie: that it tries to shoe-horn in the “vampires are sex god/desses” and “vampires are morally conflicted reluctant monsters” tropes that have SINCE entered the genre, but were very much not present when the story was written, so it just plain doesn’t fit.

    I’d argue that the book had some sensuality, but the beauty of it is that it’s very SUBTLE and REMAINS IN SUBTEXT. While Dracula wasn’t conventionally handsome, he had a lot of charisma and even sensual charm when he really wanted to. Dracula’s beautiful three “brides” (not called so in the book but by fandom) speak for themselves. Some have argued that Bram Stoker streamlining vampire transformations from random horrible deaths (suicide, wrongful executions, being buried in unconsecrated ground, etc) to the draining and exchanging of blood gave the whole vampire creature a more sexual undertone. Some have compared the “spread of vampirism in London” to the spread of STDs, Lucy becoming a vampire to Lucy symbolically becoming sexualized (and thus needing to be killed because the True Woman ideal of 1890’s high society London wouldn’t allow otherwise), Dracula forcing Mina to drink his blood to a rape scene, and the men going off to kill Dracula to keep Mina from succumbing to his vampire curse to preserving her honor and virtue before she becomes a “fallen woman.”

    If the film had played up the sensual subtext that was already in the book but kept it SUBTEXT, it might have worked really well. But like you said, the “slap you in the face obvious” forced sexualization of everything and trying to shoe-horn later vampire portrayals into a story that pre-dates it just sucks.

    I agree too that one of the book’s strong points is the emphasis on love–not romantic love specifically, but the kind of love anyone could feel for anyone else. It’s a shame the film chucked all that warmth and caring and made it into “if it’s not sexual romantic love, it doesn’t count.”

    Anyway, great review. I about died laughing during bit where you took the film-only sex scenes and narrated it to an imaginary Victorian audience, and how their reactions would have been. “Well, now it’s a weird porno, all right?!” XD

  21. I know I’m a few months late in commenting here, but I have to hand it to you for summing up a lot of the problems I have with this movie.
    I always have a hard time articulating why I hate this movie, most of it tying back to me being a total fangirl for the book and preferring subtlety to outright porn.

    I’ve seen this movie twice, the second time being part of a college course, and I found I despised it more than the first time, especially noticing how Winona Ryder as Mina is so whiny and is rather quick to cheat on her fiance.
    The only aspect I still liked was Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, and that’s only because he was the most fun. As you put it, he’s a bit of a dick in this version, but if he’s being a dick in this obnoxious totally-not-pornographic-meant-to-be-taken-seriously universe, then I applaud him.

    The book had some problems with its pacing, yes. But in reading it I pictured a world with a lot of atmosphere and buildup. A film version of what I imagined would have a lot of muted tones and cool colors, but the film picked ugly yellow candlelight and bright red blood.
    Hence thus far “Nosferatu” is the only adaptation of Dracula that I really love, and technically it’s not even a licensed adaptation.

    I’m not opposed to the idea of Dracula himself being seductive and charming. But there was nothing in this movie that would make the ladies (not to mention a few dudes) swoon over Gary Oldman.
    Back when I read the book about ten years ago, I actually imagined Alan Rickman as the titular vampire. ;_;

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