Does Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula Stay True to Bram Stoker’s Dracula?
Guest Blog by Maria Ramos
Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.
Dracula as a monster has been around for a long time, yet he still has the power to influence modern pop culture media. Everything from hit books and movies like Twilight to popular television shows like The Vampire Diaries owe a little something to this classic tale of blood-lust and evil. The vast majority are not drawn directly from Bram Stoker’s novel. Underrated, but also very similar to the novel, is Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula which is being rerun this month on the El Rey network (check here for listings). I thought it would be fun to do a little comparison and maybe settle this debate once and for all.
Coppola’s version of Dracula is not an exact reproduction of Stoker’s novel. One of the most telling differences between the film and the novel is the addition of a love story. The original Dracula was not a lovelorn warrior who damned religion for his lost love. The Count came across as more soulless and unloving of anyone. The basis of the movie is Count Dracula’s search for Mina Harker, a woman who reminds him of his lost love. The original tale followed Dracula as he attempted to help spread his undead curse to England and beyond.
This added romantic aspect also gave way to more backstory on Dracula and his becoming a vampire. Stoker’s original novel hinted that it was unknown, even to the Count, how he became the monster he is. Coppola’s movie draws a clear parallel between the true-life figure of Vlad the Impaler and our fictional Count Dracula during this added backstory.
Another major difference is the much more sexual tone of Coppola’s movie. This has been widely thought to be more a case of what was allowed into print when Stoker’s tale was first published, but it also stems from an urge to make the Dracula character more human. This added sexual aspect changes some character portrayals, such as Lucy Westenra having a strong sexual appetite and being more susceptible to Dracula’s charm and prowess.
Now let’s look at some of the similarities between Coppola’s Dracula and Stoker’s classic Gothic tale. One thing that many filmmakers have left out of their big-screen adaptations has been the use of various narrators. Stoker used diary entries, letters and even newspaper clippings to tell his dark tale. This use of multiple narrators is present in Coppola’s vision, and he even manages to change protagonists throughout the movie – a feat that is hard for many filmmakers to pull off.
Stoker’s book also told of the fateful voyage aboard the Russian ship Demeter, upon which the entire crew is gradually murdered except for the captain. While this scene is commonly thought not to add much to the overall story, Coppola recognized it for what it is. This one scene helps set the dark and creepy tone that is seen throughout the novel and film.
Being fans of the original novel, Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart also choose to keep in several characters that are usually thrown out of the films. These characters, while not making or breaking the movie, are used to help keep the romantic element alive. Lucy’s suitors Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris, for example, are featured in the film.
While it is true that Coppola’s Dracula took some creative liberties with Stoker’s story of Dracula, the overall tone and premise of the tale is still alive and well, in a manner of speaking. Overcoming the difficulties of moving from one medium to another, Coppola managed to produce the finest adaptation of Stoker’s novel to date.