The article is a review of Dracula, also known as Bram Stoker's Dracula, a 1992 horror/romance film produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, by Roger Ebert. This film was based on the actual novel Dracula by Bram Stoker and stars Gary Oldman as Count Dracula. In his three-star review of the film Ebert talks about in depth both the plot and the quality of the film. Although it is mostly a positive review, Ebert reflects on the fact that Coppola “seems more concerned with spectacle and set-pieces than with storytelling.” He additionally states that at times the narrative is confusing and has many dead ends. Nevertheless, he says that he enjoyed the movie simply because the way it looked and felt. At the end of the article, he states that cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and Production designers Dante Ferreti and Thomas Sanders had "outdone themselves.'
The origin of this film is precisely how Universal's Dracula, and many of its other horror films, came to be. For many of the films during the “Universal Horror” years, their inspiration came from gothic novels, legends and stage plays. Mystery plays, where individuals travel to a house only to be spooked and scared by a supernatural (or not) being is another commonly adapted type of media. The concept presented in these films usually evolve from one telling to the next, refining and reshaping the narrative to suit the needs of the culture it resides in. Films like the Bram Stoker's Dracula are supremely important as they help to reinvigorate old ideas and stories. This director used modern cinematic techniques and effects to excite the audience about an old story they believed they knew well. Just like Universal did with Dracula in 1931, Coppola changes his story slightly to appeal to his contemporary audience. This is a commonplace occurrence within the horror genre and it serves as a method to keep it fresh as time goes on.
Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, Universals adaptation of the 1818 Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein was a crucial film in the studios line of horror pictures. Like Dracula, the film was released in 1931 and received critical acclaim from both critics and the public alike. The films narrative follows the now familiar plot of a mad scientist bent on creating a man from assorted dead parts and playing God. The twist occurs when the monster becomes uncontrollable and instead of creating man, Dr. Frankenstein creates a dreadful monster. By the end of the film, the local townspeople decide that the creation is an abomination and ultimately destroy it. The film was lauded because of its superb make-up, special effects and thrilling plot. It later spawned several sequels, prequels and side stories including Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman.
The true testament to the iconic nature of the film can be seen in the visual representations of Frankenstein that pervade the world today. Almost every single representation of the character we see in western society is based on the green skinned, bolted and shambling version presented to us by Universal in the early 1930’s. We see versions of Boris Karloff’s face on cereal boxes, cartoons and, of course, in the masks of Halloween costumes. The longevity of these images that occur in our culture is a genuine indicator of the success of the Universal horror line of films; they have become integrated into our popular consciousness and now represent the traditional fiends and monsters that we draw on for inspiration. Like with Dracula, Universal’s Frankenstein has become the most recognizable version of the monsters narrative, even more so than the original work by Shelley. Because of these reasons, Universal was able to establish itself as the best studio producer of horror films of the 20th century.
Written by Michael Atkinson in 1998, this article was featured in the Village Voice film section. In its paragraphs it describes a number of classic horror films a person could bring his or her family to. Atkinson stated that during the hey-day of horror films during the 1930s and 1940s the films must have supplied thrills and fun for depression era movie goers. He contends that their age now makes them more appealing to young boys and lovers of camp. With titles like Frankenstein vs. the Wolfman, who can blame him? Because of this, Atkinson states, the films are now more humorous than scary. He does however say that Universal Horror had a large influence on popular culture. He states:
This small handful of films are responsible for more specific cultural touchstones than the era's westerns, musicals, and gangster films combined: Jack Pierce's flat-headed Frankenstein monster makeup and hotwired-Afro Bride design, Lugosi's accent, the hunchbacked lab assistant, the mad scientist, the throbbing electrical hardware of the lab itself, crowds of townspeople with torches, the details of werewolf myth (silver bullets, etc.), the vampire's old-world urbanity, and so on.
Atkinson’s article for the most part is very agreeable. It’s blatantly obvious that the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s have begun to show their age. He eludes to the fact that horror films have evolved since then; this is very true. Films now contain much more gore, special effects, nudity and action. The modern audience has been desensitized to the traditional scares of yesteryear. The horror genre has come a long way since 1931 as the society that creates these narratives alters its own tastes as time marches on. In the 60’s we had the underhanded thrills of Hitchcock, the 80’s brought the blood with the likes of Freddy Krueger, and with the new millennium our society has found itself with the over-the-top style of the Saw series. Yet what these newer films lack is the other point Atkinson contends with within his article. The classic films that he highlights, especially ones like Dracula and Frankenstein, have engrained themselves in our national consciousness and have become a part of our collective identity. While today they may seem cheesy, at their release these films were truly terrifying tales about monsters that go bump in the night.