Horror Month 2016 Day 12: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Dracula is my spirit animal. While others may seek guidance from deities of scripture or oration, I chose direction from the Lord of the Undead. I pledged fealty when my mortal coil was fifteen years of age, and regrets over the proceeding decades have been few.

Three lessons Dracula has taught me while traversing this plane of existence:

  1. The consumption of blood spikes sodium levels.
  2. Damage from sunlight is progressive.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord Dracula in vain” is rarely observed.

For my annual Robot’s Pajamas Horror Month movie review, I will address lesson three. Specifically, I must share the tale of my very personal attachment to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and its marketing onslaught towards an impressionable thrall.

I read Dracula in the summer of 1990. It left a mark. Despite a childhood filled with creature features matinees, toys, models, and costumes of Universal Monsters, I had only recently become enamored with primary source documents. Namely, Gothic Literature. Frankenstein, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera and Poe’s entire portfolio were fascinating, depressing, and thought provoking. Among them all, Dracula captivated me the most. Old and new Europe sensibilities, technology creep, travel lust, real estate porn, sexual innuendo, big game hunting, and an American cowboy. Add a unique narrative structure, and I could forgive a plodding second act. Dracula had it all, and Bram Stoker had me hooked.

Dracula, and these other written tales of gothic horror, helped transform me into the reader I am today. They also helped me become a harsh, and often one-dimensional, critic towards the craft of adaptation. Whether by movie, theater, comic, cartoon, ballet, or television – my grain-of-rice-counting calculations show 1.2 million interpretations of Dracula in popular culture. Eric Nuzum’s book, The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula, is a fine exploration of the phenomenon. I enjoy all blood types, variety is the spice of life, so I find myself entertained with most variants of dear Count Dracula. However, my enjoyment is always at cape’s length. No iteration has matched the wonder of the written page.

But Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a unique contribution…

Raised in a remote forest of Pennsylvania, I remained cosmopolitan of sorts through faithful subscription to Fangoria magazine. The monthly journal kept me abreast of all upcoming cinematic horrors, and the special effect / make up artists responsible. I had advance notice that acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola was creating a Dracula film in 1991. Coppola and screenwriter James Hart were on the record; their version would be the definitive adaptation. So much so, the film would be titled with the author’s name. I was a believer. I would be ready.

Preparations were exhaustive, both mentally and financially. In the months preceding the film’s release, the marketing engine was warming and I was on the ready. If a relic bore the name Bram Stoker’s Dracula – I would own it. Without possession of even the smallest trinket, my dedication would certainly be questioned. It was a hard task for a teenager of limited disposable income. Rare visits to such Metropolitan strongholds as Erie, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo brought home new totems to the expanding shrine.

Herein lies the review NOT of the film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Instead, I present to Robot’s Pajamas readers a review of movie tie-in products. Buried within, my opinion of the film itself does rest. Some item remarks are lengthy, some are short, some still remain under my stewardship, and some have long since found other grounds to haunt.

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A) Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Francis Ford Coppola Film – Novelization

This book sucks. My crass review on a forum I frequent: “…Here’s my wart I find most problematic – the screen writer, James Hart, purports that Stoker’s Count Dracula is Vlad Tepes. Bram Stoker barely understood the history of the “Son of Dracul.” He chose the name ‘Dracula’ because it sounded good and was rooted in Eastern Europe. Mind you, this is a gross abbreviation of Stoker’s research – but I’m sure you’ll forgive me. I’ll happily offer references and annotations if you’d like.
Hart takes this nugget of coincidence, which is the same damn thing the Romanian tourist industry does, and goes to the bank. When anyone claims Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a faithful adaptation of the novel – I want to scream like a wolf in the night. I mean, make music. The film hits a lot of correct notes, but Vlad Tepes is NOT the vampire Dracula. And the film’s “love never dies” theme is horse shit.

Co-author Fred Saberhagen is a hack on the plane of Kevin J. Anderson. He does little to pad Hart’s premise.

B) Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Film and the Legend – Movie book

This book is better. Hart’s script is presented without Saberhagen intervention. Coppola and contributing writers offer fun sidebar insight on vampire lore and legend. But the finest contributions are the colored photographs from the movie’s production. Film stills are good, but behind-the-scene shots of cast, crew, makeup, sets, and props steal the show. Charged with producing a film that pays homage to early cinema, Roman Coppola’s execution of his father’s vision is superb.

Confession: the prop of Dracula’s letter to Jonathan Harker was the inspiration for my signature. As an artist, I truly believe a signature on the face of fine art is an outdated, baroque notion. Classification is still important, so I discretely sign my artwork in areas not intended for public view. In vampiric script!

C) Coppola and Eiko on Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Art book

This book is beautiful. Costume Designer Eiko Ishioka won an Oscar for her work on this film for a reason. Ninety colored photographs of sketches and completed costumes are presented. The entire wardrobe collection is nothing short of a masterpiece.

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D) Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Role Playing Game

136 pages or RPG mediocrity. For the mash-up inclined Game Master, the system allows for seamless cross over opportunities with the publisher’s other RPG titles: Army of Darkness and Aliens.

E) Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Board Game

An early entry in the fully cooperative gaming genre, this title plays like an analogue Donkey Kong with a vampire skin. It’s fast and light and occasionally fun. The horrendous production quality can be overlooked with the proper amount of intoxication. NOTE: I never drink wine.

F) Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Leading Edge Miniature Box Sets

Why disgrace your board game experience with the included paper standees when you can spend 400% more on metal miniature replacements? From the hands of renowned sculptor Bob Ridolif, these casts look like stunted pewter abominations. Even the steady hand of a gifted painter can only dress these pigs toward a middle school dance. Sets: Castle Dracula, Brides of Dracula, Lost Soul in London.

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G) Topps’ Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Trading Card set (100)

Clever teenager. While visiting a comic shop in Olean, New York, I found an unopened case of Dracula trading cards. “Tender! I’ll take the entire box!” I flew to my lair with (presumably) an instant collection. After opening and cataloging all duplicates, my one hundred set was missing ONE GOD DAMN CARD. #57. It would take another twenty years before I found a seller on eBay willing to part with that number (it cost two dollars). My collection is now true. These cards are a great film summary. All text is bite sized, the pictures are lush, and illustrations are carried over from…

H) Topps’ Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 4 issue comic book adaptation

Writer Rob Thomas distills it all. John Nyberg and Mike Mignola kills it all. One year before the debut of Hellboy, Mignola would showcase his graphic sensibility as a perfect complement for the already highly stylized Coppola vision.

I) Bram Stoker’s Dracula window decals

Why the hell did I buy a window decal of Dracula’s brides attacking Keanu Reeves?

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J) Bram Stoker’s Dracula postcards

Thick stock. Color fidelity is spot on. I have never mailed them, nor do I have such intention.

K) Bram Stoker’s Dracula theatrical teaser poster

A study in minimalism, it had only two words vertically bookending the double wolf head/vampire logo. It read, “Beware Thanksgiving.” I cherished the poster in my youth, but now question my sanity. Lucidity observed, I still remain cautious of turkey.

L) Bram Stoker’s Dracula video games

  • NES = A poor man’s Castlevania clone. Interestingly, the ending of the game includes the collapse of Castle Dracula. Stoker wrote such an end for the vampire’s estate, but excised it prior to publication.
  • SNES = A middle income man’s Castlevania clone, poorly executed.
  • Sega CD = An upper income man’s Pit Fighter. Sound and graphics were exceptional, but alas – game play was not.

In each console’s approach, Bram Stoker’s Dracula boils down to the “Adventures of Jonathan Harker.” Or, as I like to call it, “Kicking Rats and Bats.” Each is preposterous.

M) Bram Stoker’s Dracula keychains

For my hearse, obviously.

N) Bram Stoker’s Dracula t-shirts

I owned four unique designs. Each was extra large, and looked ridiculous on my lean frame. For ten years, I wore the shirt depicting Dracula’s bloody mouth to all dental appointments.

O) Bram Stoker’s Dracula home video formats

I never watched the film on laser disc, but I do own copies on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray. Documentary portions are my favorite. Learning of the animosity between Coppoal and Oldman is revelatory, and Roman Coppola’s camera trickery is a love letter to German Expressionism.

P) Bram Stoker’s Dracula Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composer Wojciech Kilar makes a brilliant film score debut. It’s rich, robust, and resonating. I put the score in my top three only behind Williams’ Star Wars and Poledouris’ Conan the Barbarian.

Q) Bram Stoker’s Dracula theme song ‘Love Song for a Vampire’

Annie Lennox can do no wrong. Except this. This is wrong. Fortunately, the CD “single” of this track included ‘Little Bird.’ Saving grace of sorts. I can’t bare to watch the video.

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R) Bram Stoker’s Dracula McFarlane’s Monsters 2 Pack Boxed Set

These two sculpted beasts were released fourteen years after the movie’s premiere. They look incredible. Consequently, they were absorbed into my collection and rekindled adoration for the film’s creature effects.

S) Bram Stoker’s Dracula Pinball

Designer Barry Oursler created this cabinet for Williams in 1993. To this day, it is ranked as one of the greatest pinball games of all time. I buried many quarters into this electronic grave.

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T) Bram Stoker’s Dracula Lapel Pin

As a reward to myself for three years of contributions to the Robot’s Pajamas Horror month reviews, I purchased a golden pin of the film’s double wolf head/vampire logo. It is glorious.

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On Friday the 13th, 1992, I took my high school girlfriend Sara to the opening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We saw the film at the Palace Theater in Olean, New York – across the street from my trading card score. The theater was the perfect venue. A grandiose gem from 1926, it must have been a glorious sight in it’s heyday. By the time of our date, it was a dilapidating shit hole. The water damage and mold created ambiance, but the sight of bats flying through the theater during the screening was true added value.

I left the theater with mixed feelings. The film was not good. But the film wasn’t necessarily bad. It would take me a quarter of a century to make peace with this “definitive” cinematic adaptation. It is a beautifully flawed film. It’s a spectacle for the eyes and, omitting the accents of Ryder and Reeves, the ears. The story is not Stoker’s, despite his titular role. However, enough passages from the book are faithfully translated to make this film feel closer than any film before it. Nosferatu may excel in tone, Dracula (1979) may triumph with dialogue, but Coppola’s offering is my favorite. I have the mementos to prove it.

Andrew Wodzianski is an interdisciplinary artist working in crocodile tears, puppy dog tails, and magpie chatter. When not painting, professing, playing, or pretending, he enjoys nightfall and blood sausage. He lives and works in Washington, District of Columbia USA. More can be found at his website www.wodzianski.com.

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Self Portrait as Dracula