Movie remakes are an abomination. If not for my sincere respect for The US Constitution, I’d say remakes should be illegal.
I don’t need to watch the remake of Billy Wilder’s “Sabrina” to conclude that it’s wrong. I am appalled that somebody watched the original and thought to himself: “This picture is okay. All I need to do is replace Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Then it’ll be great!”
Well, apparently there is one exception. I watched “Dracula” for the first time yesterday morning. And Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is much better than the original.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) is everything you don’t expect from a remake. It’s braver, more original, and more eccentric.
Gary Oldman’s Dracula is motivated by love. He believes that his cherished wife has been reborn 400 years later as Mina.
Bela Legosi’s Dracula has no clear motivation at all. If you leave your castle and your home country and sail all the way to London, you’ve got to have some reason for it, right? Not in the original.
In “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Lucy Westenra is a beautiful, tragic figure. In “Dracula,” she’s barely included in the story. We never even see her as a vampire. There is a scene where some random Londoners read in the newspaper about how vampire Lucy lures young children to their doom. Sounds macabre and chilling; you’d think they’d want to give us a look.
I absolutely respect that special effects budgets weren’t huge in the early days of talkies. Indeed, the limited special effects is part of the charm of old movies.
But that is no excuse for the bizarre decision to have Bela Legosi’s Dracula move so slowly. He is supposed to be a powerful supernatural predator. It makes no darn sense to have him trod deliberately toward his victims at a snail’s pace.
Gary Oldman’s Dracula is a sympathetic figure. Living forever as an adversary of God and Man is an unspeakable nightmare of guilt. Francis Ford Coppola – like Anne Rice – understands this.
1931 “Dracula” director Tod Browning can’t decide what we should think of the vampire.
Legosi’s Dracula seems like a mild-mannered, polite Slavic nobleman. He kills to eat, not for fun. The only real sign that he’s evil is the way he treats his Familiar Renfield.
The character of Renfield is the only aspect of the 1931 film that is superior to the 1992 version. When we meet Renfield, he is a happy-go-lucky young man. After Dracula takes over his mind, he is a mess.
Dracula’s spell compels Renfield to wait patiently for his master’s sinister orders. But the poor man still has a human conscience, and he hates himself for helping the vampire murder women. In 1931 “Dracula,” we really feel why he belongs in an insane asylum.
The only other thing I enjoyed was the Count’s cordial relationship with Dr. Van Helsing. Legosi’s Dracula looks down on human beings; he views us in the same way as meat eaters view pigs and cows.
But the vampire is visibly impressed with Van Helsing’s intelligence and strength of will. He is slightly tickled to have met a man who is his equal.
The original “Dracula” has its moments. But overall it’s uninspired and dull, certainly when compared to Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic masterpiece. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is the one perfect remake, the exception that proves the rule.
I still propose a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that bans movie remakes.