Strangely, this time I didn't dislike Mary
Shelley’s Frankenstein (aka MS’s
F.) as much as I remembered disliking it. Maybe I was in a more
receptive mood this time around, or was looking at it more from an
adaptation point-of-view. Still - where it cheats, it really
Oddly enough, I felt the same way...and Coppola's Dracula
(which I had a perverse liking for before) irritated me more than ever
Conversely to what you both have said, I was deeply irritated
by MS’s F. this time
around. It's a highly irritating movie; it's self-indulgent,
hysterical, and often hilariously over-the-top - it also seems to
think it's saying something far more interesting and more emotionally
relevant than it actually is. (Am I the only one who thinks Kenneth
Branagh listened to a lot of opera while filming this?) It's not a
completely terrible movie - some of the visuals, while not exactly in
keeping with the source novel (the creation sequence springs to mind),
are striking, and there are a few good performances.
I'm not arguing with your contention, Zack, that MS's F.
is "self-indulgent, hysterical, and often hilariously
over-the-top"; I just think that I'm so irritated by so-called
horror movies that refuse to take themselves seriously, or allow the
viewer to do so, that I've developed a fairly high tolerance level for
films that take themselves overly seriously. It isn't the film's (or
Branagh's) pomposity that bugs me - my problems with it lie elsewhere.
And anyway - let's not forget that "self-indulgent, hysterical,
and often hilariously over-the-top" is a pretty good description
of good old Victor F. himself! :)
(Also - perhaps Chad and I were alike in finding MS's
F. less irritating in comparison to how very irritating
we found BS's D.!)
I would have to say that MS's F. is
actually the best attempt I've seen at following the novel - up until
the home stretch! The only possible competition would be the -
Swedish? - production, Victor Frankenstein, which I have seen
but don't remember too clearly. This version tends to get dismissed
with, "Yes, it is like the novel - boring!"; you may put
your own judgements upon that. I seem to recall rather liking
it; but then, I'm the kind of person would could enjoy 90 minutes of
philosophical debate, so that's no guide! They also say that the
recent Patrick Bergin-Randy Quaid version is fairly faithful. I
haven't seen that - although I think I've got a copy lurking in my
video collection - have either of you?
I haven't even heard of the Patrick Bergin version, sadly.
The only versions I remember seeing are pretty distant from the source
material: Hammer's Frankenstein
(and, boy, is that film's Victor a real bastard!) and, er, Frankenstein Unbound (of course, the less said about that one the
Yeah, I remember hearing about a more “faithful” adaptation
than MS’s F., but I'm not
sure if it's the one to which you refer or not.
I sheepishly admit that Peter Cushing's incarnation of Victor
is my favourite.…
Why be sheepish?? That's the beauty of Pete - we like him so much, his
Victor can be as much of a cold-blooded bastard as he likes, and we'll
still go along with it.
Peter Cushing kicks major ass in that movie. I think it's one
of his best roles - even though he's near psychotic, I couldn't help
rooting for him, and being strongly disappointed that the "good
guys" eventually took over. (It's nice to think that he escaped
the hanging, as is implied in the sequel, but clearly that's not the
intention of the original.) The Hammer Curse
Of Frankenstein and Whale's Bride
of Frankenstein are my two favourite Frankenstein movies, by the
by - not very original on my part, maybe, but a couple of terrific
Many of the criticisms I've thrown at MS’s F. can easily be thrown at the book as well. It's too
melodramatic, tends towards pomposity, and has a singular lack of
sympathetic, or even interesting characters. (The Creature comes
closest, I think.) So, I guess bravo to Branagh for managing to bring
the novel's flaws along for the ride. Gone, however, is much of the
(endless) introspection and philosophical debate; every major decision
the movie Frankenstein makes comes off as absolutely spur of the
moment; you can feel the gears grinding in the plot.
My objections to MS’s F. are two-fold. Firstly - yet again we have a scientist
being set on his path by a personal tragedy. Sigh. You know, it @#$%s
me immeasurably that films simply cannot deal with concept of science
as a purely intellectual passion. And they so nearly get it right
here, too, in that scene where Victor drags Elizabeth and Justine out
into the lightning storm; there, you can feel Victor's
excitement simply over the possibilities of the universe. But no, it
all has to be 'cos he lost his mummy.
Like Lyz, I'm often irritated by movies that have to give their
scientists a 'motivation', but I thought that this was a plot point
from the novel as well (also at least they established that Victor is
fascinated by science before his mother died, although they ruin that
with that idiotic monologue he gives over his mother's grave, which
to occupy an entire mountaintop by itself!).
It was ruined for me when Victor cradled the corpse in his arms
and said "Bring her back" (or something to that effect) over
and over again. Like, y'know, we wouldn't get it or something.
Either way, I think the film could have been stronger if it
focused less on Victor trying to 'cure' death and more on him CREATING
life. I think in this regard the script shot itself in the foot anyway
- at one point Victor says his goal is to create a new race that will
be immortal, but elsewhere Victor's goal seems to actually be to save
the current generations from death...did anyone else notice this?
I don't think he really is specifically motivated in the novel,
is he? Yes, he's fascinated by science, and moreover by
"magic" - alchemy, and so on - and the point is made that it
is insufficient guidance from his father that leads him up the wrong
path in the first place. He happens to find out that he's very good at
science, and certainly this leads him to investigating "the
mysteries of life" - but I don't think he has any initial
intention of either "creating life" or "curing
death". And I also don't think there is any cause/effect thing
from the death of Victor's mother; it's just a natural tragedy from
which they all move on.
To contrast, of course, with the entirely unnatural tragedies
that were to follow.
One of the problems with the film, as with many films, is that
they impose late 20th century mindsets on 18th
century events - death being such a more "natural" part of
life then, Victor would not be - and is not - motivated by that. And
to me this is highlighted by the fact that in the film they give his
mother such a horrible death, rather than the quiet resigned
expiration of the novel. Obviously, that wasn't traumatic enough.
My impression of novel-Victor's foray's into science is that
they stem less from personal tragedy and more from an innate quality
in his character; lest we forget, nearly everyone in the book is
utterly blown away by how amazingly smart and beautiful and perfect
the man is (even the monster!), and the impression I took away was
that he was driven to reach too high because he was nearly perfect, if
that makes sense. The quote at the beginning relates him to
Prometheus, but I also think a comparison to Icarus makes sense;
reaching too high with utter disregard for cloud cover.
There's a terrific bit in Stephen King's
“Tommyknockers” that talks about how gifted children tend to get
passionately interested in a number of things, only to eventually put
them aside- until they find the thing it is they’re looking for in
terms of profession or goals or what have you.
Novel-Vic seems to me a fairly strong example of this. Movie-Vic, as
Chad noted, is a man with a mission. Novel-Vic, on the other hand, is
just a very smart guy who keeps wandering into things; note his utter
and complete obsession when he goes to school with creating life - and
then that obsession just deflates afterwards. Sure, part of it is his
abhorrence for the process that created such a monstrosity, but I
think it's also because science - or at least the specific science
which led him to the creation - just isn't his bag, so to speak. It's
just a passionate fling that unfortunately ends up destroying him
The film’s major flaws - I go into this at length in my
review, so I won’t repeat it all here - is its conception of Victor
as "romantic hero" - and the way in which, in order to
indulge that, it constantly removes or lessens his degree of
culpability. Even when Victor is finally confronted by the Reanimant,
he's all quiet and apologetic and hangdog, not screaming abuse at it -
because that would be mean. (Of course, this might be because
they felt compelled to tone down the novel's language! While Branagh
might have been comfortable with dialogue like, "Abhorred
monster! Fiend that thou art!", I can't quite picture Bobby De
Niro dealing with it!)
Good call on the romantic hero - why it is so hard to find a
balance between a “sympathetic Victor” and a “bastard Victor”,
I'll never know.
Don't forget “dumber than a bag of hammers Victor”. The
creature threatens to be with him on his wedding night. What's the
next thing Victor does? Victor gets married. And as soon as they’re
ensconced in the bridal suite? Victor runs off, to leave his bride -
who has absolutely no idea what's going on, and no way of defending
herself - utterly alone. Crimeny. I mean, Victor just destroyed the
woman he was creating for the Creature - did it never occur to him
that the Creature might return the favour?
Ah, well - that is, of course, easily the least credible part
of the novel (even less than the "lovely Arabian" subplot!).
There are a couple of things going here.
What we have in the novel is a Victor Frankenstein who is such a
monstrous egomaniac that he is even capable of interpreting a threat
like "I will be with you on your wedding-night" as a threat
against himself! Of course, the reader knows differently; so it builds a
kind of tension. But even Branagh’s Victor isn't that much of a
jerk; so they have him on the verge of a breakdown, and Elizabeth
threatening to leave if he doesn't marry her, and the two of them
making a break for it afterwards, to try and make it look a little
less like the single stupidest thing that anyone could have done at
that point in the story.
They fail, but, you know….
Branagh is, well - sometimes he's very good. Sometimes he
isn't. In the opening sequence he very much isn't - I laughed quite a
bit, to tell the truth. After that, though, he seems to get a handle
on the thing; my problems with his character are more due to issues in
the script than his acting. Although I still think he overuses
whispering. (And he's no Colin Clive.)
I don't know about you guys, but I was seriously disturbed by
the sight of a sexually active Frankenstein. Dammit, Victor, I
screamed in my head, you don't actually lust for some busty Elizabeth
and then have her, the closest you ever get to sex is through blatant
incestuous thoughts or vaguely homoerotic actions. Seeing Branagh's
Victor in a sex scene was just too much. I was ready to go grab a
torch and a pitchfork by that point.
None of this is to say, of course, that Branagh
doesn't endow his Victor with homoerotic intensity. Now, that brings
me to...the creation scene. A professor of mine actually presented
this, alongside Whale's Frankenstein,
as examples of homoeroticism in cinema. I know I'm an English major
and prone to elaborate on such things, but how much more over-the-top
can you get than showing a giant phallus firing sperm-like electric
eels with a shirtless Branagh wearing only what could be seen as
leather pants prancing around, followed up by a thoroughly soaked
Branagh and De Niro wrestling in metaphorical embryonic fluid?
Oh, absolutely - the "birth" scene is entirely
homoerotic! Well, when the thing it puts you most in mind of is the
wrestling scene in Women In Love, how could it be otherwise!?
I guess Branagh was going for a "sensual" birth, but
that seems wrong to me. Isn't the whole point that “science” is
taking the birthing process from its natural origins? As such, I would
have made everything very sterile and clean, and have the whole
process be utterly clinical. But that's just me.
What did you think of this film's handling of the 'nature vs.
nurture' debate? Plotwise it certainly made the right decision of
completely reversing that old yet dumb motif of the Creature
accidently being given the brain of a criminal, which, more than
anything, kills the entire story (what point is there in displaying
the hubris and tragedy in Frankenstein's actions when there's the
nagging possibility that his experiment might have 'worked' if he had
the right friggin' brain?). Here the film does give a lot of
screentime to the Creature's harsh awakening to the ways of the world,
but then there's that tiny little bit of information that because most
of the Creature's body was made from that of a deranged man, he has a
tendency toward violence, and this is hammered in by the conversation
Frankenstein and the Creature have in the wild. And then we go back to
depicting the Creature as an abandoned, mistreated 'child.' It was as
if the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too.
And did you notice that during the sequence when the Creature
is, uh, hanged, or whatever is supposed to have killed it in the first
place, it gets a nice solid whack on the head? They just can't leave
that "abnormal brain" bit alone, can they? As Karloff's
Creature rightly put it - "Grrr!!"
Wow, I didn't think of it like that. I was just trying to
figure out why the movie had turned into a black comedy. (Actually, if
the whole movie had stayed in this vein, I might have enjoyed it a bit
The idea that the body has impulses of its own is one that
survived even into the Enlightment (I think it's mentioned in passing
in the novel - correct me if I'm wrong, Zack), so maybe the movie was
addressing it. Still, it's something I think they should have avoided,
in addition to giving an 'explanation' behind Victor's science. Sure,
it was very interesting of them to have Victor combine contemporary
scientific research with ancient and medieval writings and at least
Victor's methods weren't really goofy, but Shelley knew what she was
doing when she did not mention exactly how Victor reanimated a human
body in the first place (admittedly, though, it's much easier to do
that kind of thing in prose than in film.)
I think you're right about the “writers having cake and
eating it too”. Perhaps one could view it as such: the Creature does
have violent tendencies (although do bodies, and not brains, have
tendencies?), but the reason those tendencies are allowed to run
rampant is that terrible "childhood" the Creature has. Once
it grows to manhood – i.e., when it starts remembering things, and
understands enough of the world around it to survive - it has the
ability to resist those tendencies. It is capable of great love, as
well. But because its upbringing was so awful, it has no real reason
to love, and every reason to hate.
I'm a big fan of many of Robert De Niro’s other
movies - but I think he was miscast here. Granted, again, that
miscasting was intentional, in that it went towards the direction they
decided to go with the monster: i.e., he less of a fallen angel and
more of a barely reformed thug. Still, I never found him frightening
for a moment - not even during the incredibly out-of-nowhere bit where
he rips Elizabeth's heart from her chest.
Gone, too, is an important part of the nature of
the Creature: in the book, he's physically hideous, but the immediate
negative, almost reflexive response he inspires in others, seems to be
more than simple ugliness - it's as though folks
are screaming and running away from the sheer unnaturalness of his
creation and continued existence, as if he were an abomination whose
looks weren't nearly as horrible as the sheer wrongness of his being
alive at all. The movie doesn't manage that; doesn't even try to.
Instead of giving the Creature an almost supernatural quality (in the
novel, he's built larger than a normal human in order to make the
operation more easily accomplished - in the movie, that's
ignored for the most part - I suspect De Niro wore platforms, but
that's all), it just makes him another disfigured freak. You watch
him, and you watch people freak out when they see him (the guy's an
instant mob maker, for some reason), but they always seem to be
Does that make sense? It's not written particularly well. What I mean
is, the Creature in the novel is majestically wrong; he's Satan fallen
from the heights. The movie Creature is just the victim of a bad skin
I agree. I think De Niro's performance is good, and quite
affecting; he does that "Why is everyone picking on me?"
thing very well. The problem is the concept, not the performance. He's
not gross enough. And what about that scarring pattern? It's in
Waldman's notes, so we know it's somehow "necessary", but
they never tell us why. Of course not. Because it isn't.
There isn't any real reason why this V.'s creations should be hideous,
particularly when he's dealing with fresh materials. Those scars are
just a cheap gross-out.
Well, if you took them away, you'd lose one of the morals of
the book: Don't be ugly. (And conversely, If you're pretty, don't @#$%
with ugly people.)
My problem with De Niro's performance is that it belonged in a
different film. He was method, all the way; I'm sure there are stories
of him doing some sort of research for this, and it is a very careful,
realistic performance. Unfortunately, he isn't in a careful, realistic
movie - and when put against the backdrop of the craziness that
surrounds him, he seems smaller. I think my contention was that the
creature never seemed all that impressive to me - it could have worked
in a different movie than this, and I will freely admit there is
nothing technically wrong with his work, but it just didn't gel for
I found Robert De Niro's Creature one of the best aspects of
the film. I did find him fairly sympathetic, even though, like in
almost everything else, the film was trying far too hard to accomplish
it (how many “sad close-ups” does the Creature get, anyway? You
could make a drinking game out of it!) I admit, though, that before
watching this film and Whale's Frankenstein
again I would have argued absolutely that a Creature more like the
one Shelley envisioned than the one Whale used would have been
preferable for a film adaptation. Now I'm not too sure.
Well, I loved the Whale creation - I expect you'd be hard
pressed to find a movie lover who doesn't - and it is far removed from
its literary ancestor.
To retract what I've said just a tad, I might actually agree with you
- the Shelley version might not be the best way to go. For one thing,
how does one convey "instinctive revulsion" in a visual
medium and still managed to maintain sympathy for the character? (One
of the more interesting things I found in the novel was that even
after Frankenstein has gotten over the initial shock of the thing's
face, he can never get completely comfortable with it. This is mostly
because the thing killed his obnoxious baby brother - but I think it
also has to do with the depth of Frankenstein's sin against nature,
and the horror of the creature itself. It's so unnatural that it will
never look "normal" in this world.)
CD: Thanks for bringing up
William. That reminds me of something I thought of while watching the
movie, but almost forgot. It caught my attention that, while in the
Whale version the child Maria is killed on-screen, William's death is
off-screen. Now, one very good reason for this is that Maria's death
was accidental, an innocent act gone horribly wrong, while William's
murder was malicious, an act of brutal revenge. But it was still an
interesting difference that might hint toward changes in the culture.
Excellent point about De Niro's performance. Whatever flaws De Niro's
Creature had were definitely strapped on him by the script or by his
surroundings. The only scenes with him in it that felt they had any
subtlety at all were the scenes where he fled the mob and became
attached to the peasant family, and even that was undercut by the
ridiculous need to have all the private lives of the people look
I want to mention Elizabeth's resurrection, even
though I think we're unanimous in voting it as a horrendous choice
(for one thing, the tug-of-war between Victor and the Creature is just
too much like a Monty Python sketch). But it is also a curious choice,
as it adds a new level to Victor's crime but takes away much of the
rest of the film, such as the implication that Victor really repents
of what he had done. Also it gives another kick in the balls to the
nurture side of the “nature and nurture” debate, while raising the
plot-derailing question of: if Elizabeth remembers so much of who she
was, why wasn't the Creature able to do the same?
If you want to justify it, I'd say brain freshness; while the
Prof had been dead for at least a few days before Vic stole his brain,
Lizzie had been gone mere hours.
I think it's just lazy scriptwriting, myself. They got this cool idea,
and decided it had to be used, and damn the logic. You notice how
quickly the last forty-five minute of the movie run? Especially the
climax - Vic decides not to help the Creature out, then walks
downstairs the next morning and and begs Liz not to go, she says yes
but only if he'll marry her today, and then tell her everything
tomorrow (heh), they marry, set out, Dad dies, night falls, Liz dies,
Vic runs back home, shake and bakes a new Liz, Creature shows up, Liz
burns, house falls down - all in the space of about a day. This is
very, very compressed from the book, and it speaks to me of writers
not actually considering how long things should take.
It's kind of interesting, though - it's as if they were
trying to film the novel, then suddenly realised that it didn't have a
climax, as such - nothing visual, anyway - just “Well, this
person died, and then this
person died....” - and had to make something up.
The whole final section annoys me, but the worst bit is surely the
Creature taking Justine's body to Victor. Now, if it was sincere in
its desire for a mate – and we are given every reason to believe it
is - why would it deliberately provoke Victor like that, and with its
“materials, nothing more” crack? And again, a purely
“intellectual” reaction on Victor’s part (i.e. “I won't do it
because I believe it to be wrong”) is passed over in favour of an
“emotional” reaction (i.e. “You pissed me off, so I'll piss you
Of course, they did have to deal with Shelley's biological naivety
here, since the reason Victor won't go through with it the novel is
his fear of the “monsters” breeding....
I'm not sure if it's intentional, but the “bring back Liz”
sequence is essentially the same as the ending of Pet
Sematary. (Which is why I thought freshness might be involved.)
You have the crazed husband lugging the corpse
of his wife, determined to bring her back to life through the same
process that created her killer in the first place - the friend who
begs him not to - and, of course, the ultimately unsatisfactory nature
of the resurrected wife: murderous in the novel, self-loathing in the
And to flog a deceased equine a bit more - isn't the completely
misconceived (if you'll pardon the expression!) “resurrection of
Elizabeth” sequence rather too reminiscent of the ending of The
Bride, where Frankenstein's “perfect woman” turns out to
prefer her “brother”, his original creation? Also, while Victor
was waltzing with Justabeth, I kept waiting for her to lose her head, a la Jane Seymour in Frankenstein: The True Story! (Ah, now
there's something else we could have tackled! To paraphrase
Arthur Dent, this is obviously some strange meaning of the word
“true” with which I was previously unacquainted!)
Speaking of this (and possibly those other two
putatively faithful adaptations of the story), has anyone ever
filmed the “bride” sequence as written? - had Victor building a
female Creature, then changing his mind and ripping her apart with his
bare hands? (And having to go back later and clean up - eww!) And if
not, why not? It would be a great scene!
I haven't said anything about Elizabeth yet because, well, she
didn't make an impact on me at all in the novel. The one point where
she could have made an interesting impact in the film, her offering to
assist Victor in his experiments (now THAT would have made the birth
metaphors more interesting), is quickly brushed away. She just seems
to be used to embody the idyllic existence Victor has scorned. And, by
the way, I like how the script tries to make Victor seem
“obsessed” but instead he just acts like the 20th
century concept of the “workaholic”.
I, for one, really liked Helena Bonham Carter’s Elizabeth.
(I'll admit to having a minor thing for HBC, okay? Laugh at me all you
like.) Maybe it's a guy thing; but personally, after the wet-sop of
the novel (to be fair, in the novel it seems like everyone is a
wet-sop) (admittedly, I'm not sure what wet-sop is,
but it definitely sounds like
the kind of thing I'm going for), it was nice to see a woman with at
least a little backbone to her. I suppose Lyz could argue that she
doesn't have quite enough - but I'll leave her to say what she found
You may dismiss my objection to Elizabeth as "a girl
thing" if you wish! :) Of course, in the novel Elizabeth is
entirely passive - she exists only to be murdered on her wedding
night. So she's not really necessary to the story. But either
film-makers aren't comfortable with that, or they just feel some
tiresome compulsion to bump up the "love interest".
(Personally, I'd prefer more unethical experimentation, and
grave-robbing, and such....)
The problem with that is, if you're already picturing a
characters as a “love interest”, all the beefing up in the world
won't change that; either you have her be an actual full-blooded
person, or you keep the stereotype as out of sight as possible. An
amalgamation is, as Lyz points out, pretty damn annoying. Because for
every inch of backbone we see, that person will always crumble
completely if the object of affection which defines their existence
comes a'calling. I thought the whole "tell me everything
tomorrow, provided I don't die a horrible bloody death tonight"
thing was kinda goofy; not only does Victor not get laid, Elizabeth
never knows what's killing her, and she was so close to knowing, too!
Ah, the irony!
In MS's F., they try to make Elizabeth
"modern" by having her charging back and forth and being all
independent and passionate; but for all that, she still doesn't
actually do anything! My favourite bit is when she threatens
to leave home. Uh, where exactly is she going, this late eighteenth
century woman? Going to find her own apartment? Get a job? Go on the
You know - between Frankenstein, and Mary
Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula,
I'm beginning to find all these "Elizabeth"-s rather
Hey, in BS’s D.
it’s "Elisabeth”. Completely different thing altogether. One
gets her heart ripped out literally; it happens metaphorically to the
other, before she defenestrates herself.…
Any more random observations before we move on?
Randomly, I'd just like to mention one of the few changes the
movie actually got right - I'm so glad they got rid of that idiotic
Turkish sub-plot. One of the lowest points in the novel, really.
Oh, and I did not buy Vic's death at the end. Or
rather, I didn't buy it because I'd seen the beginning of the movie -
he looked very healthy, didn't he? It was only at the end that he got
all sick. Not sure why they did it that way.
You're not suggesting that our "RRRROMANTIC HERRRO"
should look all half-dead and emaciated and, dammit, unsexy,
are you?? HA!!
By the way - is it just me, or is Krempe in the
film NOT that unreasonable or hidebound? Isn't all he says that
doctors should work towards curing people? Frankly, I think Victor
behaves like a complete dick towards him. And I really, really HATE
that "Krempe as the voice of Victor's conscience" bit -
could we be ANY LESS SUBTLE, do you think??
I also hate Victor’s introduction of himself: "My name....is
Victor....FRANKENSTEIN!!!!" [DRAMATIC CHORDS!!!!!!]
I thought the exact same thing as soon as I started on it! I so
desperately wanted the Captain to get a puzzled look on his face and
reply, “Uh, who?” Although it still wasn't as guffaw-inducing, for
me at least, as the fact that Victor's mom got a whole mountain to
Since it's probably expected of me, I'll comment on the
“historical background” of Bram
Stoker’s Dracula, and its links between Dracula and Vlad III
“the Impaler”, Prince of Wallachia. It is
reasonably accurate, I suppose, although as I pointed out to Lyz
earlier the battle scene is a tad misleading, since Vlad only ever led
guerilla operations against the Turks and never really led a
widespread campaign against them.
Anyway, before I start nitpicking, I'll bring up
the biggest - and most interesting - inconsistency. The story about
Elisabeta's suicide is only half-right. Vlad was married, although the
woman's name has actually been lost, but he wasn't victorious against
the Turks at the time of her death - the reverse, actually. His
brother, Radu, backed by the Turkish Sultan and by rebellious nobles,
usurped the throne of Wallachia and forced Vlad to flee to one of his
castles in Transylvania. The Turks were in close pursuit, however, and
it was obvious to everyone that the castle would not survive a
prolonged assault. That night an arrow with a letter attached was shot
in the castle, claiming truthfully that the Turks were gearing up for
the attack. Vlad’s wife, choosing death over capture, jumped in the
river, which did become known as Riul
Doanmei, “River of the Princess”. So while the story was close
to the truth, it's also far from it. Why they changed that one
important detail I can't say; I guess it just made it more 'rrrooomantic.'
I haven't read enough of the literature to argue
one way or the other if linking Dracula to Vlad III has its merits or
not. The Transylvania connection does have merit, even though Vlad
only ruled parts of the region, and loosely at that. Further, Vlad III
was known as 'Dracula,' or 'Son of the Dragon,' since his father, Vlad
II, had the nickname 'Dracul' - 'Dragon' - from being a member of a
Hungarian knightly society called the 'Order of the Dragon' (which is
also mentioned in the film, although it wasn't so much a powerful
crusading organization like the Knights Templar as a fashionable
clique surrounding the Holy Roman Emperor of the time).
There was an article in an early issue of Video
Watchdog in which the whole Dracula-is-Vlad thing was thoroughly
debunked. And among other things, the author points out everyone in
the cast speaks Romanian very very badly – and
that they should have been speaking Hungarian!
By the way, has it struck anyone else that this
film's set-up makes NO SENSE? First, wouldn't someone in Elisabeta's
position know that committing suicide is NOT going to reunite her with
someone slain in a holy war? Second, why would Vlad blame God for
Elisabeta's stupidity? Third, why would someone presumably frying
eternally in a Christian hell get REINCARNATED??
Ha! That is a good point, since the beginning makes it fairly
clear that the Christian God does exist and still has that Old
Testament sense of humour ('though why Vlad's renouncement gets a
nasty punishment when much, much more sacrilegious crimes have been
committed is beyond me!). I think the film wants us to think that Mina
was sent to offer Vlad a chance at “redemption”, which the cheesy
ending would indicate, but, eh, whatever...
And yeah, the film certainly does set things up
as a holy war, doesn’t it? But, at the time, the “crusading
spirit” had left Europe along with feudalism. And the people who
lived on the front lines stuck between the Holy Roman Empire and the
Ottomans tended to be ruthlessly pragmatic. I got the impression from
my research that Vlad, while a devoutly religious man, was much more
worried about saving his own hide against the Ottoman invasions than
he was with impressing God. :)
I don't think there's any doubt about which of our two
films is the better adaptation of its novel. At least
Branagh tried, up to a point - although he hamstrung himself by the
inappropriate conception of Victor that we discussed earlier; and by
trying to tack on a huge operatic climax that frankly is just silly.
However - I think on the whole Branagh shows a reasonable amount of
respect for his source material. Coppola, on the other hand, obviously
had nothing but contempt for his
novel - even assuming he knew anything about that novel in the first
place. Apparently, in his commentary on the laserdisc (which I gather
didn't make it onto your DVDs?), Coppola gives the old "Oh,
no-one reads THAT anymore!" speech, explaining how
"Dracula" is so dense and difficult and abstruse that you
couldn't possibly read it. Well, I've just finished it for the
umpteenth time, and as always, other than a few stodgy patches towards
the beginning and the end, I found it a fast and entertaining and
occasionally affecting read. Great literature? No. A good story?
(Although, granted, since I just used a word like "abstruse"
in a sentence, perhaps I'm not the best judge!)
And this brings me to something that puzzles me
greatly: I understand why no-one ever really tries to film
"Frankenstein" as written (too much philosophy, not enough
story), but why has no-one ever tried to film "Dracula"?
Look at it: some action, lots of gross-out scenes, a little sex, lots
of opportunities for special effects--- What's the problem? A little
judicious pruning, perhaps, but....I think it would make a great
mini-series! Come on, BBC productions!!
Anyway - I guess this is what it comes down to:
for me, "Dracula", the novel, works because it succeeds in
interesting me in its characters. I like them, I'm sorry for them, I'm
on their side....
....and this is where BS's D.
fails most dismally. I couldn't give a @#$% about anyone in it.
They're a punch of pathetic puppets; ill-conceived, appallingly
executed. The film is very pretty to look out, but there's not a
single drop of sincerity anywhere in it. Awful characterisations - awful.
Oh come on, what are you talking about? There's Lucy the slut;
Jonathan the Boorish Non-Entity; Seward the morphine addict; Quincy
the "American" with the horrible Texan accent; Holmwood who
does about nothing in the movie but stake his sort of wife; Mina, who
starts cheating on her husband first chance she gets; and Dracula, who
is apparently here to rescue us all from the sexual repressors.
Oh, and Van Helsing, a psychotic foreigner with no tact. What's not to
You know, I have to confess that I loved Hopkins' take on Van
Helsing. I admit I'm a bit of a Hopkins groupie to start with, but I
just loved that scene where the transition goes from Lucy's (second)
death to Van Helsing plowing into a large steak, bluntly describing
My main problem with this concept of Van Helsing is that it
falls into that whole "Hey, cruelty and
insensitivity are FUNNY!" thing that I personally loathe. The
film is already emotionally hollow - having the supposed moral centre
of the story behaving like a Vaudeville act doesn't help.
Not at all. And while I agree with Chad, that Hopkins was
pretty damn cool (and seemed to try, at least, to give the character
some dignity), when Van Helsing started humping Quincy's leg and
shouting off about Lucy being the
Devil's Concubine, I lost what little regard I had left for the
character. I think Hopkins could make a great Van Helsing; but in a
movie where the character, like you say, is reduced to a joke.
I had to laugh: he mentions how he's been tracking Drac all his life.
Well, since Dracula was still living in the same castle he'd been
living in for centuries, had you ever tried looking in Transylvania?
Apropos of nothing, I would like to state that
the most disturbing scene in the movie to me was when Mina comes on to
Van Helsing – and he responds whole-heartedly. This is not right!
Ick, ick, ick.
Did you know that there was a scene filmed in which they - did
considerably more than that??
Arrrrrrrrghhh! That so pissed me off; it utterly denies what
little credibility Van Helsing has. How are we supposed to respect
this guy as this major vampire killer when he falls for the first
vampire chippie who bats her – er - eyes at him. So embarrassing.
However, I did like Van Helsing's entry into the story; giving a
lecture on venereal disease. (Or vampire bats, but know venereal
disease comes up - he makes a syphilis joke.) It's a neat pun –
‘cause by many accounts, especially
the "vision" of this movie, vampirism is just another
While we’re sort of on the subject, am I off-base for
finding the brief make-out scene between Mina and Lucy not only too
gratuitous, but also offensive, considering that the implication is
that it was brought on by Dracula's hoodoo? I can hear Hopkins/Helsing
saying now, "Among the lesser known powers of the vampyr is to
inspire almost uncontrollable homoeroticism wherever it goes..."
You might as well ask why the first consequence of
vampirism is an uncontrollable urge to bear your breasts?
For all the sexual writhing, I never for one
second feel any genuine emotion between any of the characters [sic.] in this film - not even between Vlad and Elisabeta - or Vlad
Well, that's my major problem with the whole reincarnated love
deal. It never resonates; after all, it's not like it's something
people in the audience can identify with, and we never see these two
actually falling in love. We see Elisabeta frantically making out with
her husband (every goddamn kissing scene in this movie, it's like
Coppola was screaming "More! Sloppier!"), then killing
herself. And when we see Drac and Mina (or E2) running into one
another, first he stalks her, then he hypnotizes her somehow, and then
she's into him. The reincarnation is this cheat to supposedly allow
you to just jump into a fully realized emotional relationship -
instead, it just seems like Drac really likes girls that look like
Yes! The film does try to remedy this with those scenes where
Dracula tries to court Winona, but the scenes are just so choc full of
'clever' editing and filming techniques and are so quickly churned out
they don't make a difference at all.
Well, they did get to re-enact the Police video "Wrapped
Around Your Finger," with all those candles and that room in the
middle of nowhere. So I guess it's not a total wash.
Honestly, even if it had succeeded, I'm not sure I would have liked
it. But that it doesn't is the ruin of the movie; you can't have your
central romance be too hasty and morally conflicted to be believable.
(I don't mind moral conflict, I do mind a movie that so obviously
can't make up its friggin’ mind.)
In contrast with all of this, I find the novel's grieving over
Lucy very effective - particularly that moment when poor Arthur
comments that him giving Lucy a transfusion makes her "his
wife"....and all the other guys are standing there staring at the
ground or the sky or their fingernails and not saying anything....
Yeah, that is a nice moment. I also liked how it bonds the
group together - all of them have a stake in Lucy's fate (ha!), even
more strongly than when they were in love with her.
I still think Lucy takes a bit too long to die. It's surprising, once
you're used to vampires that drain people in one night, to have the
king of them all taking a couple of weeks to get through one red head.
(Of course, they did
keep filling her back up...)
I was talking to someone about the novel "Dracula"
when I reviewed the Lugosi film - not either of you guys, I don't
think - and they said that the problem with the novel is a lack of
distinctive voices; that, VH and QPM's accents aside, if you open the
book at random you can't tell who's narrating.
And while that's true, I at least find Lucy and her suitors credible
enough to be interested in them. The problem with the film - ONE of
the problems with the film! - and I think I said this to Chad when he
and I were first talking about this - if you make your vampire your
hero, where does that leave your vampire hunters? That, on top of the
fact that this is about the only version to include ALL of them!
Whoo-hoo! FOUR useless, ill-written characters!!
I know it wasn't me you were talking to, but I've also had that
pointed out to me, and it's quite true. As a stylist, Bram isn't much
of a writer; but he is a decent plotter and occasionally comes up with
a good character or two.
Admittedly, Lucy's three suitors didn't have all
that much personality in the book - but at least they weren't entirely
dismissed, as they seem to be in the movie.
I agree completely. The film's biggest weakness by far is its
great reluctance to accept that there are characters in the film other
than Dracula, Mina and Van Helsing. I remember a friend of mine was
watching it with me and when Holmwood died toward the end, he looked
at me with a puzzled expression and asked, "He was alive?!"
It’s actually Quincy Morris who dies at the end, not Arthur
Holmwood; which I also had forgotten, although I had seen the film
only days earlier. I was going to fix up this slip, but then we
decided it was too good an illustration of just how interchangeable
the supporting characters in this film really are….]
It's another one of those "have your cake and eat it
too" situations; because I don't think they entirely give up on
the vampire hunters as heroes (albeit utterly bland ones) until the
very end of the movie, when Mina suddenly gets all righteous.
"Would you do the same to me?" Why yes, honey, if some
undead bastard drained you dry of blood and turned you evil and
predatory on small children, I most likely would stake you. Especially
if you made the choice
voluntarily. (And what the hell does Harker's line, "Our work is
done here, hers is just beginning" mean?) That the movie ends
with a painting of Drac and Elisabeta flying together or something,
and I just wanted to hit something.
Oh yes. "Don't underestimate the power of CHEESE."
The movie seems pretty schizophrenic; on the one hand, there's
this idea of Dracula as a romantic hero (there's that phrase again!)
who gives up everything for love - and this is the guy we're supposed
to feel for, we're supposed to be happy when he finds his long lost
love, and saddened when he loses that love. This is also the guy who
kills women and children, and rammed people onto poles in his hey-day.
The ending of the movie is trying to imply something tragic happened,
with Dracula dying and Mina pining for him. I don't buy it.
One of the things I like best about the novel
"Dracula" (if you can get past Van Helsing's constant
crapping on about the qualities of "a woman's heart"), is
that Mina is an intelligent, efficient, useful young woman. She isn't
just "the victim" or the "female lead"; she
contributes. (And I love, love the fact that it is the superior males'
decision to keep Mina out of things that leads directly to Dracula
getting at her!) But in the film she's nothing but the "love
It's also interesting that the one time that Mina
goes against her own judgement - allowing herself to be excluded from
the conferences - is what precipitates the crisis. And it occurs to me
that, after including Mina in the circle where they all swear to
dedicate themselves to hunting down Dracula, it was doubly wrong for
her to be excluded - spiritually as well as practically, if you like.
It's kind of ironic that, in trying to “expand” Mina's role
and “de-victimize” her, Coppola is actually decreasing her
influence in the story.
Yes! Funny how such an obvious attempt to
"update" and "modernise" what was clearly regarded
as a mouldy oldy ended up in a such an infinitely more conservative
(and unimaginative) characterisation, isn't it?
True. On one hand, she is given some 'space' as a character
(personally I'd have dated the original Vlad Tepes itself over that
loser Jonathan). On the other hand, it's implied, probably
unintentionally, that she's under Dracula's spell (one of the problems
of introducing a romantic subplot where none was meant; not only does
it make Dracula too paradoxical and inconsistent to be digestible, but
also throws Mina's motives and actions into question.)
Even though the screenwriter choose to keep some of the journal
entries and newspaper clippings, he left out one of my favorite ideas
about them; how Mina collects everything together (as Lyz points out,
she's very useful in the book) and organizes it so that it's possible
to use the information they've acquired separately to discover a way
to beat Drac.
And isn't it Mina herself, in the process of collating, who
realises that Drac always does everything over the same way; so that
they can beat him home by taking a different route?
Yeah, she does - which is cool; at first it seems that the
only reason to keep giving Mina information is to keep her safe (as
Lyz pointed out earlier, they make a huge mistake when the initially
withhold things from her), but this shows she's also likely one of the
smartest of the lot, and can figure things out that, say, would
utterly be beyond Quincy and Holmwood. Plus, she's got the train
schedule memorized. What's not to love?
Also, when they lose track of Drac towards the end, it’s Mina
who puts all the facts that they have at their disposal together and
makes a logical deduction about where he is and how they can catch
Of course, in the movie, Mina is too busy giving herself
over the bad guy and hitting on septuagenarians to do anything.
I really hate the film’s conception of Lucy as a nasty little
sex-obsessed @#$%tease - pardon the expression.
I'll remove it if I can think of a more appropriate way of describing
Unfortunately there isn't. In the novel, she's more of a flirt
I've just re-read that bit, and I wouldn't even go that far.
She's overwhelmed by her three proposals, yes, but she behaves very
well towards JS and QPM.
To me, "Dracula" is a tragedy because no-one in it deserves
what they get; even in the usual crude, sexual way of "deserving
I agree, Lucy does truly love Arthur, and you don't get the impression that she
was leading the others on. And her slow, slow, slow wasting away is
not presented as her getting more and more horny.
I'm sure in Stoker's time a woman like Coppola's Lucy would
have been locked up in Seward's Sanitarium for 'hysteria.' :)
Absolutely! The Creeping Flesh, anyone? :)
Lucy is definitely, definitely a bad case of applying modern
mindsets to a character from a different time. Trying to create a
strong, sexually independent woman in a time period notorious for its
misogynistic and puritanical culture is a good thing, but making her
so hypersexual she would have been considered too much in modern times
is a bad thing!
Um, brief aside here: did anyone else notice the variable
usefulness of crosses in this movie? Jonathan has one on his neck,
which scares Drac off - but ten minutes letter, one of the vampire
‘hos in the basement melts the
cross off him. Exactly how powerful are the crosses if they can be
melted off from that close?
I agree, the use of religious articles in the film was
idiotically inconsistent. Surprise.
On this re-reading, I also found the novel's
religious progression interesting. It starts off with the classic
"peasants force crucifix on unwary traveller" scene, where
you have Jonathan expressing doubts that, as an Anglican, it ought to
take it. Then, when the crisis hits, our C. of E.'s have to call in a
Catholic to save the day; and by the end, they're all wielding crosses
and hosts and holy water like they've been doing it all their lives!
Was Stoker Catholic?
Also, was anyone else weirded out by the serious increase
in Drac's powers for this movie? Apparently he can send his shadow, or
his superimposed image, just about anywhere. (I'm thinking of the
party scene, and the little rainstorm frolicking that happens later.)
I think the ability to send the superimposed image anywhere was
one shared by everyone in the film. :)
I definitely agree. One thing that always irritates me about the
horror and fantasy (and occasionally sci-fi) genres is the idea of the
Conveniently Omnipotent Villain. The writers give the villain such
broad and even undefinable powers that they have to 'ignore' the scope
of their powers just to let the heroes win. That scene where Dracula
causes a windstorm that just happens to have a dramatic effect on Van
Helsing, who just happens to be reading a book on vampires, was
It's also at strong contrast with the Dracula in the novel who,
despite the reputation he's gained over the years, is nowhere near as
powerful as I always remembered him. He's got the earth restriction,
the changing restriction,
can't do much during the day, and as I mentioned in another letter, it
takes him nearly forever to drain one woman dry. Granted, he could
eventually have quite the formidable army (although seeing how his
"brides" act to him,
wouldn't it seem that he would be unable to successfully control an
even moderate size group of women? And of course, they would all be
women, and perhaps a few children), but that's what makes it a novel
with stakes (I'm
trying to avoid that word, I really am). The hunters can succeed, but
only if they band together and use their powers of modern intellect
and ingenuity - Van Helsing speaks out of how very, very old Dracula
is, and how used he's become used to taking a very long time to make
choices, something which the hunters can exploit by keeping him always
on the move - to defeat the essentially Old World evil. Contrast that
with the movie. I can't even tell if we're supposed to be rooting for
the hunters or not; most of the same plot elements are hit, but it's
That's another thing about the novel that I forgot I
appreciated. Although Stoker doesn't go that much into it, Dracula
does have the psychology and habits of an ancient being. The Dracula
here seems unfazed by the 19th century - it would have
certainly made the film more interesting if they took an opposite
I suppose this is a good time to bring up Oldman's work. I
thought he was very good. Especially in the opening scenes with
Jonathan. I like how he appeared nearly alien, and some of the
gestures he made were quite affecting. (I thought the licking of the
razor blade was very nice.)
Useless bit of trivia: Oldman was such a fan of
Lugosi's original performance that he asked to be allowed to use that
line in the movie. I think he does it very well, managing to remind
you of the original while making it his own. Too
bad the rest of the movie hadn't been that clever.
As young Drac, Oldman was solid, but here I had a
harder time enjoying his performance, simply because I detested the
direction of the script. It's like he goes from EVIL to Harlequin
Novel Foreigner, with the abrupt, forceful manners and the nearly
impenetrable accent, just popped into London for a few days, mind if I
seduce a few young impressionables?
There were moments of actual pain, and in a
different movie, I might have enjoyed the shock on his face when Mina
starts drinking from his chest of her own free will - but the movie
was too jumbled for me to focus on it.
I should also admit that, alongside Anthony Hopkins, Gary
Oldman's performance is one of the best. The fact that he had KEANU
REEVES as an adversary in the first arc of the story (which, I admit,
is my favourite part of the traditional Dracula story), and was
saddled down with some inexplicable dialogue, is tragic.
Oh, Keanu Reeves! Jonathan spends the first half of the movie
being tortured by a man, only to come home and find out his wife has
fallen in love with that man - and we still can't work up any sympathy
for him! I'm almost positive that Coppola cast Reeves full knowing
what the actor was incapable of; he was stacking the deck against
poor Jonathan, which frankly pisses me off.
I agree! The script seems to have been tailored to cause poor
Keanu as much humiliation as possible. I swear, though, I got all the
way up to "Those bloody wolves in a blue inferno!" before I
had my first giggling fit. And was it just my ears, or did they
actually make him say "Blimey!" at one point?? The highlight
of the whole film, though, has to be Jonathan's squeaky-voiced
explanation that he was "impotent with fear”!
Yeah, I wrote that one down. I couldn't believe it.
Watching this again, I laughed at so many of the scenes poor
Keanu was in (from the "bloody wolves" to his childish
excitement at seeing de-old-ified Dracula on the streets of London:
"It's the Count! But he's grown young!"...um, how can you
tell? For one thing, he's in entirely different clothing, has glasses
and heavy facial hair, and ditched that silly little wig, which,
incidentally, I've wanted for Christmas for years now), I got the idea
that he would have been perfect for the role of Renfield in Dracula:
Dead and Loving It.…
My own personal theory, which I would like to see
verified, is that Keanu was forced on Coppola by the studio and he, at
least subconsciously, took it out on him (well, okay, probably NOT
And whenever Keanu stepped onto the screen, I
couldn't help but scream, "EMOTE, DAMN YOU, EMOTE!"
Ah, yyyyeah.... I had this in mind when I was watching, and to
me this is one of those “be careful what you pray for” deals; 'cos
in the scene where Drac gives the baby to his brides, Keanu is
emoting....and it ain't pretty!
However, strangely enough--- Although I came to
mock, I must confess that by the end, the only person connected with BS's D. that I felt any sympathy for was poor old Keanu. So sue me.
I guess I'm just not up to kicking a dog when it's down.
Also - I gotta say this - is it just me, or does
Drac in that “baby” scene look disturbingly like Glenn Close in
Cruella DeVille mode?? Seriously. Look at it again, and tell me I'm
wrong! And there's something even worse: a shot of Drac while
Mina is drinking his blood, with his head thrown back in, uh, ecstasy
- I swear to God, there's an angle where he looks exactly like
David-Spade-as-Joe-Dirt!! I swear!!
I didn't see the Joe Dirt thing, but I DEFINITELY did see the
Glenn Close/Cruella DeVille connection, right down to the makeup job!
Before I get into any concluding remarks, I thought I might
quote for you from Coppola's afterword to the novelization of the
"When I read Jim's script, I thought he had made a brilliant
innovation by using that history of Prince Vlad to set the frame for
the whole story. It was closer to Stoker's novel than anything done
before.… I noted, watching all the other Dracula films, how much
they held back from what was written or implied, how they played havoc
with the characters and their relationships. In our movie, the
characters resemble Stoker's in their personalities and function,
including many characters that are often cut out. And then the whole
last section of the book- when Van Helsing is
uncovering Dracula's weaknesses, and the Vampire Killers pursue him
back to his castle in Transylvania, and the whole thing climaxes in an
enormous John Ford shootout - no one had ever portrayed that...
“Doing justice to the complex character of Dracula was one of our
main goals. He's been portrayed as a monster or a seducer, but knowing
his biography made me think of him as a fallen angel, as Satan. The
irony is that he was a champion of the church, this hero who single-handedly
stopped the Turks, and then renounced God because his
wife was a suicide and was denied holy burial. When great ones fall,
they become the most powerful devils - Satan was once the highest
angel. Man's relationship with God is sacramental; it's expressed
through the symbol of blood. So when Dracula rejects God, blood
becomes the basis for all kinds of unholy sacraments in the story:
baptism, marriage, and Mass.…
“Blood is also the symbol of human passion, the source of all
passion. I think that is the main subtext in our story. We've tried to
depict feelings so strong they can survive across the centuries, like
Dracula's love for Elizabeth. The idea that love can conquer death, or
worse than death - that she can actually give back to the vampire his
lost soul.… Usually Dracula is just a reptilian creature in a horror
film. I want people to understand the historical and literary
traditions behind the story. To see that underneath the vampire myth
is really fundamental human stuff that
everyone feels and knows.… Even if people today don't feel a
sacramental relationship with God, I think they can understand how
many people renounce their blood ties to the creation - to the
creative spirit, or whatever it is - and become like living dead. The
vampire has lost his soul, and that can happen to anyone."
Yeah. Try to remember, this is the same guy who brought us the first
two Godfather movies and The
“Knowing his biography....”
Just FYI, that article on how Dracula isn't
Vlad that I was quoting from is entitled "Dracula, Schmacula:
Misinformation Never Dies."
BS’s D. is a
script with a bunch of disparate ideas trying desperately to pretend
they form a cogent theme, when they don't. Not really. Coppola should
have either been more faithful to the novel, or ignored the novel all
together; the vision we get is compromised, and as such, can't be
taken very seriously.