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Revamping Dracula

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He calls it Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but Francis Ford Coppola is just being modest. The director of the Godfather trilogy has revamped the vampire classic, exposing the lust that hides behind Victorian horror to tell a scary, sexy love story: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy defies God and refuses to die…

It was a river of blood, flowing across the lot at Sony Studios one rainy day last year. Production designer Tom Sanders was in his golf cart when he saw it — thick, viscous, and terribly crimson — running down an alley between two hangarlike soundstages, along the main street, clear across the studio. ”I wonder what show this is coming from,” he thought. Hero was shooting then, and several television programs, and the lot was teeming with people, all splashing around and complaining about the blood, which was everywhere. Then it hit him: It had to be coming from the film he was working on himself, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Hollywood is a small, provincial town, where huge amounts of other people’s money are laid down on commodities that are about as predictable as a madman’s mood. It’s understandable, then, that anxiety would often run high here, and paranoid speculation be a favored pastime. Add to this mix a maverick director like Francis Ford Coppola and a $40 million horror movie/love story where young, A-list actors and actresses are asked to vomit blood, eat worms, chop the heads off their lovers, be raped by beasts, fellated by women with fangs, and beg to die the little death with a vampire, and you’ve got pharmacies that can’t keep enough Prozac in stock and cellular phone bills hitting all-time highs.

There were the rumors, for instance, that Coppola had fired the respected Hollywood designer Dante Ferretti and hired a young nobody to start designing sets from scratch, just six weeks before shooting (true). That Coppola’s leading lad and lady, Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder, could barely stand to be in the same room together (true, for a while). And that, at the first test screening of Dracula, audience members were throwing up in the aisles (not true). Finally, just a couple of weeks before the movie was due to premiere, there was the rumor that Coppola had erected another castle on the Columbia lot and was starting production all over again (not true; the castle was for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next film). Somewhere along the way, Bram Stoker’s Dracula picked up the nickname ”Bonfire of the Vampires.” All Coppola wanted to do was make an accurate version of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, which he hoped might look something like a film made in the early part of this century. And like all his great films — The Conversation, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II, Apocalypse Now — he wanted this one to be different from other, more conventional, Hollywood films: Rather than something slick, he wanted a soulful movie filled with magic. What he wanted to create was not the money-sucking monster Hollywood executives nervously — and sometimes fearfully — awaited (right through its opening on Friday the 13th of November) but, as Coppola calls it, ”an erotic dream.”

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