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Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Collector’s Edition

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Film Obsessive’s newest feature series, “Off the Shelf.” Each Saturday our writers share the joys of physical media, from reviews of new 4K and Blu-ray releases to reflections on the treasured media they’ve come to collect and cherish over the years.


When you think of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, the first things that come to mind are probably the likes of The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Outsiders. But out of all the films he’s ever done, my personal favorite will always be his 1992 epic Bram Stoker’s Dracula and it just so happens that a DVD collector’s edition of that film, released all the way back in 2007, is still in my collection to this day.

The Film

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as seen through the eyes of Francis Ford Coppola, is a lavish, overblown gothic epic. It pulls us away from the definitive vision of Dracula—stemming from definitive early portrayals by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee—and instead shows him as something closer to a doomed, romantic antihero. The tagline of the film is “Love never dies,” and Coppola certainly makes love one of the central focuses of his retelling. Every facet of the iconic character is on display here—Dracula the beast, Dracula the lost soul, Dracula the doomed immortal—as we follow him from his origins in Transylvania to his journey to London centuries later, as well as the impact he has on the humans who find themselves in his path. At the same time, it ties him into the character’s real-life inspiration of Vlad the Impaler and more closely following the original novel than previous adaptations with extra emphasis on the themes of sexuality, repression and reincarnation. 

Tom Waits as Renfield from Bram Stoker's Dracula

It’s a lot to take in, but thankfully the film benefits from having an almost absurdly stacked cast. Gary Oldman dominates every scene he’s in as Dracula, giving a performance that makes the character into something closer to a force of nature than a man. Holding his own is Anthony Hopkins, giving us an Abraham Van Helsing who’s just as mad as the vampire he pursues. Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves play Mina and Jonathan Harker, the young couple who find themselves right at the center of Dracula’s obsession, believing Mina to be the reincarnation of his late wife Elizabeta. Their performances are competent enough, but Reeves’ attempt at an English accent is a…well known weakness of the film by this point and they’re blown off the screen whenever Oldman or Hopkins appear. Finally, even the supporting cast is filled with heavy hitters: Cary Elwes as Arthur Holmwood, Richard E. Grant as Jack Seward, Monica Belluci’s first English language film appearance as one of Dracula’s brides, and legendary musician Tom Waits steals every scene he’s in as the deranged Renfield, hungrily chewing both insects and scenery while screaming like a madman as he awaits his master’s arrival. 

But the best part of the film might be its distinctive visual effects. All of Dracula‘s special effects (save for the rings of blue flames outside of Dracula’s castle) were created “in-camera,” without the usage of CGI or optical printing and instead turning to the techniques used by early filmmakers, both as a way of commemorating the original novel’s release coinciding with the birth of cinema itself and to achieve the feel that Coppola wanted of the laws of physics themselves becoming warped in the presence of Dracula. Additionally, the film was almost entirely shot on soundstages instead of on location, relying on forced perspective to create the illusion of depth—although, this was also likely in part due to Coppola wanting to finish the film on time and under budget after having trouble on previous projects like Apocalypse Now

The particular edition I have is in DVD format, and while it does look and sound nicer than when I first watched it thanks to an HDMI-capable DVD player it still gets blown out of the water by later transfers in Blu-Ray format. Thankfully, the lower quality video and audio don’t take away much from the film’s haunting quality and the transfer itself is an excellent quality one that looks about as good as a DVD can, with no compression or glitches to speak of. 

An image of the gatefold interior of the dvd, with text on the left and two discs on the right.

Special Features

In terms of special features, this film contains much of what one would usually find in a collector’s edition: there’s about thirty minutes of rough deleted scenes, trailers for the film, and a link to an article about the film from around the time of its release. There’s also an option called “Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Francis Ford Coppola,” which adds a four minute introduction from the director as well as a full length commentary, something that’s become something of a lost art in the era of streaming and digital first media.

But the real jewel of the collector’s edition is the four documentaries included within: The Blood Is The Life, The Costumes Are The Sets, In Camera, and Method to Madness

The Blood is the Life is your standard, often found “making of” documentary. It touches on several different elements of how Dracula was made, but as with most making-of documentaries it doesn’t dive too deeply into any particular topic, and as a result it’s the one I personally found to be the least interesting of the four.

The Costumes Are The Sets is where things start to get interesting. It focuses on Coppola’s choice of visual artist Eiko Ishioka to make the costumes in Dracula, and how said costumes were given extra emphasis to show off the actors—who Coppola considered the “jewels” of the film—while the set design was more minimal with heavy emphasis on the use of light and shadow. It also dives into some of the bizarre, often animalistic inspirations behind some of the costumes—an armadillo for Vlad’s armor or a lizard for Lucy’s wedding dress, to name just a couple. 

In Camera is my personal favorite out of the three, focusing on the film’s special effects. It’s narrated mostly by the film’s visual effects lead, Roman Coppola, and learning how the visual effects team was able to create some of the effects without the use of CGI is astonishing. Seemingly every trick in the book is used here: the unnatural movement of vampiric Lucy, achieved by running the camera backwards while shooting and then playing the film back forwards; the rats scurrying upside down on the ceiling as Jonathan explores the castle, done by filming the rats with the camera upside down and a mattebox covering up the bottom half, then rolling the film back and shooting the scene with Jonathan on that film and exposing both shots; and perhaps most impressively, the sequence of Jonathan riding the train to Transylvania features everything from multiple pieces of backdrop screens moving at different speeds to create the illusion of movement, to an image of Dracula’s eyes being projected from behind onto the screen, to a twenty-foot long replica of Harker’s journal built in front of a model train shot from twenty feet away to get the shadow of the smoke on the pages of the journal. 

An image from the film of a locomotive running above the pages of a book

Finally, there’s Method and Madness, a look at early visualizations of the film and the inspirations taken by the filmmaking team in creating the film’s distinctive, gothic look. Similar to what was achieved with the film’s in-camera visual effects, much of the inspiration for the film’s visuals comes from paintings from the time period Dracula was first published. For instance, Dracula’s castle was inspired by Kupka’s Resistance—The Black Idol, a painting showing the ruins of a castle seen to resemble a man, while the introduction of the film is shown using silhouettes closer to shadowbox art, which storyboard artist Peter Ramsey tells us is meant to start us off on the idea that what we’re seeing is not actual reality. 

These four documentaries are an absolute treasure trove of information looking into the nitty gritty of how Bram Stoker’s Dracula came to be, and having them along with the director’s commentary and the deleted scenes is more than enough to justify the price of admission. One final thing to make note of: the edition is presented in somewhat unique packaging, consisting of a slim slipcase with a striking cover image around a sturdy cardboard tray holding both disks. It’s certainly showing signs of wear after being in my collection for many years, but overall it has held up surprisingly well over time—although the shininess of the cover image does make it somewhat difficult to photograph well, to make the most minor of complaints.

Overall Conclusion

While later Blu-Ray editions are both easier to find and of higher visual and audio quality, the collector’s edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that sits on my shelf is one that I’ve had for a very long time and is still near and dear to my heart. The film looks exquisite even in DVD format while the documentaries and director’s commentary included are a treasure trove of information for anyone looking to dive into the creative process of Coppola and his team. It’s an exquisite film, as well as a striking addition to anyone’s collection—and a treasured part of mine. 

Written by Timothy Glaraton

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