The Drac Debate: Browning vs. Coppola

Everyone has their favorite vampire, but most have failed to attain the legendary status of Count Dracula. And whenever you talk about classic Dracula films, most people instantly think of Bela Lugosi with his pale makeup and soul-piercing stare from the 1931 Tod Browning film DRACULA. For a lot of horror fans, this is the image of Dracula that they conjure in their minds. The problem is, that image of Lugosi donning his trademark garb is the best thing about that film. Watching that classic vampire tale is akin to watching blood dry on fangs.

Bela Lugosi: International Staring Contest Champion.

Bela Lugosi: International Staring Contest Champion.

It was 1931 and major filmmaking was still in its infancy when producers decided to cash in on the international popularity of Hamilton Deane’s DRACULA play (itself an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel). The adaptation comes off more like a play than an actual film, with some shots actually being held for far too long.

While Lugosi’s Dracula does send a bit of a chill down your spine, especially when you’re being stared down by those patented “Lugosi eyes,” the movie can’t sustain the attention span of most modern viewers. Just try to catch it the next time it airs on your local classic movie TV station and see for yourself. (Check TV listings HERE.)

Everyone seems to obsess over the old black and white vampire movies, but I don’t believe that anyone gives Francis Ford Coppola’s DRACULA the credit it truly deserves. What’s more: This writer is taking the bold stance that Coppola’s film surpasses Tod Browning’s DRACULA and even Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU: THE VAMPYRE.

As previously stated, in 1931, it was Bela Lugosi that ruled the Dracula roost with his supernatural powers and intense stare. In the 70s came Klaus Kinski who played the cursed Count Dracula in Werner Herzog’s take on the vampire legend. Unlike Lugosi, Kinski played Dracula like a man condemned to walk the Earth forever. There was no sense of grandeur or machismo in this incarnation.

Skip ahead to 1992, and we see that Dracula has changed drastically from his previous cinematic manifestations. With Coppola in the director’s chair, the tale had become flagrantly sexual, and every scene shot in his adaptation is hyper-stylized and deliberate. Gone are the pauses and shots held to the point of tedium. Lending a big hand to this new atmosphere surrounding Dracula is the amazing performance turned in by Gary Oldman.

Gary Oldman is Johnny Depp as Count Dracula in BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA!

Gary Oldman is Johnny Depp as Count Dracula in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA!

Oldman smolders as Dracula. In every form taken by the Count, Oldman plays Dracula as a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. While there is great power felt in this version of the character, Oldman channels his inner Lothario and makes us believe he can win Mina Harker’s heart with charm alone. There is also a bit of channeling of his “inner Lugosi.” Through the early part of the film when Oldman’s performance really shines, horror fans can almost imagine Lugosi reciting some of the most inhuman lines in the film.

Real-life figures like Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory help bring Coppola’s DRACULA to a whole new level. Both Vlad and Bathory have been linked to the vampire mythos for a long time. Vlad was the obvious inspiration behind Dracula, but some experts believe Stoker was just as inspired by stories of the “Blood Countess” and the hundreds of girls she allegedly murdered.

The story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of love lost, love found, and love stolen. After the death of his one true love, Count Dracula has been waiting for her return. Hundreds of years later he sees the photo of a young woman named Mina. Dracula becomes obsessed with this woman believing she is the reincarnation of his long lost love. When he travels to London to win Mina’s heart, he is confronted by Prof. Abraham Van Helsing (Sir Anthony Hopkins), a famed vampire hunter.

It’s a harrowing film, and one that definitely bears revisiting! Next time you’re craving a vampire movie, be sure to put Coppola’s DRACULA at the top of your list!

Thanks for reading everyone! If you agree (or disagree) with my stance on this topic, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!