#2 in the DVD blog's "7 Days of Halloween" series.
The so-so reputation of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" can be blamed, in part, on the film's noble goal of performing cinematic magic tricks from the days when motion pictures -- and Dracula himself -- were new.
For the first 45 minutes or so, Francis Ford Coppola's horror film felt like a camp, stagey homage to the B-movies of Hammer Studios. The leaden acting of Keanu Reeves and the underwhelming presence of Winona Ryder didn't help (even though they were the hot young stars of 1992).
But as the film darkened, Coppola's brew of sex, gore and the supernatural proved transformative, as did the ying-yang acting of Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman. But what was that vaguely cheesy old-time vibe? Did the fX computers crash?
After release, the production's secrets were detailed for laserdisc owners in an ambitious Voyager box set with several documentaries and commentary from director Coppola. On DVD, there were several releases, including a Superbit, but the back story went untold until last month.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's double-disc rerelease of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" finally gives the production a thorough autopsy in the DVD format. Coppola turns up for a video introduction and then a new feature-length commentary. He admits he hadn't seen the movie since "those days," and seems quite pleased. Coppola calls it "a treasure box of strange effects ... some worked beautifully and some not at all."
The new documentaries illuminate the production using footage from rehearsals and the all on-set filming, as well as interviews from 1992 and now.
"In-Camera: The Naive Visual Effects of Dracula" explores the curious images that were done with techniques from a time when the camera -- not the computer -- incubated the special effects.
"The Blood Is Life" is a new half-hour making-of docu that leans heavily on footage from 1992. We're on the sidelines as Oldman and Coppola clash over what seems to be a simple scene. A costumes/sets short looks at the contributions of designer Eiko Ishioka, who essentially gave the film its look and feel. She saw Dracula as a "man of a thousand faces." "Method and Madness" reveals the visual larceny from noted gothic and surrealistic works of art.
Coppola's new shape-shifting Dracula (Oldman) actually was born of a literal adaptation of the novel that the director loved as a youth. The director also leaned on the silent "Nosferatu," John Carradine's Draculas, and the films of Jean Cocteau and Abel Gance. "It is in the great imagery tradition of surrealism," he says. The real-life tale of Romanian hero Vlad the Impaler provided the "Romeo and Juliet"-like suicide angle, in which Ryder appears to be Dracula's reincarnated lover.
The (1.85:1) images are suitably handsome, free of wear and reasonably grain-free except for some night sequences. The darkness and softness come with the territory. There is also a Blu-ray version that reportedly isn't much of a step up from this standard DVD.
"Dracula's" dynamic 5.1 audio soundstage possesses any room it visits. This is a fine, creepy piece of mixing, about as good as it gets in horror films. Listen carefully as we enter the insane asylum to check in with Tom Waits: the walls breathe, water drips, the rats scurry, the lunatics wail. Let's get out of here.