In an exercise of cosmic madness, the essence of vampire lore is born with Count Dracula and his centuries-long yearning for the deceased Mina, an erotic love story lost in a netherworld of dreamless musings.
In this sensual feast of images, saturated with thick, red blood, an epic struggle is waged, a battle for eternity. Count Dracula purchases real estate in Victorian London, transferring crates of Transylvanian earth, where he will rest by day, pursuing the reincarnated Mina (Winona Ryder) by night. Mina is engaged to Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves in a particularly wooden and unctuous performance), the young man sent to transact business with the Count in Transylvania. Trapped in the Dracula's castle and unable to return to London, Dracula's three ex-wives petulantly drain the young man's blood to ensure his passivity. If they drained much more fluid, the insipid Harker would be dead, his acting so inanimate as to appear purposefully comedic.
Not to worry. Gary Oldman, as the Count, makes up for any flaws in Coppola's vision of Bram Stoker's Dracula, resplendent as the wizened vampire with taloned fingers, his eyes cloudy with memory. Appearing in London to claim his prize, Oldman is a suave boulevardier, who has no difficulty attracting the damsel's attentions (consider the alternative), eventually siphoning off a quart or so of her blood, his eyes rolling back in an ecstasy of content.
As Dracula's lost love, Mina (Ryder) at first appears as stiff as her intended (Reeves), passionless and prim, a perfectly repressed Victorian. However, once infused with the elixir of immortality, the lady perks right up and shows her mettle (and incipient fangs), writhing in vampiric agony, tormented by her blood lust for the Count.
The cinematography is excellent, but especially stunning when the fleshly concupiscence of the female form is contrasted with a dark need for transfusion. One particularly memorable character is Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra. Thrashing with urgency, the titian-haired Lucy's throat is nightly bared to her seducer, sinking inexorably toward death, yet glowing in her new-fanged vulnerability, only to be reborn in the crypt. Unfortunately, this juicy morsel falls victim to the vampire slayer's sword, post-mortem. Two other impressive roles are filled by Tom Waits as the bug-crunching, straight-jacketed Renfield and Richard E. Grant as his hollowed-eyed, drug-addled doctor/keeper.
For all the mist-shrouded roads and menacing packs of wolves, it is Mina who rocks when calling forth the storm's fury in a bid to shield Dracula from the burning rays of the sun, shouting incantations as a posse rides to cut the Count off at the proverbial pass. Led by an overweening Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), the do-gooders, including the pale visage of Jonathan Harker, plan Dracula's ultimate destruction: a stake through the heart and off with his head. At the moment of truth, Mina confronts Jonathan, asking if this is to be her fate as well. But the men withdraw on the order of a pontificating Van Helsing, "We've all become God's madmen!" It is left to the compassionate Mina to free her decadent love, releasing them both to the land of myth: "Our love is stronger than death." One can only hope. Luan Gaines/2005.
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