Saturday, October 13, 2012

Making Monsters #12: Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the most divisive horror movies of the past twenty years, largely because it arrived with massive amounts of hype - between the movie's arresting marketing campaign and the notion of Francis Ford Coppola trying his hand at the horror genre, expectations couldn't have been higher for the movie Fangoria declared "THE HORROR EVENT OF THE DECADE" on its cover. So it's understandable that, when horror fans got to see the film and discovered it was an idiosyncratic, overheated art film, they didn't really know what to make of it. I won't make the case that it's a misunderstood masterpiece; Coppola uses the fever dream atmosphere of the movie to gloss over a problematic screenplay, and the grandiose, romantic approach to the story borders on kitsch, and Keanu Reeves is famously out of his element. That said, I was so obsessed with seeing this movie when it was released that I actually reserved it at the local video store before it was released, and I absolutely loved it. To be fair, I was nine years old, but even as an adult I admire Coppola's experimental take on the book - the production and costume design are excellent, the rest of performances are over the top in the best way, and the film continues the fine Hammer tradition of copious bloodshed and heaving bosoms.

The most impressive aspect of the film is the contrast between Coppola's use of in-camera effects that could have been accomplished in the silent era and the state-of-the-art makeup effects by Greg Cannom, who deservedly won the Oscar for his work on the film. Cannom designed the makeup effects for The Lost Boys, and the look of the young vampires has influenced countless vampire movies since. For Dracula, Cannom goes wild with the notion of Dracula as a shapeshifter - we see him as a bearded warrior, a witch-like old man, an attractive Goth prince, a wolf and a giant bat. The latter two, especially the bat creature, are the most impressive - full-body, articulated latex makeups that are convincing without sacrificing Gary Oldman's performance (it helps that Oldman can disappear into seemingly any role). When Oldman, as the bat, transforms into hundreds of rats via a moment of sleight-of-hand, it's a wonderful marriage of state-of-the-art moviemaking and movie magic as old as the medium itself.

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