Why I Write Fantasy: The Three Fours #2: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Oh yeah. The music, the costumes, the saturated colours, the visual style that played with realism and then deliriously ignored it to tell its story in its own defiant way, and managed to sweep me up in it.

I watched this movie four times in a rather dilapidated cinema in Dundee, complete with decayed but still rippling red curtains, formerly plush seats (probably some sort of 70s velour well past its sell-by date), dusty empty alcoves in the walls to either side, and a balcony from which an excellent view was to be had: it was an old actual theatre repurposed, and like the film, it held many memories, perhaps not all happy.

This movie captured me from the first chords playing over the Columbia pictures logo. Now if you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know I have been a sucker (yes, I went there) for horror movies since my early teens and the very tame, but highly atmospheric old Hammer Horror films. Francis Ford Coppola’s opus turns all the atmospherics up to 11, the visuals and music combining to make it a sensory experience, a movie as much felt as seen. Or maybe that’s just me. And of course it makes Dracula the hero, when in most of the films I’d seen up to then he was the adversary. Here he is the protagonist (again the villain getting the best of the story!)  and the plot is one of love and redemption, which was probably not the first thing most audiences would think of when considering a Dracula movie before this film arrived. Here is Dracula as Satan in Paradise Lost, the noble rebel against god, his greatness highlighting the depth of his fall, but in this version he can be redeemed, unlike Satan who degrades and regresses throughout Milton’s poem, this cinematic sinner is given a chance at redemption, despite his crimes.

Now, if you do not fall under the spell of this film, there are many ways to drive buses through plot holes, and more than brave Keanu’s accent to snigger at. I choose not to folks. I choose not to.

More powerfully than in Highlander I was swept up into this intensely gothic world, of heightened drama and sensation, passion and desire writ large, with its own disorienting laws of movement, a visual language created to entrance the viewer and allow for the fantastical. For a couple of viewings, even though I loved the medieval knight/saint reference of Dracula’s eyes looking upward in death as the old iconography so often used to depict the blessed in prayer or martyrdom, I still wanted Dracula and Mina to run off and live eternally ever after in oceans of blood. Nowadays that might happen – gotta make a franchise! Of course that outcome being okay depends on your conveniently ignoring the five hundred years Dracula spent killing people (which I could, because Gary Oldman has charisma), and the consequences of their ongoing existence together as undead groom and bride.

So, rather than Dracula being destroyed, as is usual for the monstrous versions of the villain, this one is allowed back into the grace of god through his rediscovery of love, and receiving of love from another. In both versions the vampiric threat is ended, but in this one Dracula also gets a positive resolution to his story. The monster lover in me wasn’t keen on this reading, but I reluctantly had to concede that it made much more sense for Dracula to die, be forgiven by his god, and then be reunited in death with his reincarnated wife, who just killed him… well let’s not parse that one too closely! This film is far more about the feel and impression of things than the explanation of them, and in this movie, it feels right to me that Dracula is not simply destroyed, but transformed, and his evil undone. Dracula’s arc comes full circle in the film, once again looking upon the cross in adoration, the rift healed. That is why for me, despite the fact that my inner teenager would much rather see Dracula win and be a prince of darkness forever, (which in this universe would be, and has been, his hell), I find I must accept the bittersweet happiness of earthly love being his gateway to salvation, and Mina’s freedom. I’m going on. Did I say I love this movie?

I also loved how it played the old world of Dracula’s origins against the emerging modern world of Victorian London, a setting in which Dracula makes sense: the nineteenth century is a time in which mysteries could still exist, and strange corners of the globe could still be home to monsters and allow you to imagine it to be so with relative ease. Today, with every spec of the earth trod by intrepid travellers filming their every move, and satellites circling with unblinking eyes over us all, it is very hard to imagine anywhere left undiscovered. This is why I really think King Kong should go interstellar, and Skull Island be an alien planet. I’m not saying that’s a great idea, but the Pacific just isn’t big enough to hide prehistoric islands in anymore. Not when we sadly have islands out there made of our own trash.

Anyway, Bram Stoker’s Dracula: a world I drowned in, and was drawn, tugged back into the cinema to see over and over again. Beauty, tragedy, redemption. A triumvirate I find hard to resist. And that music, oh that sweet music.

2 thoughts on “Why I Write Fantasy: The Three Fours #2: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

  1. Pingback: The Writing Life: Choices in Art – Roderick T. Macdonald

  2. Pingback: Why I Write Fantasy: The Three Fours #4: Clearly I Have a Type – Roderick T. Macdonald

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