Benjamin Wollmuth is an avid reader and writer who loves to explore movies and what makes them appealing or unappealing.
Ever since finishing my second read-through of Bram Stoker's classic vampire tale, Dracula, I have been watching my fair share of book-to-film adaptations. To my surprise, the adaptations I have seen––one of which I already covered (1931's version with Bela Lugosi)––were quite good, each slightly following the original story's plot while also adding their own flair. However, the adaptation that stands out the most to me is definitely Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film.
Firstly, it follows the book's plot the closest out of all the adaptations I have seen; secondly, it features great practical effects and includes an amazingly creepy atmosphere; and thirdly, it boasts a stellar cast (well, Keanu Reeve's performance wasn't that good, but hey, I still love the guy). However, the real reason I'm talking about this film happens to be the biggest reason why this film stands out among the rest: its sexualization of the vampire.
Sexualizing the Vampire
You see, I always thought of Twilight as the series that turned the horrific vampires and werewolves into creatures of romance. And perhaps it was. I'm not a big fan of Twilight––I haven't read any of the books (and don't plan to) and have only seen the first two movies (and I barely remember anything about them)––so I'm not knowledgeable enough about the topic to talk about it properly. And frankly, I always thought the sexualization of these creatures was stupid. They shouldn't be falling in love––they should be killing people! But as I grew up, I began to realize that vampires are inherently sexual beings. I still don't like Twilight, but I kind of get it.
The Original Novel
Stoker's novel wasn't overtly sexual at all––the connection between Dracula and Mina was planned by Dracula as revenge for the men of the story ransacking his house in London. However, spiritual sequels like Dacre Stoker's Dracula: The Un-Dead developed a more intimate relationship between Dracula and Mina. Whether this was Stoker's initial intention from the beginning is unknown, but it's safe to say that if it was, it was definitely hidden far beneath the surface of the main story. Perhaps much of what happens in Dracula are metaphors for sex or sexual acts, but as I said before, they are far from the surface level.
So Why Are Vampires Sexualized?
I think those possible metaphors in Stoker's novel made vampires look like extremely sexual beings. After all, why did Dracula target women? Why did he keep three vampire women in his home? Why did he have Mina drink blood from his breast rather than anywhere else? We may not have all the answers, but we can see where the sexual nature of these creatures comes into play.
Coppola's film adaptation embraced any semblance of sex in Stoker's novel and amped it up to 100.
- Oldman's Dracula character is turned into a young, attractive man after feasting on blood.
- Reeve's Harker is preyed on by the three female vampires of Castle Dracula (and boy does he enjoy it) in a way much more sexual than it was in the book.
- Lucy is practically raped by Dracula (why is not a good thing, but it does emphasize the sexual nature of the film).
- There are a lot of boobs.
The whole idea behind this version is that Mina resembles Dracula's lover who killed herself after hearing false claims that Dracula was dead. This is what caused Drac to leave God and become a vampire in the first place. Now, Dracula sees the resemblance and uses his abilities to create a forced love between him and Mina. Basically, he uses his vampire powers to make Mina fall in love with him.
Not an Entirely New Concept
Watching this film in 2021, this idea wasn't new to me. I always saw vampires as creatures who would lure people in with their attractiveness just to drink their blood. Coppola, on the other hand, actually had Dracula fall in love with Mina. I didn't mind that, but I'm sure there are others who dislike it. And again, it's far from what actually happens in the book.
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What I'm trying to get at here is that Coppola fully embraced the sexual nature of the vampire––a sexual nature only hinted at in Stoker's original masterpiece (if that's how you interpreted it). This sexual nature would later be brought back in what I would say is the most notable vampire romance of the 21st century so far: Twilight. Of course, shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries would follow, along with plenty of romance novels centered around vampires and werewolves and the like.
What is so striking about Coppola's version, however, is that it is still scary.
The Horror of It All
While Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries all have true relationships between their characters, Coppola's Dracula––at least from my interpretation of it––does not. Mina is only in love with Dracula because he used his powers to influence her. Perhaps that love is still there after he dies, but I don't think Mina ever actually loved the guy. Furthermore, Drac had to influence Lucy, as well, which lead to him raping her in what is notably the most controversial scene in the whole movie. Coppola sexualized the vampire in a horrific way––a better way, in my opinion––than what Twilight did. His film stuck to the horrific nature of the creatures while later vampire romance stories arguably would not.
That, my friends, is why I appreciate this take on the Dracula story. It is still a horror film. There are plenty of other aspects that I could talk about to explain why I think this movie is great, but this is the aspect that stuck out to me the most. I am in full support of all creators, whether they choose to sexualize the vampire or not. Will I read or watch vampire romance stories and enjoy them? Probably not. But in the end, that is just my opinion.
*(I will say that I also recognize that not all stories sexualize the vampire, and I'm perfectly fine with that. Not all stories need to. Vampires can still be insanely horrific whether they are seducing you to become their next victim or not.)
Yes, the sexualization of the vampire in Coppola's film is striking at times, and it definitely may not be for everyone. However, I appreciate that he still tried to capture the horror that these creatures represent. They can be seen as sex objects, too. Sure. Whatever. Edward's hot. I get it. But isn't that the horror? How certain sexual desires can hurt you? How people who you thought loved you––who you loved––can betray you? How there are monsters in the world––liars, cheaters––who want to do you harm?
Don't get me wrong here: I recognize that there are horror elements in stories like Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, etc., but it's not enough to keep me interested.
And hey, if you want to argue with me about why Twilight is a god-tier vampire story, go right ahead. I'd love to chat with you in the comments.
But for now, I'm going to leave you with my official rating for Coppola's Dracula.
© 2021 Benjamin Wollmuth